Women in the Law

Discomfort with 'Power Dynamics' May Be Hampering Women, Consultant Says


Women may be hitting a glass ceiling in the workplace because of their discomfort with “power dynamics,” according to a lawyer-turned-leadership consultant.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review’s HBR Blog Network, Lauren Stiller Rikleen says she has seen hundreds of successful women whose careers stalled before attaining their goals. Rikleen, who has written books on success strategies for women lawyers, says women need to be comfortable with the pursuit of influence and power.

“Years of research demonstrate that women are far more likely to see their workplace as a pure meritocracy where good work will be rewarded, while men are more heads up about the role influence and power play in getting ahead,” Rikleen writes.

In the blog post and a white paper (PDF), Rikleen summarizes the advice at a women’s summit convened last year by the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas School of Law. “A necessary first step to building power is to understand the source of your discomfort with power so that you can address the discomfort and move beyond it,” Rikleen writes in the white paper she co-authored with Linda Bray Chanow, executive director of the Center for Women in Law.

Speakers at the summit also had these power play strategies:

• Women need to get over their fear of risk. Women pressure themselves to be perfect, leading to missed opportunities. An example is a woman who turns down a promotion because she’s not ready for the job.

• Women should get over the false choice of being nice or being confident. Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California at Hastings law school, had this advice: “Be relentlessly pleasant but ask for what you want.”

• Many women are good at building relationships in their personal lives, but they don’t use networks in their offices and industries. Seek out influential people and ask for strategic advice.

• Women should work together in the pursuit of influence. Group leverage can change the power dynamic over time.

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