As a champion of the talents women leaders bring to the table, I am also called on to confront our self-imposed limits.
My Shoes or My Career
In our recent conversation Margaret Heffernan lamented, “Most women would rather spend $500 on a pair of shoes than invest in their professional development.”
If we don’t make serious investments in our own careers why should others make serious investments in us?
Results from our research on women and power also speak to this problem.* Too many women expect access to power will be granted by someone else. In the corporate setting, that someone else is often a man who holds a position of power.
But there’s a large problem with the notion that someone else can give us power.
First, power is the ability to get things done, not the ability to wait for someone to dub you Queen of Getting Things Done and lend you the magic wand to make things happen. Second, if power can be ‘given’, it can be taken away. This leaves the initial recipient powerless. Third, there is no Corporate Prince Charming waiting for us to show that our foot is just the right match for the shoe he holds in his hands. And finally, about those…
The Prince’s gift of glass slippers are not the shoes any respectable girl would wear to play on the field of business. Not if she expects to win.
Women grow up with archetypes of Cinderella-like characters waiting for someone else to deliver a shoe or some other key to happiness. Our real lives are influenced by these stories and other cultural messages about what we can or cannot do without a more powerful figure, often times a man, to help us. As women we must overcome these longstanding iconic stories and images that are paired with less than equal rights and less than equal abilities to participate fully in life outside the home. We need to find, create, be, and act in accordance with heroines who make our way in the world with the power of our own two feet, clad in shoes that get us where we want to go. Enter Dorothy and her…
Dorothy, guided by her mentor and coach Glinda, travels the Yellow Brick Road in pursuit of a vision. She wants to go home, to be where she feels a sense of belonging. Along the way she leads a team of three. Each is presented with a challenge and musters what’s required to conquer it. By doing so, each discovers he has the very quality he thought the Wizard would bestow.
Dorothy plays a critical role in helping each character transform. She provides the journey. Invites them along. Leads the way. Boosts their confidence and encourages them to overcome obstacles. Each character finds his desired characteristic - courage, heart, brain - while battling a dreaded monster. They didn’t need the Wizard after all. And he turns out to be a small man behind a large curtain who is no more powerful than they are.
In the end Dorothy discovers that she too has been looking for someone else to solve her problem, when all along she’s had the Ruby Reds, the power, to get herself where she wants to go. And so do you.
So before your next trip to the shoe department, I hope you will think about this post then trot yourself to the corner bookstore and buy business books instead. Give up the next few pairs and you can hire a mentor or a coach, invest in developing your personal brand, sign up for a seminar or workshop, or lead a team to solve an important company problem. Only you have the power to choose. Will you buy one pair of shoes now or own the shoe company later?
Archetypes of powerful female figures are available in the following films:
Alice in Wonderland
The Wizard of Oz