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How to switch from low power to high gear

Woman standing in front of black board

We know that men act very differently from women at work. But why?

Is biology at play? Or are we acculturated differently? Or both?

And how do these differences influence who gets promoted, when?

Janet Crawford, founder and CEO of Cascadance Inc., posed those questions and offered some answers at the NEW Northern California 10th anniversary learning event.

“The reason men and women exhibit these differing characteristics may have more to do with a human and universal unconscious relationship to power than it does with our gender itself,” Crawford said.

Human brains are flexible and changeable. They’re not cold calculators. They’re designed to learn from social interactions and help us estimate our place as “high power” or “low power,” Crawford told event attendees.

We’re continually observing our social environment for where we fit in a power hierarchy, Crawford said. Depending on our perceived place, we adopt high-power or low-power behaviors, sometimes subconsciously.

Women — and others in our society who don’t look like the white males who typically hold a great deal of power — grow up absorbing subconscious messages about their low-power status and the need to please others to keep themselves safe. They adopt low-power behaviors and avoid risk-taking or big-picture decision-making, the traits companies look for in promoting people to executive positions.

Tap into your ‘higher power’

Nearly all, 99 percent, of human learning and behavioral decision-making happens at a subconscious level, while less than 1 percent originates from conscious intention, Crawford said. “That 1 percent of precious cortical resources is what we pay the big bucks for. This same region is what we call upon to override low-power behaviors and step into high-power positions.”

In other words, women use a great deal of energy suppressing subconscious urges to act in low-power ways — energy that might otherwise go to innovation and creativity.

To reclaim authentic and generative power, Crawford suggests four tactics:

Exercise self-care. Women tend to sacrifice in service of family and their boss. That doesn’t lead to promotions. Instead, get enough sleep.

Become self-defining. Identify and prioritize your own goals.

Develop strong networks. Unfortunately, low-power individuals “often feel that asking for help or accepting help equates with weakness,” Crawford said.  “But relying on a network isn’t cheating — it’s smart.”

Becoming a NEW member, volunteering as a regional leader and attending regional networking and learning events will help, Crawford noted. “When you engage in this network, you experience yourself as high-power,” she said. “When you leave here, you get a carryover effect, a halo effect in your brain.”

Unlearn low-power behaviors. As part of NEW, “you get to try out and perfect high-power behaviors in a safe and supportive context, before implementing them in an environment [at work] that is inherently more threatening,” Crawford said.

The goal is to “develop your executive presence. It takes cortical resources to unlearn low-power behaviors,” Crawford said. “Self-care, self-definition and developing a power network enhance your cortical reserves, making the task of learning new behaviors more efficient.”

Members: Post your comments in our NEW Member Community.

Mary Rees is a freelance radio and print reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.