Written by Laurence Nguyen

How different people demonstrate or observe power can depend greatly on their education, motivation, work experience and gender. In the physical sciences, power is empirical and straightforward: the amount of energy consumed per unit of time as mass is converted into energy. In the social sciences, the notion of power is more ambiguous. American political scientist Professor Joseph Nye defines power as the ability to affect others to get outcomes one wants. As young women working in energy, effectively harnessing our collective power to further the interests of gender equality in the workplace can mean the difference between a successful struggle for gender parity and a failed one.

Professor Nye carves out three overarching methods used by the United States in geopolitics to achieve their intended results using power. The methods are:

  • Hard power: the stick and the carrot, also known as coercion and payments;
  • Soft power (diplomacy): the ability to persuade through attraction, values, and ideas. Canada, for example, is known in the international arena to be a soft power nation; and
  • Smart power, combining the tools of both hard and soft power to save on carrots and sticks.

So how can we as women convince others to give us what we want when we do not have a stick or the political capital to swing it?

The influence of soft power

Canada is a middle power sleeping next to an elephant  (one Canadian Prime Minister  even refered to the USA as follows: “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, (…), one is affected by every twitch and grunt”). Our military budget is more than 30 times less than the United States’. We do not have the “stick” power to threaten other states by flexing our military biceps. On the contrary, in Canada, we believe strongly in our commitments to the ideals of equality and multilateralism in the hopes that those commitments may result in a conflict-free world. In our eyes, foreign aid for a violence-free world equates to safety for all Canadians.

In The Athena Doctrine (How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future), John Gerzema revealed strong consensus that there is growing appreciation for the traits, skills and competencies that are perceived as more feminine. For example, empathy is often associated with innovation, and vulnerability with strength. This is contrary to the typical weakness connotations that are associated with these commonly feminine traits. Some research has even drawn a parallel between traits like empathy and vulnerability and exceptional leadership.

Leading by example and the power of narrative

Political leaders have long understood the power of influence, narrative and charisma. Canada has historically leveraged its soft power to punch above its weight class. This has earned us a place as one of the most influential countries in the world. Leveraging our influence has allowed us to gain access to powerful, economically beneficial groups like NORAD and the Group of Seven (G7).

If it is possible to convince another that a desired outcome is in another’s best interest and to believe in that desired outcome, then there is no need for carrots or sticks to achieve our goals. If a woman represents values that others want to follow, it will cost her less to get the outcomes she wants (see The Benefits of Soft Power).

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Canada's unique relationship with the United States, and our ability to rely on strong allies allows for prosperity and security, exemplified by our NAFTA and NORAD collaborations. Relationships such as these need to be nurtured and hedged as allies’ goals evolve with the political trajectories of the leaders they bring to power. We have long prioritized our relationships with other nations.

The same can be said for women in the workplace. The importance of having allies, and especially sponsors, within our own companies is of the utmost importance. Sponsors are senior-level champions who believe in your potential and are willing to advocate for you as an individual as you pursue that next raise or promotion. They stand up for you and coach you. They will be the ones handing you jackhammers and helmets as you smash through those glass ceilings.

Remember that success is not a zero-sum game

As time wears on, the need for a stick and carrot in geopolitics has been diminished due to several factors: the invention of the atomic bomb (the stick), the evolution of wealth (the carrot), and the growing value of  human capital and technical expertise (see Silicon Valley, investment banking, cybersecurity) have changed the geopolitical landscape considerably.

Modern threats are multidimensional and cross border. Issues such as climate change and terrorism affect all. Today’s recipe for power and influence relies on collaboration. A country winning does not entail another losing. When China becomes better at reducing carbon emissions, everyone gains. When Canada welcomes refugees (Vietnamese boat people, Syrian refugees), our world becomes more compassionate and our actions go towards maintaining global stability while Canada gains economic growth and diversity of thought. Everyone gains.

Professor Nye denotes that as we share with others, we develop common outlooks and approaches that improve our ability to deal with the new challenges. Power flows from that attraction. This leaves us with instruments emanating from soft power as tools for success. Those tools adjusted to the realities of this world become smart power.

Canada’s exploits on the international scene builds a helpful parallel to leadership qualities commonly associated with feminine traits. Women can gain power in the business world by leading by example, speaking up and finding a sponsor. By appreciating that power should be well thought out and the road to success is not a zero-sum game.

As young women in energy, we can learn more about power and the art of success in enterprise by turning to the softer sciences and smart power. It is by remaining resilient, working hard, finding sponsors and tweaking our game plans to reflect the changing realities of our environments that we will be part of the conversation to change the face of energy.


Laurence Nguyen holds a Master of International Business from Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston. She is currently a Senior Account Manager at CN Rail, where she advises petroleum and chemical shippers throughout North America on the merits of utilizing rail as an integral part of their supply chain solution. Outside work, Laurence socializes over outdoors activities. Summers are for running, hiking and climbing, and winters are for skiing. She is always on the lookout for her next adventure. When traveling for leisure, it will be with a backpack and solid pair of running shoes.