Why are women not seen as leadership experts?

One day it hit me that very few women are included in the multitude of leadership guru/expert lists.*  Great women lead big organizations.  A number of women are noted writers and educators on the topic. So what’s up with the shortage of estrogen on the lists that garner all the attention?!

I decided to ask male colleague for his thoughts. Our intriguing exchange… Continue reading


5 incorrect notions women have about power

Like love, power is one of those words rarely uttered in the workplace.

And, when it is, those conversations happen in whispered tones, usually following a flagrant example of power gone wrong. A CEO believing what leadership ethicist Terry Price defines as “something that’s wrong for others but OK for me.” A newly promoted manager intoxicated with authority who bosses everyone about. A quiet someone with a dissenting view who refrains from speaking up, believing they lack sufficient influence to affect outcomes.

Power gets a bad rap from both women and men. It’s misunderstood or used improperly. Some say it corrupts. Others believe it to be evil and self-serving. Truth is, in and of itself, power is none of these things. It’s simply the neutral capacity to deploy resources to generate change and achieve results. It’s only in how one chooses to use it that it becomes good or bad.

Looking back, no one ever taught me about power. As with many things that exist in the shadows, incorrect assumptions loom large.

5 incorrect notions

1) Because I am the boss, I am all powerful. Despite common stereotypes, it’s not true that absolute power corrupts absolutely. That only happens if you let it happen. Research shows that people who believe they have power become less compassionate, less connected, and see others as a means to an end. They view themselves as above the law and adopt an all wise mentality.

Be brave, be bold and reject that kingly position. Instead, focus more on “we” and less on “me.” Stay connected, stay grounded. Listen to the input of others, in fact seek it out. Resist the siren song of believing you’re above the law and better than others simply because you have a high responsibility, high authority position. Stay self-aware.

2) Because I’m not a boss, I don’t have any power. Au contraire! Just as one can be a leader even if one isn’t the leader, the same holds true for power. Power is readily available from a multitude of sources provided you have the courage and foresight to take it and use it.

You don’t have to sit in the corner office job or even supervise others to have power. It can flow from your expertise, connections, access to information and strong interpersonal communication skills. Personal power is a state of mind in which you confidently believe in your own strength and competence, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter reminds us, “powerful leaders rely more on personal power than job title, or credentials, to mobilize their resources, inspire creativity, and instill confidence among subordinates.”

3) I don’t want power because it will corrupt me. Only if you let it. Formal and informal leaders influence others. Influence goes hand-in-hand with power (whether one wants to admit it or not). Shying away from any position or personal power leaves you powerless, without the ability to shape outcomes or make a positive difference.

“Power is required if one wants to get anything done in any large organization,” says Stanford University professor Jeffery Pfeffer. “Unfortunately, power doesn’t just fall into one’s lap: one will have to go after it and learn how to use it.” Positive use of personal power helps a business effectively realize its mission and goals.

4) Power scares me.  Be scared instead of being powerless. If you don’t step into your power, how will you ever get that pay increase? Negotiate a contract? Create a positive difference? Make your voice heard? Just do it

 5) Nice girls don’t play with power. Oh yes, they do. ‘Nuff said.

What have you got to say about it?

Image from Empowering Women



The Power of Collaboration

Remember the poem “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum? Take a moment and consider how well you implement two of the principles in your life.

- When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

- Share everything.

I love that! It is so simple yet so difficult to find these days. Today’s world is full of competition, skepticism and distrust. Take our current political system as a prime example. Success, as it is often defined by the “masses” (whoever they are), is doing better, making more money and having more power than the “next guy or woman” as well as “living up to the Jones.”

Historically, in the field of mental health, professionals worked together in teams. It was the synergy of bringing diverse fields of expertise and perspective together and collectively identifying the most effective course of treatment that made it so successful. No one discipline would have done as good a job having done it alone. The team approach also served the purpose of building camaraderie, enabling collective learning and creating a rich, inspiring work environment.

I had a recent experience that made me appreciate all we are missing nowadays because it is no longer “cost effective” to work as a team. I was referred a client by a psychiatrist whom I know well and worked closely with in the past. Our experiences seeing this particular client were very different. Only through our discussion and collaboration were we able to better understand his needs and how we could best serve him.

This is a call to action. Support the leaders that are able to build camaraderie and the individuals that are courageous enough to not follow the status quo. It is time to start sharing, holding hands and sticking together. The traffic can be pretty rough out there if we don’t.




Women Supporting Women: Center for Women

In our continuing Women Supporting Women series, we’re delighted to share a post from Jennet Robinson Alterman, Executive Director for the Charleston, SC Center for Women. Jennet and her wonderful C4W team provide opportunities everyday for women to learn, lead and succeed.
Jennet Alterman

I’m Jennet Robinson Alterman; and as I like to say, I have the best job in Charleston, SC. I’m the Executive Director for the Center for Women, the only comprehensive women’s development center in South Carolina. The Center for Women is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization, and our mission is to make personal and professional success an everyday event for women in the Lowcountry and across the state.

I’ve worked in television broadcasting, state and federal government – where I experienced firsthand the difficulties that the few women in the legislature had in being accepted as equals – and the nonprofit sector.  I have extensive background in international development having served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan, Peace Corps Country Director in Swaziland and the Interagency Coordinator for Peace Corps worldwide.

During my tenure with the Peace Corps, I worked on projects in over 40 countries, and saw firsthand over and over again that where women are disenfranchised the overall economic and social health of a country is adversely affected. 

