Posted by: Karese Kaw-uh | February 1, 2018

The Quest for Power

I would like to begin with a question:  What are powerful positions, why do we pursue them in leadership, and what makes a woman powerful?

With many of our class readings, we have read that women are slowly being represented more in higher-up positions and gaining power, but we need more women in powerful positions.  “Women Rising: the Unseen Barriers” says that women show leadership potential “in less conventional ways — being responsive to clients’ needs…rather than boldly asserting a point of view — and sometimes it takes powerful women to recognize that potential.  But powerful women,” the authors say, “are scarce” (Ibarra, Ely, Kolb).

Ibarra, Ely, and Kolb give us three solutions to try and move forward with women in leadership: “educate [people] about second-generation gender bias,…support transitions to bigger roles, and anchor women’s development efforts in a sense of leadership purpose rather than how women are perceived” (HBR).

What is power?  Let us say that power is control, after all, those with power have the ability to control…right?  The first definition that the Merriam-Webster online dictionary tells us is that power is the “ability to act or produce an effect” (MW).  This definition does not tell us what power looks like but rather focuses on what power can do.  As another student pointed out earlier, people (regardless of sex and gender) have different personalities and different leadership/influential skills.  Though this perception was probably unintentional, by saying “powerful women are scarce” implies that women have to “boldly assert their views,” which puts us back into the double-bind of expectations of women in leadership.

While the three solutions for moving forward with women and leadership are great suggestions, how are we expected to act upon these situations when we, as a society, have not determined what power is supposed to be?  I believe that we shouldn’t just focus on second-generation gender bias (for the bias is usually unintentional to begin with) but on education as a whole.  We notice so many injustices throughout our society, but they all stem from the same place: education or lack thereof.  You cannot build a new house without a foundation.  As Schoolhouse Rock would say, “knowledge is power.”  With learning comes understanding, and injustices stem from a lack of understanding.

So, what do you all think?  What makes a woman powerful?  Does power mean climbing to the top of the ladder, receiving fame and fortune, or can it include the unconventional ways as well?  Where do you think second-generation gender biases come from and how can we move forward?


  1. Power is the ability to influence an individual in order to get them to do something. What makes a woman powerful is the same as anyone else, it all revolves around how she influences another individual. While it has been stated that males and females influence people differently, that is not always the case. Due to individual’s upbringings, cultural background, and other impending factors, the way that they exhibit influence and power will differ.

    In the traditional, hierarchal structure, power is seen as climbing a vertical ladder to the top. It seems to coincide with authority. The more power one has, the more authority they have. Right? Well that is not always the case. Women in many professions have been given legitimate authority do to their job titles, but they lack the power to influence the people around them. This lack in power does often result from stereotypes and misperceptions that people have about females in leadership. The statement, “powerful women are scare,” refers to this phenomenon.

    Second generation gender bias stems from multiple beginnings. Part of it is leftover first generation bias which entailed blatant sexism and gender discrimination, but because societal standards and norms have changed this discrimination is more discreetly covered up. Part of it is still due to misperceptions of what leadership should look like. Traditionally, leadership was seen as a male-oriented task. Even though we may be progressive today, that mentality still sticks with us because it probably originated in one of our schemas when we were younger. No matter where it originated from, there is still a lot that needs to be done in promoting women leadership and overcoming gender discrimination.

    One of the ways we can change is through education. In school, it is rare to learn about female leaders. For instance we tend to stress Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong (who are very notable astronauts and should be taught), but we forget Sally Ride or the females who worked hard to get the astronauts to the moon. More female leaders should be taught in school, in order to provide a larger range of role models for girls and for boys. Young girls should be allowed to participate in a wide variety of activities, for instance STEM, so that they can grow as individuals, instead of just being narrowed into one direction. There needs to be more of an emphasis on girls asking questions, making statements in class, and their education than on the clothes that they wear to school. All of these combined could make an effort in breaking the gender bias that women experience today.

  2. I think the question of power is one of those questions that naturally attach gender to when it is not actually a gendered concept. Women use power the same way any individual uses power: according to her own strengths and weaknesses. Although women may tend to be communal, like we’ve addressed in class, by ascribing this to all women, we being to limit them. Power is individualized and negatively affected by gender stereotypes.
    In terms of second-generation bias, just last week I was sitting in a Sociology lecture discussing an article on youth violence. The authors emphasized that girls were more likely to report that they had been abused in some way compared to boys. People in the class immediately assumed that this skew in data was due to the girls being dramatic, rather than considering that society’s hyper-masculinity may discourage boys from reporting their own abuse. By assuming the girls were being dramatic, all of the girls who had responded immediately lost credibility to all of us. They lost any power they had in the study, not because of their use of power (they did report the abuse, after all) but because of how gender stereotypes made them appear to us. (Don’t worry, my whole class now understands how gender roles may affect empirical statistics)

  3. Interesting concepts and questions Karese! I enjoyed talking to you about this at EVAC! I definitely believe that there is more to power than position. While positional power guarantees control over subordinates (most of the time), knowledge and understanding is what gets people to follow you out of free will, not force. This type of power is much more respectable in my opinion. Both genders can benefit from “knowledge is power.”

