This month I would like to talk about power and the unequal gender dynamics that still rule the world. There is no cause for us women, to “celebrate” International Women’s Day if the majority of us are denied the opportunity to hold positions of power? Only 24 countries, which together have less than 500 million people, have a female head of state.
As shown in the infographic below produced by HolonIQ. The scenario is also the result of conscious and unconscious biases that impact women’s opportunities to access different spheres of power. That’s why this year’s International Women’s Day theme was #BreakTheBias.
Having biases is natural, but that’s not why it’s normal to let these issues interfere with your day-to-day work. As Just Work co-founders, Kim Scott and Trier Bryant explain, biassed perspectives get in the way of good collaboration, performance, and a company’s decision-making process. In a TED Talk, they demonstrate how to combat these company-wide behaviors in just three steps.
Even in the corporate realm, it is alarming that women are still “judged” and defined by their choice of clothes and use of shoes, among other things. In a discussion at Harvard Business School, organizational behavior professor Sreedhari Desai said that in her research, women who wore flats or low-heeled shoes were considered “more capable, more prepared” and received higher ratings from men and women in their 20s and 50s.
World’s 100 Most Powerful Women
When the same profile of people are in charge of power for centuries – in other words, men – so naturally we can expect that the fundamental strength derived from any position of power gets narrowed when expressed through the paradigm of only one point of view, the male one. This is why diversity is fundamental in the business world: it is one more step in the right direction towards change. Women in power often exercise it in unconventional ways.
This month, I came across a super interesting article in Forbes about its World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list. It made me reflect on how important it is to have women at the top who think outside the box. It’s as Moira Forbes, author of the article, says: “Power now extends beyond traditional titles and can be exercised effectively and impactfully in unconventional ways.”
It is by no means coincidence that the woman topping the 2021 list is MacKenzie Scott. Formerly known as MacKenzie Bezos, upon divorcing Jeff Bezos in 2019, she became one of the richest women in the world: her net worth was estimated at $62 billion in 2020.
But she is more than the ex-wife of the Amazon mogul. MacKenzie is an award-winning novelist and a philanthropist who has always used her influence to champion social causes around the world. Instead of focusing on a billion-dollar space race, she’s chosen to support NGOs and is changing the way wealth is accumulated in the USA.
There are also cases where the search for change generates power. The American data scientist, Frances Haugen, is in the 100th position on the Forbes list.
The former Facebook employee became known in the USA when she disclosed her identity as the whistleblower behind the Facebook data leak in 2021. The info gathered by Haugen was the basis of the series of news reports “The Facebook Files: a Wall Street Journal Investigation”, that have disclosed questionable decisions taken by the platform, such as the impacts of its 2018 algorithm changes, weaknesses in the response to human trafficking and drug cartels and vaccine misinformation.
The power of change is in the hands of those who want to do it differently. And we women have a lot to teach men about great powers and great responsibilities. Let’s shout to the top!
Giovanna Carla is Head of Operations at Bureau Works.