Do You Really Want The Top Job? 7 Lessons Gloria Feldt Taught Me About Our New Female Power

"The most confounding problem facing women today isn't that doors aren't open, but that not enough women are walking through them," argues Gloria Feldt, best-selling author of the book No Excuses and founder of the movement Take The Lead.

So, what's the solution?

In my recent interview with Gloria, she explains how you can let go of that outdated male-oriented definition of power, overcome your internal resistance to having a successful career and feel fulfilled in all aspects of your life.

Gloria believes you really can have it all.

In the next few paragraphs, she'll teach you how.

Lesson No. 1: Don't give away the power to define yourself.

Alejandra: One of the first things that stood out in your book is your regret about giving away the power to define yourself. Tell me about that.

Gloria: Even if you've done what other people think are amazing things in your life, that doesn't necessarily mean that you've come to terms with embracing your own potential. I had lived the first part of my life doing what I thought the culture of the time wanted me to do. I wanted to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, and then I became a community volunteer. I wanted to do all those things perfectly well, but I didn't do it starting from my own intention. There's nothing wrong doing things for other people, it's a good thing, but I think you can lose yourself in it. In order to realize your potential, you need to define yourself first, before someone else defines you. We are all going to be defined. Better to do it for ourselves in a way that is authentic and meaningful to us than to allow others to present us to the world.

Lesson No. 2: It's not your lack of ambition. It's your lack of intention.

Alejandra: Let's talk about your 'Hillary moment.'

Gloria: In 2008, I was asked by Elle Magazine to write an article about women running for office. That was at the moment when it appeared that we might have had our first female president. The article was supposed to be optimistic and positive. Instead, what I found was that only 18% of Congress is female. It's not because they can't win. It's because women don't run. If women run, they're as statistically likely to win as men. Despite the fact that there are now dozens of organizations spending millions of dollars every year to recruit and train women to run for office, they're still 40% less likely than men to even think about running for office. There's been some research and the conclusion was that women don't have as much ambition as men. But, after interviewing women all over the country, I concluded is that it's not a lack of ambition at all. If a woman sees an injustice or if she feels that something is not right for her children or her family, she will do almost anything. She doesn't seek power for power's sake. So, I concluded it's not a lack of ambition, it's a lack of intention. There's something that men have: Baby boys bounce out of the womb knowing the world is their oyster. They don't question whether they have the right, whether they should run for office or whether they should be CEO. It's assumed. It's so much part of the culture. It's the standard when it comes to 'leader.' Women are still the 'other' when it comes to being a leader. We don't see ourselves as leaders and we don't have that intention in the same way that men do from the moment of birth.

Lesson No. 3: If you want to lead, don't think about how others feel about you.

Alejandra: What's holding women back?

Gloria: Girls are still socialized first to think about how others feel about them, and to be concerned about that. That's not a bad thing, but it works against you when in this whole field of leadership. It turns out that the dynamics are exactly the same whether we're talking about politics or business or the workplace, and even personal life. From the boardroom to the bedroom, you can say. The dynamics are exactly the same. It's our own relationship with power that holds us back. A culturally learned aversion to taking power.

Lesson No. 4: Your definition of power is the wrong one. Try this one.

Alejandra: We think of power as something not so positive...

Gloria: We have in our minds an old, outdated and no longer really functional definition of power: as the 'power over'-- the power to make you do something. So we, as women, at best we've been discriminated against, and at worst we've been raped and beaten. So, why would we want that kind of power? But we can change the definition of power in our own minds. From that outdated and hierarchical male-defined 'power over,' to an expansive, full of promise, innovative 'power to.' The power to make life better. For ourselves, our families, our communities, our world. The power to transform our work, our businesses, our creativity. Women will then say 'I want that kind of power.' As soon as we can change the paradigm of power in our own thinking and in our culture, we'll be in a much healthier place for women and for men. For children and for everybody.

Lesson No. 5: If you can't find female role models, become one.

Perhaps we don't have many examples to look at?

Gloria: We don't have many female role models in high-powered positions. If you can't see it, you can't be it. Women's history is not typically taught, even though there are some amazing women in history. I use the example of Ada Lovelace, who actually is the reason why we have computers. She created the first algorithms that enabled programming to ever happen. But the credit for her work was all taken by the man she was working with. Nobody knows about her. There couldn't have been a Steve Jobs if she hadn't done what she did. So, we need to learn our history and we need to understand that reaching equality is a long-term process. Even though now we have doors open and women can apply to any job they wish to, many women don't apply for them. Partly because they can't figure out how they can manage to take care of their families and go for that high-powered job. So, the problem is now that the doors are open and women are certainly capable of doing the CEO job or some other high-powered job. But she needs to take the lead and change the system.

Lesson No. 6: Don't follow your dream, lead it.

Alejandra: She's a mother who would love the top job, but holds back worried about having no time or energy left to enjoy her children. How can she overcome this internal resistance?

Gloria: One of the things that I do is to talk about what I call 'sister courage' -- the principles that I used in movement building to change any kind of system. For example, if you're in a workplace where you feel that having flex time would be beneficial and would make for a healthier workplace for you and other employees (including men), instead of isolating yourself and thinking it's your problem, you need to reach out. You don't have to figure out by yourself how you can juggle everything and miss your child's piano recital or something like that when you don't need to. Instead, use these very simple principles:

  1. Be a sister. Reach out to somebody else who you think may have the same problem or who you may have heard talking about the same problem or issue.

  • Have the courage to ask for help. We often feel isolated. We feel like we can't ask for help. Sometimes it's just a matter of asking and the other person is usually very happy to help out. Have the courage to put the issues on the table and talk about them.
  • Join forces. If you think there needs to be some systemic change, then you need to get your facts together and talk to other people who share your concerns. Make sure that you all have the same message and the same information. Let's assume it is about flex time. There is now sufficient data to show that by giving employees flexible hours and by evaluating them based on accomplishments rather than by how many hours they sit at their desk, that actually morale goes up, and, more importantly, productivity goes up. So, there is your little mini-movement. You can go to your HR department or you can go to your CEO. You can present your case, and you'll most likely get some change.
  • The message is that we all have power. Even if you're not in a powerful job. If you have quite a few people that have the same concerns, together, you go talk to a senior person or HR, there's strength in those numbers. You can make change happen. We see that all the time out there in the world. We have reached a point where we have to take that responsibility ourselves.

    Lesson Number 7: You deserve that leadership position, so take the lead.

    Alejandra: Tell me more about your goal to bring women to a fair and equal share of top leadership positions by 2025.

    Gloria: Just to give you a comparison, at the current rate, it will take 70 years to reach leadership parity. We need to speed things up. So, last year a colleague and I decided to form an organization which we call Take The Lead. One of our programs is a webinar series. I talk about women's relationship with power, explain each of the nine power tools and give women a template that they can use to solve problems or reach their goals. I invite you and all the women who're ready to take the lead in their lives and careers to subscribe to our newsletter and participate in our upcoming online events. Together we can make change happen.

    Take Action Now

    You've heard Gloria. Define your intention. Embrace your power to lead positive change. You might be the one who inspires the next generation of young professionals.

    Join the conversation. What's your biggest frustration when trying to get ahead in your career? What is it costing you not to have this problem handled?

    Add your voice in the comments area below. Be a sister...

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