International Women’s Day made us think deeply about our fervor for empowering women leaders. CLA is committed to helping women grow their personal and professional power. And, research suggests there are a few key ways women can embrace their power.

1. Cultivate the Right Mindset

Women are often socialized to dissociate themselves from the concept of power. As a result of common gender stereotypes combined with the prevailing gender disparity in leadership roles across major industries, both men and women are less likely to view women as prime candidates for roles with authority. Yet in order to establish power, it is necessary for women to overcome these perceptions and internalize their own capacity for power.

By all means, changing gender associations developed over the course of a lifetime – and, often by extension, one’s gender-based narrative (e.g., “I am not powerful, nor do I want to be”) is not easy. However, it is entirely possible. One important step is to check your assumptions. Examine your definitions, beliefs and feelings about power and consider whether power can and should be yours.

2. Clarify Your Purpose for Power

As important as becoming more comfortable with the idea that you can and should hold power (and note that this is an iterative practice) is the question: why do you want power? What are those ideas or results that you envision? What could you achieve – for you, for the causes that are important to you, for others – that greater power would enable in the future? Anchoring in your reason for wanting power (your business or professional purpose) can help energize and motivate you to pursue opportunities to develop your power. By looking toward your goals, you can better recognize what you need to do or learn in order to achieve the power you need to meet those goals.

3. Understand Systems

We suggest that women need to consciously and actively work to understand the political structure in their organization What this means is, pay attention to people. One client of ours in a Private Equity Portfolio Company in the industrial space lived by the exercise of mapping out one’s organization’s informal relationships: who goes to whom for advice? Who exchanges support during meetings? The fact is that there is no pure meritocracy – power and influence move some people to the forefront – who are these people and who is helping them? Who are they helping in return? Our client, ultimately very successful in her industry, acknowledged and embraced the idea that knowing the ins and outs of your organization’s political structure positions you to mine the gaps, seek out the right influencers at the right times and begin to see how you can build the right support system for your own bottom line.

4. Be Strategic

As you take note of your organization’s political structure, we also suggest that you consider your stakeholders. This is where your personal network comes into play. Informal and formal networks can be invaluable resources when gaging opportunities for advancement, support for promotion or simply letting you know when you need to improve on a presentation. Yet, because people tend toward similar others (which means men tending to network with men), women are often at a disadvantage when it comes to networking. This means they may have to work more deliberately to develop the right network. When mapping your network, consider your superiors, peers and subordinates in your department, company and beyond. It is important to nurture a multi-purpose network, one that includes emotional support but also people who can mentor, sponsor and advocate for you.

5. Experiment with Powerful Behaviors

We suggest that women behave in ways that exude power and make them feel powerful, even when this does not initially feel natural. Consider it a “fake it until you make it” approach – and you will make it. By practicing powerful behaviors, women can not only get a sense of what these behaviors feel like, but begin to see the difference in how others treat them and what they can accomplish with powerful actions.

For a list of some powerful behaviors, check out the full article on our website here.

Chelsea Mitamura, Ph.D.

Chelsea is a consulting psychologist focused broadly on leadership development and more specifically on diversity and inclusion, team building and the advancement of women leaders. Chelsea completed her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin- Madison and her B.A. at Vassar College.