The Power Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

Reviewed by E. B. Heath

The Power Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman provides readers with a well-researched survey regarding social power.  Shipman and Kay define social power as being similar to scientific power – that of energy transferred with effect of making things move.  Social power is generally understood as the power to control people and resources.  It is exercised within political, corporate, domestic, and personal domains.  During the research process, Kay and Shipman consulted academics, neuroscientists, psychologists and people holding power.  Their motivation was to discover why women had not progressed in greater numbers to hold positions of power.  Apart from barriers in the work place, it turns out that women in general do not seek power because the way power has been constructed is not in line with female values.

Traditionally power is exercised by males and tends to operate in hierarchal structures of control – power over.  The stereo typical male leader is often narcissistic, lacking empathy and emotionally repressed – a toxic mix of attributes in a zero-sum game.  Power pursued as its own end goal.  This is not serving the general community well.

Kay and Shipman interviewed many women who hold power travelling throughout the globe; it makes interesting reading as they uncovered motivations, and how these women use their power.  As Kay and Shipman reveal, time and time again, women want power to forward progress for the benefit of many.  Not so concerned with contests of strength, power for power’s sake.  To mention one example: Ndéye Lucie Cissé in her second term member of parliament in Dakar, Senegal, sees her power as a tool that can produce life-changing results.  She, along with other women members of parliament, wanted money for reliable electricity in hospitals, separate toilets for girls who have to skip school every month due to lack of suitable bathrooms.  Whereas, the male members were seeking money for a mosque and a town square.

There is much to learn from the Senegalese example, the parliament consists of 42.7 percent women due to parity quota laws of 2010.  Achieving this, in a predominantly Muslim country, was a triumph.  The emphasis was on equity, rather than gender quotas, so not framing the issue as women having power over men but more a collaborative recast of power.  It continues to be a struggle but these women made a difference, improving the lives of women and families.  Now mothers can pass citizenship to their children; previously only fathers could do this.  They toughened antismoking laws; criminalized rape, although some conservative religious areas of the country have refused to concede to this law.  For Cissé and her fellow female parliamentarians it is all about ‘power to.

As the above example illustrates, and the truth of the matter is, it is not about women over men, but about collaboration.  They emphasise how respect and status play a positive role in women’s power.  Kay and Shipman also discuss how racial issues and power play out.

Interestingly, they detail neuro-scientific research that shows that power changes the male brain – more power less empathy, also men tend to become out of touch with reality, not seeing the negative aspects of the company, or institution. Whereas women stay grounded in reality.   This is quite a revelation that suggests the advantage of concentrations of male power, rather than a collaborative approach, whether political, corporate, religious or even domestic, is unhelpful, perhaps dangerous in some cases.  On a more positive note, this research indicated that having power inspired individuals to be proactive and to be their authentic selves, conversely if a person feels powerless, they tend to be inactive, not progressing.  Useful information.  A more collaborative approach taken by educators and parents might produce better outcomes.

Power within marriage is briefly discussed, although initially not on the authors’ radar, it became apparent that the biggest barrier to female power in the work force are husbands, surprisingly, more so than partners.  Research shows that in marriages these barriers are the strongest.  There is a lot to think about in this section.  Furthermore, men who rampage in acts of mass murder so common in America regularly have a history of domestic violence.  It follows then that stronger protocols concerning domestic violence offenders need to be considered.

Many other issues are discussed including the advantages of work life balance for women and men, loss aversion theory, why men feel they are conceding rather than sharing power, and each chapter details personal action that can be taken by individuals to empower their lives.

The Power Code is a comprehensive work that hopefully will inspire broader research leading to new models of power.  Less hierarchical, less zero-sum, rather a collaboration between male and female, so more win-win.

The Power Code

by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman


Harper Collins


ISBN:  978 006298 4555 5

$34.99; 304pp

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