Woman of Power

The world needs strong women. Women who will lift and build others, who will love and be loved, women who live bravely, both tender and fierce, women of indomitable will.”

                                                   ~ Amy Tenney~

Before we go through anything let’s answer the question: what is power? Do women have it, and if not, do women want it? There are different types of power like economic power, community power, legitimate power, positional power and connection power. Economic power is the ability of countries, businesses, or individuals to improve their standard of living. It increases their freedom to make a financial decisions on their own. Community power is the belief that people should have a say over the community in which they live and the services they get. It is a growing movement – with communities across the country, and the world, working together to improve public services that impacts how they live. Legitimate power comes with love. It’s the power this person gets because he has done something to the community or to the country. Positional power is the type of power one has and comes with a specific rank or title in an organization or community. When you have positional power, you may also gain reward power. Connection Power is where a person attains influence by gaining favor or simply acquaintance with a powerful person. This power is all about networking. Most people say women shy away from power. They are either afraid of claiming it or are reluctant to use their power and influence others. Power can be represented at four levels of analysis: societal, organizational, interpersonal, and individual. Organizational power includes control over resources, rewards and punishments, access to information, policies and procedures and the capacity to affect outcomes in organizations.

Feminist scholars have discussed power in the broad context of patriarchy, looking at gender-based social, political, economic, and sexual inequalities in power. Gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality are not merely personality and group differences. In our society they also function as large social structural patterns of unequal power relations.

Gender Scholars have long been interested in understanding the barriers women face in gaining access to positions of organizational power. Organizations are not merely gender-neutral sites where gender inequality is reconstituted, but organizations themselves are gendered, reflecting and reproducing male advantage. Hence, all aspects of organizations, including rules, procedures, and hierarchies. While seemingly free of gender, actually they reflect long standing distinctions between men and women, masculinity and femininity, and power and domination in ways that aid in the reproduction and maintenance of gender inequality.

What organizational characteristics might aid in undoing the gendered organization? In particular, how does women’s representation in high-level positions like corporate directors

and executives, workplace managers affect gender segregation? Although women continue to be underrepresented in managerial positions, some research suggests that when women are able to gain access to managerial and supervisory positions, they may gain greater power to reduce gender inequality among employees at lower organizational levels. Since women usually tend to occupy lower structural positions that reinforce the gender order and reproduce gender norms and expectations through day-to-day interactions, their presence in leadership positions, may allow them to “disrupt the gender order”. Women’s gains in access to these positions may very well challenge gendered ways of thinking and doing. It is possible, however, that even when women gain access to these authority positions, they have limited ability to influence inequality at levels below them, either because they continue to be “willing to do gender in expected ways”, or because their power to effect change is constrained by the strength of existing organizational and institutional norms.

A number of theories suggest that women in positions of organizational power may erode gender-linked inequality among subordinates. The main argument of this theory is the erosion of the causal influence of ingroup preference on hiring and promotion decisions by male counterparts. Kanter’s (1977). A pioneering study of Men and Women of Corporations revealed that men in high-level corporate positions tended to hire other men into high-level management positions, a process she called homosocial reproduction. Increasing women’s representation in these decision-making positions may benefit women in part because women decision makers may also engage in in-group preferencing. Similarly, social closure perspectives, which tend to emphasize conscious exclusionary practices would also suggest that women’s greater presence in leadership positions would reduce gender inequality. Whereas including only one or two “token” women in leadership positions constrains their level of influence (Kanter 1977). Coming in larger numbers, women leaders would increase their relative power compared to male decision makers and allow them to have greater claims on organizational resources. Gender equality with regard to hiring, promoting, and retaining is expected to be greater when more women are present in decision-making positions. Therefore, more women in leadership positions may be associated with lower gender segregation.

Why do women fear and avoid taking positions of power?

Business women who operate in feminine ways are often not seen as leaders. They may not “look the part” of a leader so may not get to try out for the role. Or there may be more focus on how they do things than on the results they get. Successful business women, consciously or unconsciously learn to operate in masculine ways. But, if they act too masculine, they are disliked. This double bind creates a barrier that keeps many women from the top.

