Examining power and women leadership

This post is originally published on the Hamilton HIVE website.

When Pauline Kajiura, executive director of Information Hamilton, was asked to speak at the HIVEX Salon Series: Thrive as a Woman, she was humbled. It’s a “womanly trait” to undervalue our abilities, she said, addressing the crowd of mostly young women on Thursday, August 27.

Thrive as a Woman, which took place at the Hamilton Club, was a joint effort between the HIVEX Committee and HIVE member group Emerging Women Professionals. It also featured professional speaker and motivational coach Rosita Hall. It aimed to stimulate dialogue surrounding the following question:

Is it possible for a woman to have it all?

rosita-pauline-300x300Despite obvious differences in their skillsets and personalities — Hall an extrovert and Kajiura an introvert — both women have shared common experiences as women in leadership positions, among them a quest to explore their authentic selves in order to be effective and dynamic leaders.

“Who you are is the greatest strength you have,” said Hall. “We are all unique,” she adds, a sentiment echoed later by Kajiura, who has learned to embrace being an introvert in order to thrive as a leader.

Each woman in a leadership position (or those aspiring to a leadership position) is unique, just as the experiences faced by women in the workplace are unique, a truth that quickly became apparent at Thrive as a Woman. Women, especially those in male-dominated environments, face unique challenges unknown to most men.

“Power is given to men,” said Kajiura, recalling her own upbringing in cultures that favour men. “Women need to prove themselves.” This necessity of women to prove themselves became an overarching theme of the evening, especially evident during open discussion that took place among audience members after Hall and Kajiura addressed the crowd. It was during this open discussion that audience members from a number of fields, among them the arts, law, architecture, and multiple trades, were able to share their own experiences of being undervalued and overlooked in the work place.

Perhaps the most prevalent theme of Thrive as a Woman was that of power, or more accurately, the varying types of power highlighted by Kajiura: Power over, power within, and power with. While power can be effective, as in the case of “power with,” meaning collaboration among equals, some types of power can be dangerous.

pauline-group-300x300“We become reckless if we focus on power,” said Kajiura, adding that “Leadership isn’t about being the boss. It’s about the responsibility.”

Kajiura ended her presentation with a cover of “What’s Up,” the iconic power ballad by 4 Non Blondes, sharing lyrics that seemed to take on new meaning in a room full of young female professionals.

“Twenty-five years and my life is still
Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination
I realized quickly when I knew I should
That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
For whatever that means”

“People think the fight is over,” said Kajiura of the common misconception that because of high-enrollment rates in universities and a handful of female CEOs, that women have achieved it all. At Thrive as a Woman, the experiences shared by Hall, Kajiura, and many members of the audience proved that for many women, this isn’t the case. However, despite the common struggles expressed at Thrive as a Woman, the evening also offered hope, acting as indication that as more women become empowered to take on leadership roles, the workplace experiences of women will continue to improve, cultivating a culture that better serves women.

Jessica Rose

Jessica Rose is a writer, editor, and social-media coordinator who lives and works in Hamilton's downtown core. Since earning a degree in journalism from Carleton University, Jessica has written for many publications in Hamilton and across Canada. She is the Director of Programming for gritLIT: Hamilton's Readers and Writers Festival, a Living Arts blogger for the Hamilton Arts Council, and the writer of "Shelf Life," her column in Hamilton Magazine. Outside of gritLIT, Jessica is the Public Relations Chair for Hamilton HIVE young professional organization. For more, visit www.notmytypewriter.com or find Jessica on twitter at @NotMyTypewriter.

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