Last spring, I was one of 60 women chosen to participate in a seminar on "Women and Power" at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Nineteen countries were represented.
It was a whirlwind experience and the time passed quickly, but the themes became evident early. Understanding the differences between power and leadership, learning how groups come to decisions, effective conflict resolution, good governance and the importance of negotiation.
All of these add up to the form- ula for becoming a powerful leader.
But why don't more women embrace power? Do women view power differently than men? What does power mean to you? Women traditionally have had a conflicted relationship with power. We are happy to fight for the rights of others as a worthy endeavor. Fighting for ourselves isn't often viewed as being equally worthy. We have to examine our own relationship with power. We no longer can excuse ourselves and justify our lack of progress by blaming external factors alone. We must stand confidently in our power, or we won't be able to lead ourselves or others with intention.
Now more than ever, we need to step forward and become the decisionmakers, and by virtue of doing so, help achieve real economic development and a more prosperous future for all. It is time for a new leadership paradigm that allows women to participate fully at all levels.
A growing body of research shows that positive outcomes result from balanced leadership. The Economist Magazine wrote famously in 2006, "Forget China, India and the Internet: economic growth is driven by women." Research also shows that having at least 30 percent of corporate and governmental leadership positions filled by women improves decisionmaking, opens up institutions and removes barriers to full participation. Catalyst Inc. has shown that firms with three or more women on management boards boosted their return on equity by 112 percent compared with those with fewer women. Other countries are addressing the fundamental issues of leadership in ways that have yet to gain traction in the U.S.
Having a few females at the top is great, but until we have at least 30 percent of senior women in leadership, we will be ignoring a strong dynamic that is working in many other countries where corporate and governing bodies are required to have greater female representation. The United States, a country that aspires to be a world leader, ranks a pitiful 31st out of 134 countries in eliminating the disparities between women and men, according to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley's inauguration was hailed as an important breakthrough; however at the same time, the number of women elected to our Legislature went down, placing us dead last as 50th in the nation in terms of the political participation of women. I am tired of taxation without representation.
I see that on the local level, too, where Kathleen Wilson is the lone woman on Charleston City Council, and Charleston County Council has only just elected a second woman, Anna Johnson, to serve alongside Colleen Condon. I find it fascinating that one of the largest employers in the county, the Medical University of South Carolina, has only one woman and one African-American on their board of trustees, and she is the same person, Dr. Paula Orr. But then again, who elects the majority of the trustees? The Legislature, where less than 10 percent of the representatives are female. This pattern has to change.
I want to open up an ongoing dialogue about women and power and encourage my sisters in this community to take their rightful place at the public policy and boardroom tables. I am willing to share what I learned at Harvard to teach all of us how to develop the power to bring about the changes we need to have a sustainable quality of life. Traditionally, power has been seen as something to have "over" someone or something. I propose that women seek the power "to" achieve a common goal.
As Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote in "Half the Sky," the great moral imperative of the 19th century was the abolition of slavery, in the 20th century it was the end of totalitarianism and in the 21st century it is women's rights.
I want to be a powerful force in achieving that moral imperative, and I want lots of company doing it.