    I also believe knowledge and education can reduce gender and racial discrimination. By understanding the world around us, we can know how to better treat people and respect other cultures. A small example of this can be seen in my family. My Dad’s family is from Connecticut and my Mom’s family is from North Carolina. My Dad’s family is extremely educated, consisting of doctors, lawyers, judges, engineers, etc. My Mom’s family is extremely uneducated; in fact, my Mom’s brother was the first one to graduate from college on that side of the family. My Father’s side is very respectful to women and racial minorities. Sadly, my Mom’s family (not including herself) treats women and minorities with disrespect using words and actions. It’s interesting that education can play a huge role in sexism and racism (there are definitely others factors contributing to this as well). I believe that education, knowledge, and understanding leads to a better life for both genders, which can lead to an equal sharing of power between them.

  4. When we are able to realize and pin-point when second-generation gender bias occurs, or even first generation, it is how people respond to it that can make a difference. If people sit back and realize how they have done or heard second-generation gender biases, they can then learn and focus on how to eliminate or fix the problem. As a society, or from my experience, I have been told the first step in fixing a problem is realizing (and admitting) one exists, and once that is established progress can be made. It’s a hard problem to fix as an entire society, but if many people begin to reflect and learn from their normal language, stereotypes, and see how they see/do second-generation gender biases a domino affect can occur. Talking about those situations and learning from them and reflecting on yourself if you have realized you’ve done it to someone is a good place to start. It can stem from the way the world was brought up and going from a direct form of insults to an indirect “beat around the bush” way as we saw in the clip with Lisa Kudrow. She spoke up about how she just experienced it and has been throughout her campaign.

    I believe knowledge is a great source to have and goal to achieve. However, you can never stop learning, so there is no one that is more knowledgeable between genders. You can analyze their knowledge through different aspects. For example, some people are good at one thing while others are not. Between genders, they both experience the world differently. Although, even though those people who are not as good or do not understand, can take the opportunity to learn more and try to become more knowledgeable in that field, activity, or aspect of their life/leadership. Knowledge can have power in that sense because they are experts, but they have the chance (“power”) to educate those who don’t understand or don’t know how.
    Our world has not experienced women in leadership positions as much as they have with men. With the increase in women in those positions the world has the chance to learn from them and see how different types of women work and take those leadership positions. Many are afraid of the unknown, and in this day in age women in power and taking leadership positions is still a little unknown. That is why there is resistance towards the concept of women in leadership. However, as I mentioned above, it is what we do with this information and how we use it as well. We ca educate ourselves and others through the actions, lives, and leadership of these influential women.

  5. I think women are powerful when they are confident in their abilities and being trusted to carry out a task. More and more, women are seeking out higher education and being seen in places of high achievement and leadership although they may not identify as such. However, with women coming into power I also think we need to rethink what it means to be successful and powerful. It may not always look like like a man in a suit sitting at a large desk in a corner office. Women leaders are everywhere but it’s important that they are seen and respected in order to show what women are capable of while also encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. The readings for today covered the importance of showing women in successful positions of power while also encouraging their stereotypical ways of leadership such as their use of empathy and listening. These skills, although not present in all women or absent in all men, demonstrate the difference in having women in power than compared to their male counterparts. However, as last weeks readings said they must be confident in their abilities based on others’ perceptions of them in order to really share their thoughts and ideas and take advantage using their leadership style although it may be different than the “usual” leadership role.

  6. I believe women can be powerful. We live in a day and age that allows for anyone to attain great positions despite their race or background. Everyone has the opportunity to do great things and to accomplish whatever it is that they desire. It is a shame that there are double standards for women in leadership and hopefully we can abolish those standards in a few years. Women leaders are going to become more mainstream in due time, but trying to make huge differences in a short amount of time, I feel will cause more pushback than not. Women have been in powerful positions even before they started climbing the corporate ladder.

  7. Power is the ability to influence, and can exist in many ways, even those that are unconventional. I think what is most likely being referred to in these kinds of leadership discussions is a practical approach in that just realistically women are not seen in high ranking leadership roles that are considered by society to be “more powerful.” I do not think making this observation is enforcing any kind of gender stereotype, it is pointing out the inequality and encouraging us to correct it.

    I would agree that education is a great place to start. The way in which we think becomes the way in which we act, and ultimately impacts society as a whole in a ripple effect. I know that becoming more knowledgeable and engaged in these sorts of discussions has drastically altered the way I think, and I would even go as far as to say that these sorts of messy issued, discussion based courses should be required at younger levels to encourage tolerant and open-minded thinking early on before entering the workforce, in which generally your mind is already for the most part set. The earlier we begin to educate, the better. If we want to change society, we should start as early as possible.

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