Soft Power In Women’s Hands – The Key to Social Media Success

Power in Women's Hands

Women and Soft Power

In a recent blog posting on the Harvard Business Review, (January 19, 2011), Vineet Nayar made the following important comment:

The leadership of women in politics, business, and society is becoming evident across the globe.”

Years ago, this idea might have been controversial — today it is axiomatic — particularly in the business of Social Media.

And soft power is the secret ingredient in women’s new recipe for success.


What is Soft Power?

Joseph S. Nye Jr., the former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, defined soft power as:

“The ability to influence or lead through persuasion or attraction, by co-opting people rather than coercing them.”

While noting that “soft power isn’t the exclusive preserve of women,” Nayar continued, “women are more inclined than are men to use soft power through tools such as dialogue and engagement.”  This is a key success component in Social Media.

He also commented, that “research has shown that women are excellent mediators, great networkers, and they place more value on building relationships than do men. They also keep cool during crises.”

This form of soft power, whether wielded by businessmen or women, is the engine that is fueling the phenomenon that we call Social Media, and it may become the single most powerful key to Social Media success.

As has been noted in my previous blog postings, women like Ms. Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft Foods, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, and Anne Sweeney of Disney, have made enormous contributions — not only to business and Social Media — but to the human condition and to the relative impact of women in business.


The Glass Ceiling – A Little History

The proverbial glass ceiling, as it is called, and the gender inequality that forms its basis, have been unfortunate facts-of-life in American business since long before Social Media became a force.

To understand the glass ceiling’s impact on Social Media, it is first necessary to review a little history.

The glass ceiling has been legislated against, defined in the business literature, confirmed by governmental commissions, and made a substantive issue in various business appointments, as well as in political contests from the Congress to the Presidency:

  • Gender inequality was legislated against in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • The term “glass ceiling” was defined as the “invisible barriers that impede the career advancement of women in the American workforce” in the March 24, 1986 edition of the Wall Street Journal.
  • In a 1991 study by the The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, it was confirmed that women encountered considerable glass ceiling barriers in their careers.
  • It was dismissed as non-existent by Carly Fiorina upon becoming CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and then interestingly reasserted after her term at HP concluded.
  • It was highlighted by Hillary Clinton in her run for the U.S. Presidency, which is often seen as the highest glass ceiling in America.
  • And it has made its existence known twice in recent political developments:  When Michele Bachmann announced her presidential ambitions, and when Mitch Daniels, the Governor of Indiana and presumed presidential aspirant, announced that he might appoint Condeleezza Rice as his Vice Presidential running mate.


Why Is It Happening? What Are The Implications for Social Media

The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission noted a number of barriers to women in its findings.  I have listed these barriers below, with the implications of each for Social Media.

Historical barriers to women in business:

