A group of women help each other ascend through the ranks

Power and Success in a Woman's World

Power and Success in a Woman's World

According to a 2004 research study from a group of females at Harvard Business School: "Women and men believe they are equally able to attain high-level leadership positions [but] men want that power more than women do" (Nobel, 2015). As a 20-year-old female surrounded by ambitious women on a daily basis, I disagree with this statement. How do women with high leadership positions feel about it? What do power and success truly mean from a female perspective? Taken by curiosity, I engaged in active discussions with three powerful and successful women in high-level leadership positions. Cindy Davies has over 15 years of experience as an HR director in companies such as Thomson Reuters and Halma plc. Jennifer Rudder is a Global Finance Director with a 17- year successful career in a predominantly male-dominated discipline. Zlata Gagarina, an independent financial advisor, raised in the Soviet Union, gave vital insight into the differences in female and male upbringing and the slow change towards a more gender-balanced workplace. 

In this article, I focus on four questions that brought me essential insight for my career vision and, most importantly, developed an eagerness for change towards a more equitable world. I hope this article can impact you in the same way. 

Do you agree with the Harvard statement? 

"Women and men believe they are equally able to attain high-level leadership positions [but] men want that power more than women do." 

The statement can be divided into two separate parts. The first part was what all three women and I agreed was a correct reflection of dominant 21st-century norms. "Had you asked me this 8 years ago, I would have probably said no," cites Cindy, "but your generation [Gen Z] has a better shot at it now." Indeed, as previously mentioned, many young women I am surrounded by strive for success, power, and the high-leadership positions attributed to these labels. The Women's Network is a prime example of this community of ambitious women. 

The second part of the statement also appears to be true. Jennifer explains, "yes, men want that power more than women do," and elaborates that "it comes down to how we are brought up." Women are repeatedly reminded to not be "too bossy, to stop being so pushy, and to have their ideas and goals moving and going instead of achieving." Zlata sides with this viewpoint by also questioning whether a child's upbringing has a role in this. She adds that "although there has been a vast improvement in the last 10 years, we are not there yet. Feminism is about equal chances and, as a society, we have not thus far arrived there." 

"I have faith GenZ will be able to change this last statement" - Zlata 

How do you view power? 

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, power is "the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events." Power can be interpreted in various ways, and I'm sure most of us usually associate power with success and the status quo. Zlata gives an insightful view by stating that "now with maturity and working with emotional intelligence, I started to see power not just as pure success in my career, but as power for me as an individual and how I can change the world around me." This makes me question whether the different interpretations of power stem from reflection rather than a gendered perspective. Psychologically, with age comes wisdom and experience with our own ideas; who knows what I will attribute power to be in 10 years? Power for me is achieving and making people around me succeed through my own leadership. 

After discussing the definition of power with these women, I inquired about the connotation that comes along with it [power]. Is power a good or a bad thing? It is a crucial dynamic in human social interaction, and "it's a good thing, it is how you use it that can make it dirty sometimes," says

Cindy. "I am very careful with how I use my power," she further adds, "I never use it at the expense of others nor for my ego." 

How do you view success? 

Success can be interpreted as personal success, relationship success, and work success. For Jennifer: "Success is living the life I want and having enough resources to do so," for Cindy: "Success is being able to affect change for a large scale, influence people, and be overall happy and feeling my best." Their angle of thought on success takes a personal approach. Zlata also sides with the following approach and adds that "unfortunately the majority of success is automatically associated with social status and financial power and freedom, and I myself have been brought up thinking this way." The idea of success has changed throughout the years, moving from a more work-dominated attribution towards a personal viewpoint. Zlata adds that it takes personal reflection to change one's views of success: "We need to change our own outlook of the world." She follows with her experience of how she changed her idea of success: "throughout my motherhood, I am trying to build the idea of success as following your own passion." 

What do you think still needs to change in order for men and women to have equal opportunity for success and power? 

Balance is what still needs to be achieved, but how can we accomplish this? As Zlata says, we can answer this by analyzing it with a double perspective. From a bottom-top approach, personal change is needed. Values from each individual affect the overall potential of a system change; a collective cannot change if the individual level isn't altered. From a top-down approach, we need to teach society about leadership. Being informed on the development and how things can affect our society aids the balance and equality we aim to achieve. 


Nobel, Carmen. 2015. "Men Want Powerful Jobs More Than Women Do." HBS Working Knowledge. https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/men-want-powerful-jobs-more-than-women-do 

2019. Image. https://medium.com/@nikita.uday/a-brief-on-a-few-women-in-leadership ea8c88fda57c