The theory that women don’t want to reach the top takes various forms e.g., women lack ambition; women shun power; women fear leadership. Even younger women have been given the message that leadership is daunting because they must have it all and do it all perfectly. The difference is not in men and women but in masculine vs. feminine ways of thinking and acting. Both men and women incorporate masculine and feminine approaches. The “feminine” approach by how most women, or “average” women, think and act and the “masculine” as how prototypical men tend to think and behave. Not all women operate in a feminine way—certainly not in all circumstances; but women are more likely to do so than men are. Not all men operate in a masculine way in a given situation; but more men than women do. Ambition from a masculine perspective is about competition and winning. It is about getting to the top of the heap, to the “alpha” position in a hierarchy. The feminine version of ambition has more to do with purpose than status. A person with this version of ambition is more interested in collaboration than competition, in results than titles, in success than getting credit. Are women less ambitious, less interested in power? No. Some want it in the masculine form.  Others just define it differently. They demonstrate it differently. These women may be turned off or shut down by the masculine definitions of power and ambition. They may not want to reach the top in the same way or for the same reasons as men.

How does our culture affect how we view power and women in power?

Girls in Ethiopia lag behind boys in school enrollment and academic achievement, especially at higher levels. Female students make up 48% of all primary students, but only a third of students in higher education. One reason for this are structural constraints like access to school and poverty though cultural practices, such as child marriage, also play a significant role. Another reason girls don’t complete their studies is a lack of role models. Most Ethiopian women, particularly in rural areas, have little education, are seldom in wage paying jobs and have limited socio-economic status. In schools, only 17% of teachers are women, and only 10% of school leadership positions are occupied by women; adults in positions of power are usually men. The appointment of many women into positions of power can break stereotypes and inspire girls potentially influencing their choices and actions. Ethiopia’s women in power may be socially removed from the girls in rural Ethiopia, but their appointment may have huge implications for their educational achievement and social empowerment.

How does a community benefit from more women in power?

Women constitute half of the working-age population in the world. Companies led by women seem to have traditionally fared better than their counterparts during times of financial crisis. Benefits of women leadership in different sectors are manifold and they are as significant as those from male leadership. Women leadership is found to be good for the financial health of an organization. Organizations having females as board members show significantly better financial performance than those having low female representation. Better financial health of the organization leads to better job opportunities, higher productivity, and more growth and development. Various studies have found that women are equipped with better relationship building skills. They are also found to be good at inspiring and motivating others. Women as such symbolize unity and cooperation. They are pivotal to the survival of a family – a basic social organization. This quality of unifying diverse minds in a family is an essential feature of successful leadership. Women understand the value of accountability more than the rest. A leader who understands the value of accountability never puts the onus of any loss or blunder on the individual members of a team.

In order to understand how women of power feel about power, we paused a few question to 3 powerful women.

What is power to you? Do you believe you have power? How does it benefit you? As a woman does having power help? And finally, how do you exercise your power? This are the questions we posed to woman of power

  1. Mariam Khalifa – GM & Founder of Kadisco General Hospital
  2. Samrawit Moges _ Founder and CEO of Travel Ethiopia
  3. Tsehay Menkir _ Judge of the Federal Supreme court of Ethiopia

Mariam Khalifa was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She runs a family business, Kadisco General Hospital, founded by her father decades ago as a trading company, which then expanded to a manufacturing, healthcare and real estate enterprise.

Samrawit Moges Beyene is the recipient of the 2011 TIAW World of Difference 100 Awards. This award is given to 100 extraordinary women from around the world who have contributed to the economic empowerment of women. Samrawit with her husband and business partner Thomas Matanovich founded Travel Ethiopia in 1994.

Tsehay Menkir is a judge in the federal supreme court of Ethiopia. She served the country as a board member of the National election board. She is also a writer. She now works as a board member of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Federal Judicial Administration Council.

The first question posed to them was how they understood “power” and what it meant for them?

Mariam Khalifa defined power as a tool to do what you want to do without being limited. Power is an instrument used to hit a goal. Mariam believes that power to her comes from trust and not fear. Trust gives a stable foundation to power, said Mariam.

Samrawit Moges said power to her is all about self-development and being able to lead others . She used to believe that only focusing on self-development and building oneself was what can give her power. But now power to her is to influence teams and people around her in order to direct them to a certain goal and to come to a commonly shared vision. She came to understand power as influencing others to do what you ask them to do.

