When I was about to jump ship from academia to start my coaching practice, I attended the annual conference of Austin Women in Technology (AWT). That’s where I met some of the powerful, inspiring women (like Sylvia Acevedo and Laura Kilcrease) who have helped me along my journey.
Author of Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction, Reynolds will be delivering the lunch keynote. She graciously carved time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about women and power:
How do you define power?
There is situational power that we are given due to leadership titles or positions. This means people need to follow our lead whether they want to or not. The other power, inner power, results when people want to follow our lead. They give us the right to wield power when they admire our talents, skills, and wisdom. They give us the right to wield power when we demonstrate behaviors and standards that they aspire to learn. They give us the right to wield power when we show we care about helping others to shine. People give us the authority to use power based on who we are and what we do. The challenge, then, is to accept the power we are given and use it in a responsible way.
Why is it important for women to embrace power?
Many women don’t embrace their power because they don’t like to publicly acknowledge they have it. It’s likely that they do this because they still face criticism in social and business situations if they admit to enjoying the feeling of power. It is still not safe for women to see their power as a gift. Yet if women don’t embrace their power, people will continue to perpetuate myths that women don’t like power or don’t know what to do with it if they have it. Women need to show they are comfortable and even enjoy having power. They need to admit that they like feeling in control and don’t like it when others try to take that control away. They need to acknowledge that they like being listened to and accept compliments about their wit and intelligence. Above all, women like doing important work and feeling that their work is significant. They just need to be comfortable admitting this to themselves first, and then to others. If you are a strong, smart women, what small steps can you take today to test whether your assumptions about the bad effects of showing your power are true? What little things can you do today to begin to convince your brain that publicly acknowledging your power is good? If you can prove to your brain that you will be admired more than criticized, that you will gain supportive friends to replace the ones you lose, and that you can handle the increasing responsibilities given to you (especially if you know how to powerfully ask for help), then your beliefs about your power will change.
When do you feel most powerful?
I feel most powerful when I am speaking to a large group or teaching a class to coaches or leaders and I recognize how much I have to share from my experiences and education. When we engage in deep dialogue about the subjects and I know their minds are changing right before my eyes, then I know I’m doing the work I am meant to do. I feel powerful and grateful at the same time.
Who are some powerful women you admire?
I have admired Gloria Steinem for years. She graciously accepts her power and doesn’t abuse it. Her message of equality and collaboration gets confused by sexism rhetoric, but she continues to speak up for what she believes with ease and elegance. She demonstrates the difference between being a strong, pushy woman and being a woman of strength and grace. I also admire my coach, Harriett Simon Salinger. She is a wise woman in her 70’s who embarks on personal growth journeys with intensity and joy. She models releasing ego to be present and find the truth. She holds her power so lightly that people feel she is their soulmate within minutes of knowing her. When I am with her, I feel an inner peace that eludes me in my busy days. I hope to walk a path like hers as I grow into my wisdom.