That’s the fundamental question that authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explore in their new book “The Power Code.”
Kay is a correspondent for the BBC and a MSNBC contributor. Shipman spent three decades as a television journalist on ABC News, NBC News and CNN. The duo have written four New York Times bestsellers including “The Confidence Code.”
For the new book, they interviewed scores of academics, neuroscientists and psychologists to examine the power plays between men and women — and business leaders who are working to change the dynamic.
“Women just don’t see power, or use it, the way men do,” they write. This is true in the workplace, in politics, in personal relationships and in family life, Kay told Yahoo Finance recently.
She offered some advice and insights. Edited excerpts:
What pushed you and Claire to write this book now?
We’ve stalled. When you think that only 10% of CEOs are female, only 27 of the world’s 200-odd countries have female leaders…there seems to be something happening at the very top. Despite the fact we have all of the skills to lead, we’re not getting there.
You think about the fact that women are better educated than men. We have more undergraduate degrees. We have the talent and the leadership in a brain economy. We just wanted to know what was happening at the very top and that meant investigating power.
Do women really want power?
We came across a study — suggesting that women actually don’t want power, or at least they don’t want power as it is currently conceptualized. That made us really intrigued. The reason that women don’t want power is that women have life values — things we want to do with our lives. The cost is too high for us to attain power.
Power itself is also kind of toxic. It doesn’t look very appealing to women–the egos, the competitive nature of it, the hierarchical nature of it. The traditional understanding of power has been one that is zero sum more for you, means less for me. It stands to reason that women may turn away from it.
Power can come from work promotions — does that differ between men and women?
Men are often being promoted on the basis of promise — the promise that they can achieve things at a later date. Women are promoted on the basis of performance that they had to already have achieved those things. That stacks the playing field against us.
How do the characteristics of power differ between men and women?
Men score better on the things that, on the traditional characteristics of leadership, would give you power. Things like assertiveness, charisma, ambition. Women score better on things like empathy, compassion, listening, consensus.
What we’re saying is that those qualities are fairly random qualities that we associate with power just because they’ve always come with power. The qualities that women bring to the table when exercised in leadership are incredibly powerful, useful, impactful qualities. So we need to start thinking about whether the definitions of the people we see as powerful are the right ones.
What are a few ways women can tap into power?
Practice priming. You can literally prime your brain to feel more powerful by thinking of a time when you had power and writing about it with pen and paper. And that will actually access power in your brain. Before a big job interview, or any other important work event, set aside ten minutes. Recall a time in your life when you have felt powerful — a time when you were influencing others to make a change.
Write it down. Don’t just write about the actual event; write about how it made you feel. Neuroscientists say writing on paper is more effective than typing on smartphones or tablets because it takes you more deeply back to that memory, and connects your brain with it.
(Also) start complaining in real time. As we write in our book, you can make the world better for those below, and for yourself, when you call out biased behavior as it happens. It creates a small ripple, and it’s remarkably effective. Or try, ‘Let me finish,’ when you’re being cut off. That’s the kind of language men respond to. It’s very clear and it doesn’t sound whiny. It has an enormous amount of impact when you do it in the moment.
You write about limiting free labor? Can you explain?
Women are often asked to do non-promotable tasks — anything to do with food in your office, organizing drinks, organizing the brown bag lunches, organizing the follow-up meetings, organizing the onboarding of interns. These are all things that are very important to making an organization run smoothly and making it a place that good talent wants to work in. But these tasks nearly always fall to women, and they don’t get you on the promotion track.
Find a way to slash about half of them.
Another piece of power advice you and Claire give is to be the CFO of your household. Can you elaborate?
If women don’t address the power balances at home, they are never going to have the time or the energy to get power outside of the home. Leaving your partner to run the household finances can be disempowering. You’re giving away power. You need to know what is going on with your investments.
A lot of women, including a lot of well-educated, professional women, have surprisingly little involvement in their own finances. That needs to change. Start with this reality check. Do you know how and where your savings are invested? Are you involved in drawing up your family’s tax return?
How can we make women want power?
Joy. The idea that power and joy go together is not one that one often thinks of. But we chose it very carefully because the women leaders who we profile in the book — the editor of The Economist, the first black CEO of an NBA team, a woman parliamentarian in Senegal, Africa — were all women who found joy in their positions of power. And we’re not talking about candlelight and walks on the beach. We’re talking about the kind of profound satisfaction that comes from improving your community, whatever that community is, and having an impact and seeing that people are doing their best work because you have facilitated them to do so.
This is not an academic Pollyanna view of the world. This is being done already by women all over the world. It’s not being rewarded and it’s not being valued to the degree that it needs to be.
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