Judge Tsehay Menkir describes power as an engine to do the impossible. Power provides the motivation and courage to implement the goals and execute the plans efficiently. “Without power you are as ordinary as it gets.” Said Judge Tsehay. Being an ordinary person will impede your movement to achieve your dreams and goals.

Do you believe you have power?

Samrawit Moges said “Everything is possible.”. That belief is what gives me power to do whatever I want to do.

Mariam Khalifa gave a straight YES.

Judge Tsehay Menkir answered it as the position “I am at right now is the strongest power I believe I have. The positional power I have as a judge of the federal Supreme Court gave me diplomatic immunity. Diplomatic immunity is a principle of international law by which certain foreign government officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of local courts and other authorities for both their official and, to a large extent, their personal activities. Besides that my communication skills and my journey in working in different places has expanded my network. This network gave me the power to execute things in a very easy way. So yes I believe I have power….

How does this self-power benefit you was the next question?

Samrawit Moges described the benefit of power for her as being able to empower others, especially women. “Power gave me the capacity to develop myself and through that I was able to influence and empower others”. Power is knowledge, said Samrawit, as she has education and a complete control on her life by using the strength of knowledge as a power.

Mariam Khalifa said the main thing that benefited her is to be treated nicely wherever she goes like offices, because the connection power she created allowed her to do so. Mariam agreed with Samrawit as power became her tool to influence and empower others and especially women. “Power led me to success and to where I am now” said Mariam.

Judge Tsehay Menkir’s power benefits her mainly to achieve her goal. “I got where I am now with the power I have within me. I started from nothing and now I am in a higher diplomatic position. And now I use my power to give orders. My position allows me to be secured. I make decisions without other people’s influence. I get treated in a different way than an ordinary person.

As a woman, does having power help?

Samrawit Moges says that women are not given the chance to have power. As a result women give up their power; it seems perhaps they feel it is much effort to be visible so giving away power in the name of spending time with family seems an easy way out. I am the first woman president of the Rotary Club in Ethiopia. As the reasoning goes “a woman can’t handle higher position and the stress that comes with it”, I had to fight for the position so I can show the world a woman can do it which I proved the naysayers and did much more than anticipated–being a role model for those to follow by itself is power. Power helps me to grab opportunities. As a woman, I have no excuse whatsoever… I do what I have to do. If a woman strives to lead her life with a purpose and plan, there is no obstacle she can’t overcome. Being part of toastmaster is one of my sources of power to speak at any stage anytime.

Mariam pointed out that having power and being in a powerful position challenged her with the guilt of feeling as though she never spent enough time with her children. Except that power has no downside to her and that she has been using it to strive for success.

Judge Tsehay Menkir said when you have power that is when you don’t have to worry about your gender differences. You can do what you want to do without the gender gap we experience as a woman. “Power helps me to be listened to. I have different networks, one that I have for being a judge and one that I have for being a sociable person in my community. Those are really different networks with really different people in different positions of life. With my power I got the chance to explore both sides.”

How do you exercise your power?

Samrawit Moges said I exercise my power in a democratic way. I make decisions but not as “do what I told you so!” way.  I am close with my employees and there is a sense of family. I Look out for their benefits so much so their salary was provided even during Covid lockdown when the company had no business or income. I have ten employees considered as colleagues who have been with us since the foundation of the company. This is a good testimony for sharing power which all good leaders must do. I focus on women empowerment. This is because of some difficulties I faced before this company as I was employed and I know that the system out there is very discouraging for woman.

Mariam Khalifa believes that she exercises her power when it comes to decision making. Decision making allows direct human behavior and commitment towards a future goal. She uses power to be listened to and to be treated as she wants to be treated. She also exercises her power again in empowering women.

Judge Tsehay Menkir exercises her power to bring justice to the country. “I fight for the truth and my truth is heard because I have the power to be listened to. The community trusts me with my work. I use my power to treat people equally. In my work position, if I don’t agree with the decisions made by the court, I have the power to say no and isolate myself from that decision by explaining my side of judgment. I exercise my power to be voice to the voiceless. I influence and guide women who want to be in my position. I also mentor students from law school and share my knowledge. With power I solve problems. I raise questions in places I have doubts and I get answers from people in higher positions…

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