Are Women Reluctant to Assume Power?

Can women succeed as leaders? Can we reach powerful positions? Yes I do believe we can.  It is not a gender specific issue from my point of view.  It is about certain skills, personal traits and qualifications.  If you have them whether man or woman you will be able to assume power and succeed as a leader.
I read this article “Women and the Uneasy Embrace of Power” by Jeffrey Pfeffer on Harvard Business review.  He claims that women do not occupy powerful positions in organizations because:
  1. They are reluctant to embrace power.
  2. They need to become tougher.
  3. They depend too much on likeability i.e. It is important for women to be liked by everyone so they avoid exercising power in order not to lose anyone.
  4. They need to sacrifice family life to be able to reach powerful positions or choose a strategic marriage that would help them in their quest.
I disagree with the article.  I think women are not afraid of being powerful at all. We are not reluctant to embrace power, on the contrary I think we are more willing than men to hold powerful positions and carry the burden of the position on our shoulders. For so many years there was a discrepancy against women that made us keen to hold powerful positions and make a difference to prove that we can do it.  Also the claim that we need to become tougher and that we care too much about being liked is not true.  Throughout my career I noticed exactly the opposite. From my own experience, I worked once as a Projects Manager at an IT company and they had a lot of problematic and overdue projects.  I had to be very tough and enforce a lot of working rules to the extent that two employees resigned and hated me a lot.  But after a while because I was fair and not at all a control freak, employees understood that I work for results and we became friends and I was able to turn the problematic projects to a success.  I have seen other women as well succeed in focusing on results without caring much for what would people think and whether they will be liked or not.
The last point is the only point I agree with.  Yes, to succeed and reach powerful positions it will have to come on the expense of family life.  But to what extent, is up to every woman to decide.  But surely the 100% balance between work and personal life does not exist.
I have to say also that we cannot generalize.  I write from my own point of view and my own experience and the author of the article writes from his own experience as well. I do believe that we cannot claim something that is true for all women.  Maybe some women underestimate themselves but others don’t.  Generalizing is always the worst thing anyone could do.
I didn’t want to express my point of view only, so I decided to interview a woman who succeeded to reach the top of the hierarchy and assume a powerful position in a huge organization.  I interviewed Mrs.Hanan Abd el Meguid – The CEO of OTVentures, a subsidiary of Orascom telecom and includes a number of companies. In the few lines below I will list the questions I asked Mrs. Hanan and her answers as is:

  • Do you agree with the article that women are reluctant to embrace power and that they don’t like to pursue positions of influence in organizations?
From the experience that I witnessed including with myself, Women are not reluctant to embrace power – they are reluctant to apply the mechanics to embrace power that demands aggressive actions and firm conflict management with heavy confrontation. I am a bit against women and men generalization so I prefer to refer to my own experience with myself. As any ambitious career oriented human, and as a woman I am no different, I wanted to clearly pursue positions of influence in my organization – To reach my target, I had to control a lot of emotional urge that would prevent me from being firm on my position and specially in conflicts. I developed my own techniques to overcome my fears of being aggressive- I just decided this is no popularity contest that I am in, it is work and the target is the result and this sometimes can cause conflict which I should manage with firm stands.

  • Do you think that women need to become tougher to be able to assume strategic positions?
Again, whether men or woman, you need to be tougher and sharper to assume strategic position. In younger age, we always believe in black and white of situations, but as you grow older you learn that fuzziness and complexity in any situation gives space for a lot of discussions and no action driven activities; so to ensure you become successful you need to have clear strong stands to which you ensure your team and other relevant stakeholders are aligned with; in short, i agree I personally needed to be tougher to qualify for assuming strategic positions. tougher does not mean you shout, scream and act aggressive – just be firm with clarity and dare to go through needed confrontations to resolve conflict…Use a smile, it sometimes help soften the impact…no guarantee though!:) But again, this is no popularity contest, this is business and results are what counts, usually fairness and decent communication ensures that you do that without loosing relations with people.

