by Nicole Chacin
Due to the immense privilege of writing for the Forté Foundation for the 2013-2014 academic year, I have been able to highlight concepts such as feminine leadership and self-empowerment through a business lens for young, aspiring professionals like myself. The chief inspiration behind these themes comes from the cherished women in my life as well as those in history, academia, government, philanthropy, media, and (of course) business.
It can be disheartening when so many women college age and older shy away from the words “power” or “leadership.” In fact, these very words can seem domineering, masculine, or presumptuous when we apply them to ourselves. It is for this reason I have chosen to bring up these subjects throughout my writing and by taking insight from thought leaders and practitioners in business I have come across and met.
Personally, I do not think it is possible for a female to succeed in business if she is uncomfortable with either exercising leadership or holding a position of power.
In many ways, there are vertical – not just horizontal – pathways to plant the seeds for success in an organization at school and beyond. As a freshman you can start as the Chair of Membership of a student organization and by your senior year, end up as the Chief Operating Officer/ President.
It is these beginner level positions which form our individual, unique leadership styles to become good listeners, motivators, and decision makers when we really need them in high-level positions where our word holds greater weight and consequences. I would say all women can obtain some degree of power in their work, and frankly should, if they are ambitious.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is notable for saying some revealing truths about women in power from her firsthand experience: “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
As the only woman to hold the office of British Prime Minister and the longest-serving one of the 20th century, she holds a unique understanding of power. What is more telling than anything from her leadership is that she was adamant about showing strength and competence through action, not just verbalizing ideals.
From examining Ms. Thatcher’s remark, it may appear she is saying all ladies are powerful and should not need to say they are. Rather, I believe that Ms. Thatcher is bringing to light that the true indicator of power is when it is implicit, understood, and respected because of the way a lady carries herself and is known through past achievements. Power is not an accessory, but rather the whole outfit.
Another female leader who studied many of her female counterparts to pinpoint power trends is Moira Forbes, president and publisher of ForbesWoman. According to Forbes, the whole dynamic of power has changed today, regardless of gender. Power is more about influence and impact. In other words, it is measured by how leaders can move people, effect change, and shape minds.
To Forbes, there has been a “democratization” of power, meaning it’s much easier to gain access to it in traditional and non-traditional roles, whether that be running a corporation or taking a political office.
Delving deeper into the trends of power in the 21st century discussed by Forbes, I think a powerful women is identified for being influential and impactful when she has a specific agenda and focus in her work – a vision. Women are drawn to powerful positions because they are ready to ignite their vision for the future.
I believe they are fueled by their desire to project one’s authentic self in their work and create something larger than you or me.
For all those skeptical or territorial about females gaining power in the workplace and beyond, its truly hard to argue with the beauty and stewardship that a vision for the future can offer, is it not?
One example of a female using her power to fulfill her vision is Bonnie Wurzbacher, Senior Vice President at the Coco Cola Company. With twenty-seven years of experience within various senior leadership roles, Wurzbacher is currently on board with a new global initiative to economically empower 5 million women by the year 2020 with the United Nations Millennium Goals.
The 125-year old global wealth creation of Coco-Cola is particularly important to Wurzbacher who understands the vast job creation and sustainable economic well-being brought to communities where the company invests and gains their labor pool from. The company is the largest private employer on the continent of Africa – where for every one job created directly, another sixteen are also created indirectly.
From high-class political leaders such as the Iron Lady to the 100+ women who grace Forbes magazine to the personal story of Ms. Wurzbacher at Coco-Cola, I think it is evident that female power and leadership is essential to society and to empowering young women to become the thought leaders and visionaries of the future.
I hope you will join me on this riveting journey of strengthening other aspiring female professionals as well as yourself to partake in the many joys and tribulations of attaining power and leadership in business. I am sure that there are many female role models who have embraced both power and leadership that you can examine for inspiration, aside from the ones I mentioned.
It’s only when women acknowledge our immense capacity and ability to achieve today that we can plant the seeds for tomorrow’s success.
Nicole Chacin will graduate in 2015 from George Washington University with a degree in business economics and public policy with a minor in vocal music. She plans on getting a JD/MBA after college and dreams of working in health policy and administration. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and is the creative designer and co-founder of Chicago Boutique.