The Center for Women helps women succeed every day by:

  • connecting thousands of women across the Tri-County area to professional sources for practical help by providing educational programs on important issues such as small business development (our new South Carolina Women’s Business Center), financial literacy, life transitions, leadership development, multiculturalism, family issues, career and business.
  • providing counseling, peer support groups and referrals. 
  • creating a network for women to come together and address the issues in their lives. One thing we know for sure is that women deserve equal pay and equal rights.  

The Center has helped hundreds of women start their own businesses, and through our microloan and coaching programs we’re helping women to create jobs and/or find one.  In 2011 the Center conducted over 110 programs and events, and reached 6,000 women, bringing the total of women we’ve touched since the Center was founded in 1990 to 70,000.

In 2006 the Center was recognized nationally by Oprah Winfrey with an Oprah’s Angel Network Grant. The Center was honored locally in 2009 with the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce 1773 award for the Public/Nonprofit Sector.

The Center is focused on opening up and maintaining an ongoing dialogue about women and power. I encourage my sisters in this community to take their rightful place at the public policy and boardroom tables.

As Nicholas D. Kristof (who will be the guest of the Center on March 22, 2012) and Sheryl WuDunn wrote in Half the Sky, the great moral imperative of the 19th century was the abolition of slavery, in the 20th century it was the end of totalitarianism, and in the 21st century it is women’s rights. I want to be a powerful force in achieving that moral imperative, and I want lots of company doing it.  



Research: Women in Business & The Paradox of Power


 Researchers Also Detail What Corporations Must Do To Be Part of The Solution

A new paper, WOMEN AND THE PARADOX OF POWER, based on research by Jane Perdue of Braithwaite Innovation Group and Dr. Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting, reports that corporations are leaving money on the table and forgoing future success by failing to move more women into senior leadership roles.  Perschel and Perdue also claim that businesswomen must prepare themselves to take on these executive roles by understanding and using power more effectively.

In their study, which involved hundreds of senior level businesswomen, Perdue and Perschel find that many women relate to power in ways that prevent them from attaining senior level positions, be it lack of confidence; cultural conditioning; or simply not understanding what power is.  In-depth interviews with women who have attained the highest-level positions of influence reveal that they understood and used different approaches to gain power and make important changes to business culture and leadership practices.

Reshaping a male-dominated business culture, changing the ratio of women to men, and thereby improving bottom line results, requires a very specific set of actions by those currently in leadership positions as well as by women themselves.

What Women Must Do

Know power and be powerful:  Perdue and Perschel define power as the capacity to get things done and bring about change.  Not so for many of the research participants who think of power as “being in control at all times,” or “deciding and announcing,” among other misconceptions.  Sixty-one percent of survey participants hold mistaken views about how to advance their power (and themselves).  The authors emphasize that women must study power, understand power, and use their power to change the culture of business.

Ditch Cinderella:  Over sixty percent of the participants preferred passive approaches to gaining power, opting to be granted access, rather than actively taking it.  Unlike Cinderella, women cannot passively wait on the business sidelines, hoping business  culture will change and hand them the most powerful decision making positions.  Instead, they must seek power, advancing both the change agenda and their careers.  As one executive vice-president who heads a $300 million dollar business advised, “The success police will not come and find you.”

Show up.  Stand Up.  Voice Up.  Fifty-two percent of the barriers to power that participants identified are personal and internal, e.g., “what I need is a constant drip-feed of confidence.”  With women comprising nearly forty-seven percent of the entire workforce, holding forty percent of all management jobs, and earning sixty-one percent of all master’s degrees, they are uniquely positioned to work towards dismantling legacy organizational barriers and stereotypes.

Forge strategic connections.  Relationships are the currency of the workplace,  yet sixty-seven percent of the women in Braithwaite & Germane’s study are not taking charge of building their networks.  To fill more than the three percent of the Fortune 500 CEO positions they currently hold, women must become masters of strategic networking as well as building alliances and coalitions.

Unstick their thinking.  Thirty-eight percent of participants opted for being well-liked rather than powerful.  Perschel and Perdue contend this need not be a choice.  Based on research conducted at Stanford University, women are uniquely capable of moving beyond such an either/or mindset.  Leaders, both male and female, too often limit solutions by framing problems as a choice between two mutually exclusive options.

What Corporations Must Do

Make gender balance real.  Having more women in senior leadership roles is correlated with a substantial increase in total return to shareholders, which is a  performance metric for most CEOs.  Why, then, do so many heads of companies fail to hire, develop, and promote women for clout positions on senior leadership teams?  Executives at the highest levels must move beyond positioning gender balance as politically correct and giving it perfunctory lip service on the corporate agenda. If they are serious about gender balance, they must position it as a business imperative.

Remake leadership. Despite decades of efforts to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles, the needle on this corporate metric has barely moved.  Gender bias is prevalent in the very way leadership is defined – a take charge, have all the answers, aggressive style.  Corporate leaders must change both the definitions and practices of leadership.  Women will help them do so.

Walk the talk.  Develop women leaders.  Seventy-one percent of firms responding to a survey conducted by Mercer, the world’s largest human resource consultancy, do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy to develop women for leadership roles.  As some of the approaches that work for men do not  work as well for women, corporate leaders must invest in modifying these programs to develop women and then follow up with promotional opportunities.

About the authors. Jane Perdue is the Principal of Braithwaite Innovation Group, a female-owned professional development organization, and the creator of the new Women’s Leadership Institute for the Charleston, S.C. Center for Women.  Dr. Anne Perschel is president of Germane Consulting – an executive coaching and organization development consultancy.  Both have been featured as leadership and women’s issues experts in newspapers and magazines, as well as on television and radio.

Download your copy of the report by clicking here.