Knowledge is power, unless you’re a woman. Worse if you’re a Black woman.
I love education. I’m a learner. My profession has been in training and development for two decades. I became a coach because I’m fascinated by the inner workings of the mind and our ability to burn through ideas with the sheer power of critical thinking. Two of my top five strengths are intellect and learner. I devour wisdom. I collect online courses, e-books, and information as though I was rebuilding the library at Alexandria. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes me to get through it. There is comfort knowing that it’s there and at the ready should I need it. Can you relate?
I grew up in a generation that was told that knowledge was power. I grew up in a generation that was told that if we could just fill the Achievement Gap, that we were going to create a more equitable world. And I was told that knowledge and higher education was the path to liberation. My parents believed that getting a college education was the key to unlocking the power of American Dream.
And all of those ideas of “knowledge is power” that were sold to my generation — they don’t work. Not for Black Women. Not for anybody.
Being Black and a woman sometimes means that you can be the most educated in the room and still not be the most powerful or the most empowered. I have been in those rooms. And if you are a Black woman in America you too have been in those rooms. And you have sat down next to Mediocre Matt, who went to Yale as a legacy, graduated with a C average, hasn’t read a book since senior year, and somehow made it to VP before you even though you started at the same time.
Is knowledge power? Let’s look at some stats:
Studies have shown us that Black women are the most educated demographic of the American populace measured by attainment of Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees. As of 2019 African Americans were awarded 7% of the doctoral degrees conferred. 64% of them were awarded to women. And yet with all of the education Black and other women of color are still grossly underrepresented in Executive Suite. Every annual McKinsey and Co Women in the Workplace report shows that. It’s no wonder that since we are also the leading demographic for entrepreneurship and small-business entities. It’s hard to stay in the room when people refuse to acknowledge your talents, expertise and abilities. Looks like all of that powerful knowledge we invested so much time (and billions of money into) can easily be ignored when it comes to actually conferring power, authority and autonomy in Corporate work spaces.
The good news is that power comes in many forms.
In our Personal Branding and Influence workshop, the focus is on not only identifying your core values and what you bring to the table but also how you can communicate those values from a place of power to truly shift and be a change agent within the community spaces you inhabit. There are at least six types of power. The two that most black women identify with? Expertise and Charisma.
Black women have more degrees and certs than anybody, and Black Girl Magic is still real.
And yet time and again we recognize that this is not the kind of power that is recognized in Corporate America or in climbing the ladder.
6 years ago, I was the most educated woman in the room. I had a Masters in management, certifications in Communications coaching, public speaking, and went ahead and got 4 financial licenses just for fun. Who does that? AND I had the experience that far exceeded the work of my peers. And yeah all of that knowledge didn’t translate into power when it came down to navigating spaces in the corporate sector. I was literally told that I knew nothing and that my expertise amounted to nothing of value. But this is no surprise because there are different kinds of power and while my expertise and charisma have afforded me other opportunities then and since, I failed to recognize that power also comes with proximity and relationship to those who already have power.
Powers that exist beyond your expertise in charisma:
Sign off power – the ability to withhold access to resources
Referent power – authority and power granted to those in proximity and in favorable relationship to those with existing and recognized power and authority
Hierarchy – authority that comes with the position you hold (usually above others on the org chart)
Reward / Punishment – the power to grant or withhold resources and access to those who are providing for your needs/access
So you see?
The way to more power isn’t reading. It’s relationships, positioning and access.
What do you do if you don’t have those things? The key is always relationships.
So when you’re done reading all the books and becoming an excellent speaker, there is still plenty of time to build and foster relationships. And yes, focusing on relationships with those who have power, will tend to look like focusing on people who do not always identify the same way as you. (Mediocre Matt included). This isn’t fake-it-til-you-make-it. This is to get all the power that’s on the table.
Steps to Take to Expand your power points:
- Participate in sponsorship programs that give you access to diverse leaders and then build real relationships with them
- Master the art of networking
- Learn what resources and access others crave so you can learn how to leverage reward and punishment
- Ask for and get agreement on what authority looks like in your role
Besides, it’s always been said it isn’t knowledge that is power it’s applied knowledge that can open doors and empower. So hey, I’m talking to you. Instead of getting another degree, another certification, taking another course or reading another book, why not just rest in the fact that you know enough and you are enough and now it’s time to tap into abundance of power that’s available to you if you’re willing to seek it out. Let’s redefine what a “power grab” can look like by opening our minds to other access points.
You can learn more about our personal branding and influence Workshop by visiting our content library.