Woman & Power
Women give birth to the whole human race. Women care for and build the next generation. How are women not powerful?
Perhaps it is this very power that makes our counterpart more insecure. Overtime we have been conditioned into the identities we wake up to now, in the 21st century.
Women and men were once equal until the advent of agriculture. It was the industrialization that further established the gender gap and cemented the pay gap between women and men. For a long time, women had little opportunities to advance in society.
It is a social construct to put a limitation on women’s opportunities to advance in their career, businesses and life. In general, we, as women, buy into the same game and also contribute to gender inequality.
Women & the Empowerment Movement
Between the 1960s and 1980s, women’s rights movements got some traction. However, the women’s empowerment movement didn’t come to articulation until the 1980s.
Most of us are familiar with women's empowerment. We have joined a few women’s groups, went to some women’s conferences, or enjoyed a few networking events for women. However, like you, I have experienced little empowerment. What’s missing?
According to some studies, the empowerment movement has been stalled for the last 20 years. And yet, from the UN to the top shakers & makers of the world, from the individual influencers to the major corporations, the term ‘empowerment’ is still dominating the memes of the main media, social media and the intellectual spaces for women’s initiatives, gender pay gaps and even the future of work.
With all the empowerment movements, there are still very few women at the decision tables. Despite the fact that women now receive a majority of degrees across many major categories in both Canada and the U.S., very few women make it to the senior leadership positions in all of these fields, including finance, venture capital, law, engineering, etc. What’s missing?
Some have proposed that it is the way women seek mentorship rather than sponsorship that hinders our corporate climb. It is true from this one perspective.
My Own Experience
I, too, sought external mentorship rather than internal sponsorship because there was no such sponsorship for me to seek. I had one of the most powerful women in the country as a mentor. My executive coach (paid by the company I worked for) was also a powerful woman in my province. She sits at the board of billion-dollar corporations. They both shared with me some wisdom and insights on how to play the game in male-dominated industry. However, I felt something was still missing but I couldn’t articulate it at the time.
Thinking back, all the people at the table I sometimes joined were men, and they preferred to have conversations with men. Men travel in packs. They like to do business and play games (tennis, hockey, golf, etc.) with other men and they tap on the shoulders of other men to sponsor them. I didn’t see myself in them.
Now we are in 2021 and still, very few CEOs are women. Even in the startup world, only 3% of venture funding goes to women founders.
When I raised venture fund with my startup project partner, a highly accomplished MIT grad herself, we were told to add two male co-founders to the mix in order to have a better chance in raising fund. So what’s missing?
What is required to add to the mix so we can shift perspective and play a better game?
What is missing is how we think about power, as women. More important, how we use our power, leverage it, and build on top.
We have been habitually waiting for empowerment and we continue to wait for our “lucky break” so we’re saved, promoted, and appreciated by others whom we think have the power and ability to help us.
My Wifa Co-founder, Kristi Klassen and I did not realize it was the power that was missing in the gender equality game when we first started Wifa Global.
How Wifa Global Started
Kristi and I were friends and former colleagues growing up in the finance & accounting industry and we saw firsthand how, in the early days of their careers, men were being tapped on the shoulders to be the bosses one day. We were on the sideline no matter our performance or capabilities. There was not just one glass ceiling, there were layers and layers of ceilings for women.
So when we saw the Equity Can’t Wait campaign about how there’s another 208 years for women to reach parity, we immediately talked about joining forces to do something. We started Wifa Global.
In the beginning, we had a big vision about changing the gender game but we didn’t know what we were doing. We just wanted to start deep and meaningful conversations with women and help change the gender gap, at the least, change the game in our industry.
So we named our business Wifa Global. Wifa is an acronym for ‘Women In Finance and Accounting’ since we grew up in the industry and experienced the gender opportunity gap firsthand.
Once we started to share our ideas with our network, people who were engineers, lawyers, software developers asked if they could join. So, we quickly expanded our idea into a membership platform for young women leaders, professionals, and entrepreneurs.
Once Kristi and I started to have conversations about what’s missing, we quickly realized the main missing factors to women’s financial mobility is the way we think about money and power. But power is the catalyst.
Our Experience & Observations
We both saw how women who had reached the top were busy defending their own power. They have no space or desire to help other women. A well-known example is Margaret Thatcher. She was the first female PM of Britain and was famously reluctant to promote women.
