December 16, 2011
We should all dream of the day when the title reads “A closer look at the six women who matter in dentistry; the glass ceiling shatters!”
Last week, FORBES released its annual “World’s Most Powerful People” list, spotlighting a diverse cross section of influencers including business and political leaders, spiritual figures as well as today’s opinion makers. Of those “70 Who Matter,” six women made the list.
While there have been notable successes for women to date, as the list reflects, there is still much more progress to be made and work to be done. We always focus on the anemic representation of women on a list, in an industry, holding a particular title, etc., yet we often fail to look beyond the numbers. Instead of focusing on how many women landed on our Power list, I think the greater take away emerges when you look at these women’s paths to power.
The women on our list achieved power through their ability to connect with and move millions, if not billions, of individuals. Look at Jill Abramson who is shaping some of the most important conversations each day as Executive Editor of the New York Times, or Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany whose decisions impact the global economic stability with each passing day. What’s more, while women represent just 9% of the listees, they hold four out of the top 25 spots.
My two takeaways from the list:
1. None of the women on the list are business leaders.
While a woman may run a country with the fourth largest GDP in the world (Merkel, #4) or the fifth largest population (Rousseff, #22), female leaders are woefully underrepresented in the corporate world. Starting, or sitting at the helm of, the world’s most powerful businesses is still almost exclusively the domain of men.
Perhaps the lesson to be gleaned here is that the business world is the one arena where gender barriers are the most profound. Business remains an area defined by hierarchy and rank, where power is often positional and rooted in title and the amount of money you control.
2. The women’s power is centered on their ability to influence.
With so few women in the highest echelons of business, the greatest path to power for women today is in arenas where power is attained less by navigating strict hierarchies, and more by achieving influence through communication and building connections and networks around them.
All but one of the women on our list comes from the world of politics and government. And within these arenas, power is generated through an individual’s ability to influence, leading through collaboration, persuasion, and consensus building. Today, the personal is political, and this kind of influence can create a passionate community that is built at a meteoric pace.
Being able to communicate so quickly and widely has allowed the women on the list—and many others—to expand their reach, their political prominence, and increase their creative and economic impact.
Consider, for example, Sonia Gandhi who runs one of the largest political parties or Hillary Clinton whose role as Secretary of State is defined by diplomacy and persuasion. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Clinton is the third consecutive woman to hold a position dedicated to navigating this country’s most critical and sensitive global relationships and times of crisis. In a conversation last year, Madeline Albright quipped that her 7-year-old granddaughter asked, “So what’s the big deal about Grandma Maddie being Secretary of State – only girls are Secretary of State.”
Leaders must use both hard and soft power, but now more than ever, they must be able to connect with those around them. Their followers are now their stakeholders, so today’s leaders have to encourage collaboration while making decisions that support their vision and priorities on a global stage.
The ability to create influence and power has evolved over time — and this is especially true for women. With that, I’m hopeful that women’s presence on our Power list grows as a reflection of the greater community they represent.
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