Not long ago I had an interesting meeting with a husband and wife team who own a business together. Since my appointment was with the woman, and since I work only with women entrepreneurs, I was a little mystified about Mr. Biz owner sitting in on the meeting.
As the conversation evolved, I could tell that my “women only” service made Mr. Biz owner uncomfortable because he went over the top professing that his wife made her own decisions, that he’d never told her she couldn’t do something. When a man has to work that hard to convince me he’s self-actualized, I get a little…uh, skeptical.
I listened politely but eventually grew weary of his campaign to convince me that he’s a progressive kind of guy. Then he dropped the “E” word. “My wife is an empowered woman,” he said.
I replied cheerfully, “Well you sound like a pretty empowered man to me too.” (I couldn’t resist!) That’s when he got red in the face and sputtered, “I don’t have to be empowered. I’m a man!” I doubt they’ll invite me to dinner.
Seriously, why is it that women need to be empowered, but men get offended at the thought of being empowered?
Ah, they already have power! To be empowered implies that we don’t have power and someone has to give it to us. (The prefix “em” means “to furnish” or “put in to.”) Which explains this man’s reaction to my compliment about how empowered he is.
Perhaps women in some countries need to be empowered — countries where women don’t legally have rights equal to men, where women are marginalized. They need to be empowered through legal and cultural changes. But do women in the U.S. really need someone to empower us?
I think women in the U.S. already have power. But because power can be scary, we give it away. We avoid it and we abdicate it, in ways we can’t even see.
We were raised to be nice girls. We don’t want to make waves. We don’t voice our opinions. We speak sweetly when we’re really seething with legitimate anger because nice girls don’t get mad. We allow social pressures to dictate what organizations we join, even if we don’t enjoy them. We engage in people pleasing, saying “Yes” when we really wanted to say “No.” We struggle with setting limits, expressing our expectations and taking care of ourselves.
Fearful of perceptions and ugly stereotypes, even the strongest women sometimes perceive power as being negative. Anxious we’ll be labeled as demanding or hard to please, we often feel hesitant to assume appropriate power.
The result? We settle for less than we desire and less than we deserve.
I’m ready for women (myself included!) to become more aware of the small, subtle ways we inadvertently give away our power. Like not investing in our own growth and learning. Like letting fear keep us from asking for a raise. Like not negotiating household responsibilities.
Our self-beliefs shape how we live and how we lead. If we believe we need to be empowered, we are assuming we don’t have power and someone has to give it to us. I don’t believe we need someone to empower us. We already have power. We’ll find our own power on the inside. We can look outside for tools, training and resources (like Ask Ajna!) that help us get comfortable with power.
That’s a powerful (no pun intended!) shift in our thinking. When we embrace the grace of our own power, we can unapologetically become our authentic selves.
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Meet Darcie Harris:
Known for her warmth and wisdom, Darcie Harris is a champion for women.
An international speaker, trainer, and award-winning consultant, she is the founder and CEO of EWF International, a company offering peer advisory groups, coaching and consulting for women entrepreneurs and executives, and the Alpha Mare Academy, an online library of e-courses and podcasts for women.
Author of Get Out of Your Own Way: Essential Strengths and Strategies for Women Entrepreneurs Who Want to Grow Their Business, she is a respected media resource on women’s leadership and entrepreneurship and is widely published on the web.
One of her greatest joys is her work in Africa. Darcie traveled twice to Rwanda to deliver graduation keynotes and facilitate leadership skills training for emerging women entrepreneurs.
In 2010, the SBA honored Darcie as their Champion of Women in Business Award Winner.
Darcie has helped countless women realize their professional dreams, think big, pursue their passions and achieve their personal best. She describes her work with women as the most rewarding of her career.