For most women in the corporate world, perhaps it is the fear of being harshly judged that lead them to be closed off, playing defense rather than offense. Let’s face it. With one wrong move, women at the top could be punished harshly. For example, at the very top, people judged Hillary Clinton harshly for the way she handled her emails and her “lack of emotion” in 2016.
Women are also being criticized for being too emotional, and resultantly less good leaders.
Women who have acquired power playing the traditional man’s game can’t make mistakes. These women may even join the empowerment movement to empower others, but they have little interest to share their power and their hard-earned successes.
So for us, going into an era where uncertainty and chaos could be the norm, we need to shift our thinking and reshape our perspective and practice.
Not that we need to ignore the empowerment part, but for many of us, we need the next level. We need to think about our own power and not wait to be empowered. Not waiting on the sideline and to be tapped on the shoulders for our lucky break.
Nature gives us the power; we simply need to tap into it from our heart. Power is the catalyst that propels us forward. Power is the missing part to bridge our ambition with our future direction.
Why Power Matters to Each of Us as Individuals
With years of social conditioning, we have a certain tendency to think and act our way through life, most of the time, unconsciously.
As women, we tend to suffer more with imposter syndrome than our counterparts. Our imposter syndrome could hold us back for years, if not forever.
We also tend to have a hard time blowing our own horn with our accomplishments. I remember, one time, a senior female VP said to me “I know you don’t like to blow your own horn but…”.
I also remember the embarrassing time when I was invited to share our fundraising experience and challenges as a group of female startup founders with a newly appointed regional president/director (can’t remember the details from the death of embarrassment) of BDC. Knowing how little funding others had at the time and being the only one with $1 million backing, I downplayed to the point of not being able to introduce myself properly. This “WTF” moment was so painful that I couldn’t forgive myself for two weeks.
Tapping into our own power doesn’t mean that we’ll eliminate insecurity. No matter our success, insecurity is here to stay. It’s the same for so many super wealthy and seemingly successful people.
Tapping into our own power and running with it means we are confident and dare to honor our own accomplishments. We have a good sense of our capabilities and have a strong desire to achieve even more.
The power we have is not power over other people, it’s power over our insecurity. So we don’t need to worry about imposter syndrome, so we don’t need to play dumb in situations or downplay our accomplishments in order to fit in, so we don’t need to overcome our insecurities in order to show up and speak up.
Reshaping Perspective: Power is a Catalyst
As entrepreneurs, Kristi and I both understand how change can be made, with money, power and social impact. We both understand how financial growth is at the forefront of driving social and economic upward mobility for women, through the vehicles of career, business and investment.
We understand money and power but we can’t make the change alone. In order for us women to make a systemic change, we need to change the structural bias from within ourselves and in society, at the same time, all in parallel. None of us have several lifetimes to wait for gender equality in 208 years.
We both experienced how little the empowerment movement had helped us during our corporate careers. We both experienced disappointment when, despite being top performers, we were not being tapped on the shoulder to be “groomed” as the top leaders of the companies/firms. We actually helped train those “chosen ones”. Men.
We both understood that women should no longer wait to be tapped on the shoulders so we could gain the most senior positions in an industry. That’s the fundamental principle of our vision for Wifa Global.
To accelerate the change, as women, we need to think about money and power differently.
First, we need to think of power as something we have. It’s our nature. We have been blessed with being just a woman. Especially for those of us who want to lead the change as highly educated young leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs, we want to stop thinking about empowerment in terms of waiting to be given the power. Instead, we need to think about “I am power”. A very simple term.
Secondly, we need to think about leveraging our power by collaborating with others. By sharing our knowledge, learning about each other and helping each other to practice our power. We share and connect through our commonality and celebrate our differences. When we know each other, our differences change from threat to curiosity. Our differences help us be more creative and innovative.
Third, we need to think about power as a tool we use in services to others, not a power over other people. When we shift to this thinking, we will not cringe each time we think about power. It becomes something we celebrate to have, as part of our nature.
Calling All Ambitious and Highly Capable Women
To all women, let’s join the forces and build our power grid, with interconnected networks of friends, colleagues, business partners, dreamers, creators, innovators and investors.
Article by: Mina Fung, Co-founder @wifaglobal.
Illustration by: Jurnee Kelley, Contributor for Wifa Global.