  • Do you agree that women put a lot of emphasis on being liked and this is what affects their exercise of power?
Cannot speak of all women! I can only speak on myself and yes It was earlier at my career difficult to take on conflicts as I do not like to work in an environment where team members do not like me or…hate me. it affected for a while my ability to reach my targets as I give it longer shot by being nice and always saying to myself that i can do this in a peaceful non conflict generating manner…yet reality is, conflicts are a fact of life the higher you go as the issues are more complex and as I said right and wrong become a point of view. so ever since I acknowledged the need to conflict to push execution forward, life was easier and I focused my energy to sharpen my conflict management techniques and really push for higher communication to ensure that maybe…I will be liked:)

  • What helped you reach your status? Is it personal traits or more of working in an environment that does not differentiate based on gender? Or …..
That is a tough question as i am not going to share that I am the best! I just know that when you are passionate, you work hard, focus on execution and results – you can reach any status you aim at. Sounds idealistic, but this is what happened to me.
For the gender differentiation part – I just want to say that throughout my career in LINK, I never felt it as the environment is really healthy – I guess in the IT sector in general this is the case, again my experience, others can have a different point of view. I just want to comment from what i see around me that women that treat themselves differently, they get the gender differentiation; yes we are emotionally more intense than men who tend to be more practical – it is important to use this as a strength point and avoid to overflow emotions that would affect work progress or introduce unnecessary anxiety to the work environment. Yes, women have dual responsibilities, we have to acknowledge this and encapsulate it by planning without abusing it as an excuse so you immediately become a person with a special status (I have seen men also use a lot of personal excuses to justify lower productivity at some moments). Work needs to get done, isolate this from emotions, understand your priorities at different stages of your life so that you plan and manage expectations accordingly – this is the technique I applied and it worked for me.

  • Did you have to sacrifice your personal and family life to be able to succeed in your career or were you able to balance and how?
This is always a tricky question – as the definition of balance and also personal life is tricky. I am married and I have two beautiful kids, and it is a tough responsibility along with heavy responsibility of work – To be clear, you first have to acknowledge it is tough and it is a choice, so that you stop chasing when it will become easy! So I acknowledge it is tough and i decided that this is what i love and this is why i need to make it work.
Second, you have to define your personal life as circle, there is your husband, your kids, your close family and your extended family and friends and…oh first and foremost there is you, as you should understand that as a leader maintaining yourself is key to success. I have to admit that I made some choices, and I know that i focus on very close circles and clearly set my expectations and others that i cannot maintain all my social requirements, I set my priorities and stick to them to avoid wasting time and energy feeling bad that I am not doing what i should be doing…and this is part of managing your own expectations, as self torture is an easy trap you can fall into.
Third, planning and discipline becomes not an option – it is mandatory tool for you to be able to fulfill your dual duties with no drops. I personally found it difficult to admit and practice this fact as I like to be very relaxed and at ease with a floating mind…Well, now I do it but it is always with a preset time bound:)
so in short, sacrifice…no i did not in my opinion sacrifice, rather I made clear and sometimes tough choices on what i can and what cannot do based on my priorities.

  • From your point of view is it true that women underestimate themselves and feel that they deserve less salaries than men with the same qualifications and in the same position?
No, I do not think this is a true statement. Women do not underestimate themselves. The true portion that i tend to agree with is that men are more aggressive in their demands in salaries, maybe this is because of their clear financial accountabilities in Egypt that are set on men when it comes to family. I can only assume, i am not a man:)

  • How about Egyptian women in particular, do you think they have what it takes to be leaders? From your point of view what is it that we as Egyptian women have as a plus that makes us good leaders and what is it that we lack and need to work on to be able to better succeed as leaders?
Of course Egyptian women qualify as leaders, and you can look around and see a lot of examples. From my point of view both women and men should work on separating accountabilities from their emotional state, I think this is a common issue in work discipline that in Egypt we suffer from. The professional pride that dictates that you do your best to achieve with the highest quality irrespective of your emotional state, if you are accountable then this is your responsibility to plan and ensure the best outcome, managing the risks like your personal conditions, your mood, your opinion in your boss, is a personal responsibility as at the end your result is what counts and with time all conditions are forgotten and the only solid fact is your result and outcome, and trust me it pays off when you are keen on every step in the way…My mail is and my twittername is @hmeguid  – i would love to see how can we boost professional pride in our work discipline, it will help us build solid industries and enjoy brighter future.

2 thoughts on “Are Women Reluctant to Assume Power?

    • I disagree @AhmedEssawy: because I have seen several women who are very successful, not at all “un-ordinary”
      I see myself as one example of women who have leadership skills, Hanan Abd el Meguid here is another example and I can state a few other examples too. As I said in my post it all depends on your personal experience. Obviously the examples you met were not good 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s