Exploring Women's Relationships with Power

Last Updated Sep 29, 2010 8:54 PM EDT

There I was again, in a crowd of 300 people with a gender ratio of 20 females to 1 male. This time it was an afternoon seminar organised by the American Chamber of Commerce.

It was an Amcham Women in Management event: Exploring Women's Relationships with Power. There was a 30-minute address by Sarah Cornally, a speaker and coach on leadership, followed by three-member panel discussion chaired by Adele Horin, editor of Boss magazine.

Besides Sarah, the other female member was Catriona Noble, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, McDonald's Australia, who was terrific. The third member was some poor male who was dragged in at the last moment and whose specialty was corporate strategy and whose name I forget.

I must confess I found the seminar content weak, and talking to some of the attendees afterwards I was not alone. For example, Sarah was arguing that organisations need to implement non-hierarchical structures. Sorrym but that is nonsense; next we will all be singing Kumbaya. I have blogged about power and women in management before and my favourite writer on power, Professor Jeffery Pfeffer, has done it again in another great BNET blog.

One of his tips about gaining power was to ask for help, and that was similar to the advice given by Catriona Noble, who said one secret to her success was that she took frequent advice from various mentors.

I remember when I was beginning my corporate career I was told that you should consider yourself as a stove with a fixed amount of energy that can go into four hot plates: your family, your friends, your health and your work. If you want to be successful you have to turn off one burner and really successful you have to turn off two. I was also told that this is not a formula for happiness but success. The same mentor told me that one solution to the conundrum was to get married, and then let your partner take up the slack. It is what I did and as the father of two beautiful daughters it worked for me.

What I did find interesting was that this was the solution that both Sarah and Catriona had adopted. Both revealed they had house husbands. This is not often mentioned as a strategy for women getting ahead but perhaps what is sauce for the goose does need to be sauce for the gander.