Women in leadership positions – female identity and power
There are still significantly fewer women than men in management positions. Although there is no lack of motivation or skills, only about 16 percent of the nearly 1.3 million companies in Germany are led by women. But why is that? Is it because of the “men’s clubs” that like to keep to themselves and don’t want to be put off by the presence of women? Or is it due to the different way women and men relate to influence and power? In the case of this complex and much-discussed topic, it is worth taking a psychoanalytical look at the phenomenon. Find out here which inner-psychological dynamics lie behind the phenomenon and how psychoanalytical business coaching can help you to master the next career step.
Female Identity and Power
According to Max Weber (1922), power is “any chance to assert one’s own will within a social relationship, even against opposition, regardless of what this chance is based on.” This definition refers to the micropolitical level of power – that is, all those behaviors and strategies that are used in everyday corporate life to achieve one’s own interests in relation to one’s career. These everyday strategies include not letting colleagues play along, pulling strings in the background, or even networking. In order to maintain or expand one’s own power, however, these means of power must not only be used in a strategically clever way, but also require the ability to distinguish oneself from others and their interests and to assert one’s own interests. However, this form of striving for power does not occur in the female gender stereotype – being community-oriented, team-oriented, harmony-minded, empathetic and modest.
But how does identification with the female stereotype influence women’s micropolitical behavior? Those women who show a strong identification with the female stereotype are usually the “good soul” of the company and tend to avoid competitive behavior. They are more concerned with a high level of community orientation and attachment to others Often, these women experience micropolitical behavior as culpable. However, if they succeed in maintaining a critical distance from the female stereotype, women have a broader range of behaviors at their disposal, which – used confidently – are an important strategy for gaining power.
Moreover, women often exhibit a different relationship to power than men. This was proven in a study of 21,000 university graduates. Here it was shown that “money” and “power” were more important for men than for women. For Women, on the other hand, “image,” “ethical values” and “contact with friends” were more important than for men (Informationsdienst Wissenschaft, 2011). This corresponds to the fact that the focus of career planning among men tends to be on taking the next career step. Women are more hesitant in this regard. They are also more likely to have ambivalences about the upcoming promotion and the associated (power-) position. For example, one client reported that her boss repeatedly asked her to take on project management, but she was unsure whether she wanted to do so: “If I accept the position, I would have a better position in the company but I would have no time for my friends and my hobbies at all.”
Furthermore, power is something pleasurable, vital and creative (Nietsche, 1983), which requires a self-determined, pleasurable occupation of one’s own (female) body and the associated potency. If the pleasurable occupation of the female body and its potency is inhibited, the confidence in one’s own abilities also falters – the sovereign appearance dwindles. The compatibility of career and family is also frequently cited as a reason for being hesitant about the upcoming career step. Here, there is a great fear of having to sacrifice their female sexuality and motherliness for the organization and of not being able to manage the balancing act between career and family. This ambivalence is less common among men. The extent to which success, power and female sexuality and identity are interwoven is also evident in the series “Borgen”. Here, the protagonist of the series, Birgitte Nyborg, the Prime Minister of Denmark, loses her sovereignty only when her intimate encounters with her husband suffer under her professional obligations, she loses her relationship with her children and her husband to another woman. But what is the origin of women’s different relationship to power? It is undisputed that the different socialization of men and women plays a significant role. But psychoanalysis can also contribute to a better understanding of this quite complex phenomenon. Some aspects will be taken up here:
The role of the mother and the ambivalence to power
In large parts of the Western world, the mother is still the primary caregiver in early childhood development. Therefore, both boys and girls are confronted with the feminine in their first relationship. However, while the boy must detach himself from his mother and identify with his father in order to become a man, the girl cannot hope for the support of gender difference. In the development of female identity, the girl must not completely turn away from her mother, but must find her own access from the predominantly female world of feelings and fantasies. The separation from the mother is nevertheless a developmental task that the girl must overcome in order to form her own female identity. In this process, the girl, who undertakes the first individuation and detachment steps from her mother from the 15th/16th month of life, is confronted with a difficult task that is highly ambivalent. On the one hand, the girl must orient herself to her mother in the development of her identity and female sexuality, but on the other hand she must also detach herself from her in order to be able to develop her own female identity.
Sometimes this developmental step does not succeed. For example, if the mother herself is ambivalent in dealing with her female identity and sexuality or if she is unconsciously envious of her daughter’s desire and autonomy. In such situations it is often difficult for the mothers to accompany their daughters benevolently in the development of their autonomy. Ultimately, this leads to the girl not being able to develop a pleasurable use of her body and her female potency. Due to the lack of support from the mother – which is unconsciously experienced by the girl as rejection – the girl remains inwardly bound to the needs of the mother and refrains from developing aggressive and libidinous potentials. These women later hardly succeed in distancing themselves from female stereotypes and also in using their femininity as an instrument of micropolitical action on the way to power in a positive sense.
Moreover, women often experience the career step as a subjugation to the organization, in which there is no room for their interests or a motherhood, which must be sacrificed for the sake of the career. The impending career move is often experienced as a dependent submission to the organization, which inwardly merges with the image of the mother. At the same time, climbing the career ladder would expose her wealth and feminine potency and provoke the mother’s envy. However, if she forgoes the career move and the power that comes with it, she does not have to fear the mother’s retribution. Some women who do manage to climb the career ladder – especially when the mentor falls away – often fear being exposed and standing unprotected and ashamed in front of the public.
Psychoanalytical business coaching – ways out of the dilemma
In order to be successful and to develop a stable female identity , women have to deal with their unconscious mother images as well as the internalized maternal prohibitions of pleasure and autonomy. Psychoanalytic business coaching can be helpful in this process. Through the appreciation of the feminine by the coach with simultaneous permission to be able to develop independently, an inner further development can take place within the framework of psychoanalytical business coaching and the necessary steps towards one’s stable feminine identity and potency can be made up for. By working through and overcoming internalized patterns, it can be possible to develop one’s own stable leadership style and influence the corporate culture accordingly .
M. Sc. Julia Perliner, Coach at dynaMIND
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