DEI Deconstructed: Using the Power You Have

DEI Deconstructed: Using the Power You Have

In Chapter 5 of Lily Zheng’s book, DEI Deconstructed: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Doing the Work and Doing It Right, they start the chapter by recounting an interaction they had with a frustrated employee. 

 The employee said to Zheng, “I don’t have enough power to make change.” Zheng pushed the employee to reconsider, asking if they had control over their work products, the way they lead meetings, and/or if they ever connect with people within the CEO’s circle—all forms of power.  

Every organization has power dynamics. Some people likely have more power than they realize but are not using it or do not know how to use it. Some people need more power in order to benefit the whole. Others may have too much power and need to cede or share it to benefit the organization 

But what does it even mean to have power? 

Zheng outlines six variations of power: 

  1. Formal Power: the right to request behavior from another.
  2. Reward Power: the ability to promise (monetary or nonmonetary) compensation to influence behavior.
  3. Coercive Power: the ability to threaten punishment to influence behavior.
  4. Expert Power: the ability to influence behavior by possessing greater expertise or ability.
  5. Informational Power: the ability to influence behavior by possessing greater information.
  6. Referent Power: the ability to build rapport and influence behavior through charisma. 

Certainly, one’s title confers formal power. But in almost every situation, we all have access to at least one form of power. Thus, when folks within authorizing want to change their internal cultures to be more diverse, equitable, or inclusive but say they can’t, our response is, “We hear you.” One authorizer in one locale may have the autonomy and authority to take certain actions, while those same actions may not be possible for another in a different geography, due to a variety of reasons. BUT, you can identify what is within your locus of control and start there. 

Take this authorizer’s story: Their organization had high attrition rates for people of color and it was clear the institution did not plan to address this. So, the authorizer began an informal mentorship program. When people of color were hired, this authorizer took it upon themselves to regularly check in, even if they were not a direct report, and learn about the new hires’ experiences, offering advice when appropriate. While completely informal, this practice led to higher retention and, eventually, resulted in more people of color advancing in the organization.  

This authorizer used their referent power to influence change!  

What kind of power do you have? How will you use it to change what you can, where you can? 

 


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