  • Outreach and recruitment practices fail to seek out or recruit women. While it is true that typical recruitment practices in American business have favored men in the past, the advent of Social Media has changed this considerably.  Social networking websites like LinkedIn have now become the de facto location for executive recruitment.  Additionally, there are a large number of women active in the blogosphere — building strong reputations, considerable influence and Social Media knowledgeand modern recruitment practices have taken this change into consideration.
  • Prevailing culture of many businesses is a white male culture and such corporate climates alienate and isolate women. More than any current change in American business, Social Media has begun to usher out the extant “Good Ol’ Boy” network.  While it still exists, particularly in older companies, the remarkable achievements of CEOs like Rosenfeld, Nooyi and Sweeney (linked to above), have shown irrefutably that women have the requisite skills to command even the largest companies.
  • Initial placement and clustering in staff jobs or in highly technical and professional jobs that are not on the career track to the top. One of the remaining liabilities of the Good Ol’ Boy network is the erroneous presumption that women are best suited for support roles only.  This is wildly untrue.  In fact, as has been noted above, the very characteristics that are best suited for successful Social Media activity are more prevalent in women candidates.  As Social Media undertakes its logical movement toward C-Level responsibilities, more women will find themselves in executive suites than in smaller offices or cubicles.  Companies that ignore this transformation do so at their peril.  
  • Lack of mentoring and management training. While this may have been true in the past, today there are hundreds of mentoring and training blogs, designed specifically for women, and this number will undoubtedly grow.  (Watch for future blog postings on this subject.)
  • Lack of opportunities for career development, tailored training, and rotational job assignments that are on the revenue-producing side of the business. Increasingly, Social Media is becoming an important profit center for business.   As discussed in a previous posting, Social Media – Time Is The Wisest Counselor Of All, the time has come for business to “Read it and tweet: Social media takes a lot of time, but it pays off.”
  • Little or no access to critical developmental assignments such as memberships on highly visible task forces and committees. Prominent CEOs who are currently running some of the largest companies in America, (women like Ms. Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft Foods, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, and Anne Sweeney of Disney) to mention only three, also sit on highly influential boards, charities and other powerful and important organizations.  This has in no way adversely affected their performance, in fact it has contributed mightily to their company’s profits, brand excellence and public visibility.
  • Special or different standards for performance evaluation. The benchmarks for success and performance evaluation should be, predominantly:  Profits, shareholder value and contributions to society.  The women CEOs mentioned above, and countless others, have shown conclusively that their sex is irrelevant.  They deserve to be graded against the same yardsticks as men, and when they are history has shown that they will excel.
  • Little or no access to informal networks of communication. Before the growth of Social Media, the Good Ol’ Boy network was the typical circle for communication.  Today, a Social Media-competent woman has at least three additional channels for communication:  The company’s Social Media following, a growing base of potential customers on Twitter and Facebook, and an increasingly engaged customer base from those sources.  Taken together, these new Social Media networks have kinetic energy never before available.
  • Counterproductive behavior and harassment by colleagues. President John F. Kennedy once commented, “Failure is an orphan and success has a thousand fathers.”  With the growth and acceptance of Social Media, and the resulting profits therefrom, women with the soft power to make Social Media successful will be much-heralded within their companies.  Harassment will become a thing of the past for the women who marshal Social Media success.  Unless they get firmly seated on the Social Media bandwagon, their male colleagues will become the brunt of criticism and harassment.


By placing soft power in women’s hands, American business will achieve a level of accomplishment like never before.  Women have shown particular skill in the uses of proper strategy, execution and management in Social Media.  And while it requires an investment of time and resources, that investment can and will pay dramatic dividends.

The barriers to women in business have become the new springboards to acclaim.

Getting in touch with me is very easy

If you or your company are wishing to harness the power of Social Media I am very easy to get in touch with and I am eager to help.   Simply call the number below.  During normal business hours, (8 AM – 5 PM Scottsdale, Arizona time), it is my direct line.  Otherwise, just leave a message. If you would prefer to exchange email I would love to here from you. Just email or click the email badge below. I promise I will get back to you within 24 hours.

Michael R.H. Stewart, President, Jericho Technology, Inc.

 If you found this post useful, you will love my eGuide — Trajectory: The Ultimate Guide to Building a Successful Business with Twitter



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About Michael R.H. Stewart
"Give me faith, freedom, resources, and a little time ... and I will make things happen that matter." Michael R.H. Stewart is a respected Internet executive with broad experience in all aspects of online business, with an emphasis given to social networking development, and company management. He has over 131,000 engaged Twitter followers. He enjoys 22 years of direct experience with corporate, entrepreneurial, governmental and non-profit clients, having advised them on all aspects of their online initiatives. Prior to his Internet career, he served as a Senior Vice President of AIG Marketing, doing business in 135 foreign countries as well as the United States. Stewart is an experienced public speaker and communicator, with worldwide experience; an expert on corporate branding; an accomplished writer, a creative thinker and problem solver.


8 Responses to “Soft Power In Women’s Hands – The Key to Social Media Success”
  1. Keri says:


    Wonderful! As a member of the female workforce in social media it is refreshing to see this type of information presented by someone like yourself.

    As usual, you present shiny, showroom cadillac with your content.

    You signal future posts…

    I’d love to see what you could do with some nitty-gritty “street intel,” — Some Q & A with soft power professionals working at other high-profile companies talking candidly about their roles in the here and now. The Twitter stream offers a small handful of great and interesting possibilities!


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