Women and Power: What is holding you back from using your power?

Mar 7, 2024

Let’s start with what do we mean by power. Power exists in all relationships, and it can shift
depending on the situation and dynamics. I tend to hear women talk about this either in a
negative way or an uncomfortableness about seeming themselves as powerful, when I am
coaching or mentoring them. This is noticeably different to the conversations I have with men
in the same setting. So, what’s going on?
Power has often been a word associated with men rather than women. This is in part due to
history which disproportionately shines a light on the role that men have had in shaping this.
There are still more male leaders of countries, and the UK has only had 3 prime ministers to
date although this is more favourable than America which has never had a female president.
There are plenty of examples in history where the role and influence of women has been
invisible. A recent film ‘Hidden Creatures’ revealed the role of women in NASA and the moon
landing (and notably these were women of colour). Most people have no idea that
International Women’s Day which is celebrated on 8 th March is on this date as it was on this
day in 1917 that the women of the then Soviet Union sparked what would become the
Russian Revolution. An interesting fact is that Lenin was not even in the country!
Why is this relevant? We know that a significant contributing factor in experiencing Imposter
Syndrome is a lack of role models. In other words, not seeing other women in senior
leadership roles.
There are other reasons that women can feel a reluctance to step into their power which
includes the language repeatedly used. Anyone else find themselves being called ‘bossy’!
These are deeply ingrained social norms and not helped by phrases such as ‘Girl Boss’ or
‘Mumpreneur’ when we don’t hear ‘Boy Boss’ or ‘Dadpreneur’.
Over the years I have repeatedly worked with women – of all generations – about their
struggle with saying no. This is unique in some ways but there are consistent themes around
being expected to help since they were a young girl, wanting to be liked or an expectation
that it’s theirs to do. How many times do I still see women in a senior meeting jump up to
make the tea and coffee. All the time and it perpetuates the expectations based on gender. I
regularly share my story of being asked to do the minutes despite being the CEO and using
three simple words to say ‘No, I’m not’.
Finally, I spend time working with women to understand the different types of power and
dispel some of the myth that it is about abuse of power, seniority or built on being
authoritarian. There are six different types of power (French and Raven) which enables
women to feel more comfortable about the various ways that they can – and do – use their
power. For example, appreciating the work that someone has done for you and saying thank
you is part of your power to reward someone.
So when I get asked frequently – Can you help me to be more powerful? How can I be more
assertive? I haven’t got the confidence to challenge that! – my response is to work with the
individual to learn how to step into their own power. It is within you.

Natalie is the owner of McMillan and Associates Ltd. She is an experienced board-level
director and runs sessions and individual coaching to help women to find their own power.