Using Power Like Jane

Jane Fonda has come a long way since her “Barbarella” days.

She’s in the news again — not because of some recently released movie in which she dresses like a sex kitten, and not because she married a gazillionaire (she and Ted Turner have since divorced, in case you haven’t kept up). No, I bring up Jane (she’s such a public figure, I feel I know her) because she is my current poster child for using power responsibly.

She’s now using her significant financial power for the sake of education. Her new cause is to help study how boys and girls learn differently. Early in March, Harvard University announced that Fonda was giving $12.5 million to the Harvard Graduate School of Education to set up the Harvard Center on Gender and Education, dedicated to examining how children’s development and learning are influenced by gender.

“This project is very close to my heart,” Fonda said. “It’s taken me a very long time to see the impact gender roles have had on my life, and if I, as a privileged, white, aging movie star, have had to wait this long, I can’t even imagine what young women who are less fortunate than I am have had to deal with.”

You go, girl!

Using power responsibly is certainly the topic of the day. More often than not, it comes down to money — but it doesn’t always have to — and women tend to be leaders in using power in this way (once again, according to my unscientific surveying).

Let’s take it all the way down to the grass-roots level, shall we? Have you noticed that a lot of the high-powered women executives in your community tend to sit on boards of nonprofit organizations, such as women’s and homeless shelters? Or, if nothing else, such women use their name recognition as a stamp of approval to help with cause-related fundraising? All businesses look to the recognized leaders to evaluate where they want their acknowledged donations to go. It’s just the way it is. Women are wise in the ways of leveraging their power to such effect.

Cindy Crawford, for example — that beautiful, world-famous woman with many bucks — lends her name to the advisory board of the Children’s Cancer Association (CCA) in Portland, OR. She certainly doesn’t need to; she doesn’t live in that area and normally would get paid a tremendous amount of money to add her name or face to any campaign. But children’s cancer has touched her personally, and she has chosen to use her name-recognition power for that cause. And I’m sure the many contributors to CCA have glanced at that advisory board list, taken note, and then headed toward their checkbooks.

You go, girl! (Again!)

The emotional depth of women, oft written of in all sorts of relationship self-help books, usually drives the use of their power. Once they recognize and acknowledge its existence and release it, they can affect the world with their clout. (I know, because I’ve seen it in action.)

Given a heightened awareness of women and responsible power usage (and I’m not talking about electricity), how does a business or marketing manager reach female consumers? By observing their consuming behavior, yes, but also by keeping in mind what seems to be important to them and what motivates them in general. If you want to learn more, using power responsibly is just one of the topics being covered during Women.future’s upcoming MainEvent 2001. (Let the full disclosure begin: My firm, ReachWomen, is a strategic partner in the promotion of the event, a project so perfect for our passion and skills that it practically chose us.)

But back to my “good friend” Jane. She’s definitely hit a point of life evaluation and reflection and seems to feel as though she’s just beginning to pay attention to the things that truly matter to her. As she makes clear, she had no idea the impact that gender roles had had on her life until now, with her in her 60s. And boy is she doing something about leaving a better legacy for children.

So realize this: There are no limits, no boundaries, and no parameters for what can be accomplished with the responsible use of power. As Jane used to say in her leotard-and-legwarmer phase, let’s choose to “work it” — using our influence to effect change wherever we can, locally and beyond.

Related reading