Terms of Empowerment: Why Words of Power Are Problematic for Some Women Leaders

power rangersYes, there is the Pink Power Ranger and also the Yellow Power Ranger. They are the fearless female fighters for good of that iconoclastic fantasy group, The Power Rangers. They are all globally beloved, stemming from the massively popular 1990s TV show still playing in reruns.The Power Rangers are such an indelible part of popular culture that Gizmodo posted an ode to their uniforms recently. And a new Power Rangers movie starring Elizabeth Banks is out next year.So power is good and the cartoonish embodiment of power is fine, but empowerment is one word for women leaders that some find problematic.[bctt tweet=“Empowerment is one word for women leaders that some find problematic.”]“Empowerment has become the sparkly pink consolation prize for the gender that continues to be excluded from actual power,” author Ruth Shippman wrote in TIME.The problem with “empowerment.” “Women are still drastically underrepresented anywhere that genuine power resides, and there has been precious little movement on that front in years. Despite our professed enthusiasm for the cause of female empowerment, many of us apparently still feel oddly put-out by the reality of actual women seeking meaningful power.”Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president, realigns the concepts of power and asserts that the shift needs to happen from the “power over” into the “power to” for women leaders. The 9 Leadership Power Tools to Advance Your Career are innovative strategies for leadership with a new frame of reference for power.Empowerment may just be one of those words that means different things to women leaders than to men, and to different personality types or leaders at different stages in their career.The language women leaders use to describe their work, their leadership, and their businesses matters, writes executive coach Sue Stockdale in The Guardian. Risk and fast growth are other buzz words that can set off alarms, like empowerment does.[bctt tweet=“The language women use to describe their work, their leadership, and their businesses matters.”]This shift starts with reimagining the vocabulary of power and leadership.“So what does this mean for those who are working in the field of women’s enterprise support? I think it means that language matters. We are so used to talking about aspirational end goals – startup to IPO, fast growth to exit, making a million, that maybe some thought should be given to ‘being the best you can be in your business today’ mantra,” Stockdale writes. “Reflecting on what is as well as what could be using real-time feedback as a means of motivating oneself without being pressurized into defining what the end outcome should be.”But not everyone has trouble with the word empowerment or what it can mean for their lives and careers.A Sacramento, California  program, Women’s Empowerment, has helped “1,349 graduates of the nonprofit group’s intensive training program, designed to prepare abused, addicted and homeless women for employment and life,” writes in Cynthia Hubert in the Sacramento Bee.“Women’s Empowerment, founded 15 years ago and now with a $1 million annual budget, attests that 80 percent of its graduates either have a job or are enrolled in school a year after completing more than eight weeks of training in basic computer skills, writing résumés and searching for employment,” Hubert writes.Derkisha Wofford, a graduate of the program said, “It gave me confidence. It made me realize that I had what it takes to do well in life. It was not just about job readiness. It’s about self-love and self-respect. Life can bring challenges, but you can’t run from them. The program taught me self-sufficiency.”What can effectively help women of all ages claim the power they already have?To help all women with resources on their career paths no matter what level they are on, the National Women’s Business Council, an independent advisory council to the President, Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration, last week launched resource platform Grow Her Business.“The platform is an online, searchable database of everything from accelerator programs and incubators to learning opportunities and mentors to federal grant applications,” writes Valentina Zarya in Fortune. “In short, its intention is to provide access to ‘everything you need to know when you’re a woman running a business,’ says Kimberly Blackwell, an NWBC council member.As we assess the cultural messages on leadership and power that we begin sending to children when they are very young, it is noteworthy that a new generation of pre-teens are playing with Barbies who do more than sit and wait in the Barbie car for Ken.A new way for girls to imagine their future.  According to C/Net, “The coding Barbie joins a lineup of career-oriented dolls that include a ballerina, a gymnast, a film director and a pet vet. Combine game developer Barbie with some Star Trek Barbies (and an Orion slave girl Barbie) and you’ll get quite a delightful geek-fest of dolls that can bond over a shared love of sci-fi and technology.”Mattel is changing the way girls can visualize their professional aspirations with new Barbies such as this coder. Amanda Kooser writes about the new Barbie Careers Game Developer Doll: “The developer sports glasses, blue jeans and a green jacket, an outfit described as ‘industry inspired.’ You could see her sitting in a room full of coders and fitting right in. She wears a silver headset with a built-in mic because she’s busy owning all your bases when she isn’t writing code for her latest game project. Game developer Barbie comes with some tools of her trade: a laptop and a tablet with a picture of a game. The laptop features real game code graphics.”This new doll introduction comes after “The International Game Developers Association released a workplace survey in 2014 that found that only 22 percent of the more than 2,200 participating developers were women,” Kooser writes. “Though sometimes a subject of controversy, Barbie dolls can be influential toys for girls. The idea here is that you can dream of becoming a professional ballerina or a veterinarian, but you can also be one of the people who creates the games you love to play.”Just like the Power Ranger dolls introduced two decades earlier, these new dolls send a strong message to girls. And that is powerful.