Being a woman in power is complicated. Media executive, Pat Mitchell, knows first hand how hard it can be, especially when you're an innovator at heart.

Pat was the first woman president of PBS, where she led public broadcasting into the digital era. She spent years fighting against institutional bias to have the stories of women from around the world highlighted in content. She also served as CEO of CNN and, more recently, the Paley Center for Media. Today she curates TEDWomen.

Needless to say, Pat is a living embodiment of grit and resilience who believes that women are changing the nature of power, not the other way around. 

Last week at the S.H.E. Summit in New York City, she said:

"It's been my experience that women have a very complex relationship with power. We move away from it. We deny we have it. We are tremendously uncomfortable discussing it or talking about it... we have to start to change the language that we use when we're talking about power -- and women in power, with power, they're the ones that have to change it."

Then in a few short words, Pat summarized how current and rising female leaders can rock the status quo and step into their power: 

"It's time for us to stop putting our power on hold. We need to see it, name it, feel it, use it. Differently. And for different outcomes." (emphasis mine)

When it comes to influence and innovation, Pat's "see it, name it, feel it, use it" formula speaks to the importance of core skills women can use to their advantage when affecting change: emotional intelligence, assertive communication,  risk-taking, and living by a strong set of ethics and personal values.

Pat's call to action is more important now than ever. Women remain woefully underrepresented in leadership positions. Women of color face even steeper challenges, according to a recent report by Lean In and McKinsey & Company. 

Making 'Power' A Positive

As a coach who works with female leaders and entrepreneurs, I realized that Pat's formula can also be used to break internal barriers that hold us back from success.

Sitting in the audience, I found myself questioning where I needed to update old stories ingrained from years of conditioning that may only be serving to keep me small. Where am I downplaying my capabilities? Where could I be taking more risks? 

If you sense your own relationship with power needs some work, do some digging around questions like:

  • What's the first reaction you have when you hear the word "power"? Is it positive or negative? What images come up? 
  • Was advocating for yourself off-limits in your family? Was it encouraged?
  • When you were younger, was it acceptable to speak up and share your opinion?
  • What other major experiences shaped your attitude towards authority and asserting yourself, particularly in the workplace?

Reflecting is a great place to start, but ultimately confidence comes through action. So today try using Pat Mitchell's words as call to action to step into your own power. See it, name it, feel it -- and most importantly, use it to create change and empower those around you. 

Published on: Oct 23, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.