When it comes to power and women there can often be a disconnect. The idea of power has all sorts of connotations and for many of us it can feel elusive or something only leaders need. But the truth is that power crops up all the time. The need to have it and the feelings we have when we don’t. 

Having now worked with women specifically for the last couple of years I’ve come to see there are key issues that come up again and again which cause us to feel like things aren’t fully in our control or affect our feelings of self-belief and confidence. These are the things that make us feel powerless, either to change or to be in the driving seat of our careers.

So what are they? I’ve identified 3 main reasons women can feel powerless in the workplace and their career which I’ve outlined below:

1. Lack of Career Vision

Ok so this is a fundamental one. So many people I speak to have never thought about where they are headed in their career. They have often fallen into what they do, put up with it and at some point start to get dissatisfied because maybe they didn’t think so much about what they actually like doing, or what kind of environment they want to spend their time in. They just drift along in their career and let themselves be taken along. There’s a whole raft of reasons why but the upshot is that at some point they start to question where they are going. 

Alternatively, they may have made a very conscious decision early on their career to go into something which has a defined career path but at some point, life throws some curve balls, life circumstances change or it doesn’t quite turn out as they expected. In either scenario, not knowing where you want to be headed can leave you feeling lost and unsure of whether you’re even in the right place at all. 

And for women this often kicks in around the time of having children or starting to think about having them, thinking about whether their chosen career path will stand up to new priorities and a change in perspective.

When you know where you want to be headed, it’s not that everything suddenly becomes perfect and off you go, it’s more about knowing why you’re doing something and knowing then how to navigate the path along the way. You get to steer the ship and make tweaks and changes in line with where you want to be. If you don’t have the vision then, when things start not to feel right you can be left feeling lost and wondering why you’re putting yourself through it all.

So before looking at the other 2 reasons, here’s a quick test to see whether you actually want to stay in your current career or job. Ask yourself these simple questions:

Why? – do you know what’s driving what you do? Does it align with your values, purpose or financial goals?

What?  – does it hit the spot and match what you actually enjoy doing? Do you like the work that you do, even if you’re good at it?

How? – are you working in a way that works for you? Is the environment right? Do you have enough structure/freedom/social contact etc?

If you can answer all of the above questions in the positive, and you’re still wondering why things don’t feel right then read on. If, however, some of the above questions have got you questioning where you are currently, it could be time to start devling in and either making tweaks to how you work or looking to bigger changes such as a change of job or a full change of career.


2. Boundaries

So everything on the surface feels good. Pay is good, work colleagues are good, your work environment suits you and there’s opportunities for progression. But there’s a but.

Maybe you’re feeling stretched, put upon, doing too much and generally a bit out of your depth. You’re not getting that feeling of satisfaction of a good job done because it feels like you never quite get the job done. You’re scrabbling for time and potentially feeling out of your depth.

When these feelings start to kick in, one of the first things that springs to my mind is boundaries.

For many women, wanting to give more, fear of saying no and being judged, wanting to please, and not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings are just some of the common reasons why women will continue to take on more.  Often it leads to feelings of overwhelm, resentment and in lots of cases burnout. When this happens it can be hard to work out what is causing the career dissatisfaction and feelings of powerlessness because there’s simply too much going on to find the headspace.

Taking a step back and acknowledging that this is happening is the first step and then by working on confidence building and strategies for putting in boundaries more effectively and which feel comfortable, you can start to shift the power back and feel happier about saying no to things which just don’t serve you.


3. Not being seen or heard

You’ve worked really hard. You get results. You’re well regarded by your clients, yet you have this feeling that you’re not moving to the next level quickly enough or you’re not liking how you’re being treated. Maybe people are making assumptions about you, giving you work which you’re not interested in, which doesn’t match your ambitions. And then when you produce the goods, it goes unrecognised or you don’t get the rewards you were aiming for.

When this happens it can feel like you’re not being heard or seen, so what’s the point of showing up at all? Whatever you do seems to have little impact on your place in your organisation so why even bother trying to aim for more? This can really make women feel powerless because no matter how hard they try to do their best it doesn’t necessarily move them forward or motivate them to try harder.

Often, when you take a closer look it can come down to communication. What we think is obvious to us so often isn’t obvious to others. So, in order to feel more in control of this type of situation, effective communication becomes critical. 

If this sounds like something you’re experiencing, ask yourself. Are you actually asking for what you want and need? Are you making assumptions about how others see you? Are there ways of working that you would like to see happen, yet nobody is even aware of them?

Speaking up for what you want isn’t about shouting louder to get your voice heard. You don’t have to force, bully or not listen to others to get your point across, and if framed in the right way, asking questions of your managers and colleagues doesn’t have to reveal any level of weakness. 

There are ways that feel right to women to address all of the issues raised here and it involves bringing in more feminine energy and power, often to counter the prevailing masculine structures that are embedded in our current workplaces.

We don’t have to play the game at work to fit in we just need to revisit the rules and add in a few of our own. So that it becomes a place where we can truly be ourselves and flourish, knowing that if it doesn’t fit in with our expectations of what work needs to be for us that we always have the option to leave and find something that does.

And that, is true power.


Jo Oogarah 

Career Empowerment Coach

Helping professional women own their career, find their power and make positive change so that they thrive in the workplace.


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