Why Women Prefer Influence Over Power

By Joanne Cleaver | September 29, 2010

Since 1981, Joanne Cleaver has been reporting on all aspects of business for national and regional newspapers, magazines and websites. Numerous magazine and industry “best employers for women” lists use the equity index she developed to rank companies according to the presence (or not) of women in their executive ranks. She also leads the research firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., where her team measures and supports the advancement of women in accounting, cable, finance and other industries. Yes, she has an opinion: that when women fully engage in all business operations, companies will make more money in more ways.

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Why don’t women want to embrace the P word?

That’s P as in ‘power.’ Men don’t have that problem. They love it, which explains the entire Gordon Gekko franchise.

When consultant Maddy Dychtwald started looking at the rising economic power of women, she wasn’t surprised to detect their aversion to the ‘P’ word and corresponding affection for the ‘I’ word: influence. That’s why she named her book “Influence: How Womens Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better” (Hyperion, May 2010).

But she thinks that women are in the process of redefining influence and power, precisely because they are becoming more comfortable with their power. Power is about “owning, individually, and taking control. Influence is about taking that power and running it out all over the place,” she told me in a recent interview. “The three stages of economic power are survival, self-sufficiency, and influence with corporations and politicians. That’s the next step women will take.”

This year, with women becoming fully half the workforce, we’ve reached a tipping point; despite spotty traction in getting to parity in management,  Dychtwald thinks that the long-quantified “three women” dynamic on boards will catalyze womens’ widespread rise to senior positions. The “three women” dynamic is that one woman on a board (typically a group of 12 to 15) is a token. Two women often spark conflict, but when there are three or more women, collaboration breaks out and women substantively affect group dynamics and decisions.

Simply by being aware of that dynamic women can leverage it, she adds: “Use your influence not just for your own career, but for those around you and for your company and its direction.”