Power is a tricky word.
It proclaims different meanings to different people. Our culture celebrates men who wield power successfully while often not affording the same favor to women, especially in business hierarchies. And because almost everyone has experienced both the positive and negative aspects of power in others and in ourselves, the word itself can evoke a visceral response.
So as I opened Take Back Your Power, the new book by Deborah Liu, Silicon Valley tech exec and current CEO of Ancestry, I had my shield up ready to defend against what I thought would be another self-help, self-empowerment book for women.
She disarmed me immediately.
“Power is not a dirty word,” Liu affirms, defining power as positive influence and impact––integral to women seeking lives that matter.
Liu helps the reader unpack why women often feel dismissed in the workplace, regardless of role and responsibility. Her own experience as an “only”—only woman, only minority, or both—gives voice to those who have persevered and climbed the ranks in male-dominated segments. She advises women to change how they engage on the playing field, not to try to change the field.
Chapter by chapter, Liu invites the reader to join in a process of discovery and growth leading full circle to the original premise: women need to take back their power––not because our power has been taken from us but because, through daily interactions, most of us unknowingly give away our God-given ability to positively influence others and enact change.
According to Liu, this book is not a diatribe about how hopelessly unfair the workplace is for women.
Rather, this is a book about hope. I agree.
Take Back Your Power puts forth ten “rules” to help women learn how to win on an uneven playing field. In actuality, these rules serve more like practical action items toward growth and creating opportunity rather than rules for winning a game.
In the context of these rules, Liu presents details of current cultural bias. Research confirms that a double standard between men and women exists in many work environments. Is the system fair? No. Is this the reality women live with? Yes.
Lui then maneuvers readers through obstacles and hindrances like imposter syndrome, working as the “only” on a team, and allowing ourselves to opt out of difficult situations which could serve as catalysts to new doors of opportunity. She addresses the importance of male and female allies and sponsors, learning forgiveness in fractured relationships, and how to create a balance between home and work.
Throughout the journey, Liu provides a statistical foundation on which to build conclusions and strategies and practical ways to chart a new course forward. And in every chapter she pulls back the curtain with highly relatable stories from her own experience growing up trying to please her dad and subsequently working at PayPal, eBay, and Facebook.
She also shares powerful transformation stories of other influential women who have overcome extreme challenges to make their mark in business and in the world. These stories demonstrate how our heartbreaking setbacks often become irreplaceable launching pads for our greatest accomplishments.
At the culmination of the Take Back Your Power journey, Liu concludes, “Life gives us different opportunities, challenges, and raw talents. This book is a guide to taking what we have been given and making the most of it. We can allow our experiences and setbacks to be hindrances, or we can turn them into fuel to take us further than we expected.”
Turning the last page, I looked back through the chapters, pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the book and how many practical takeaways I had flagged. I related to Liu’s desire to make her father proud by pursuing success and achievement in business. Example after example of real-life experiences inspired me to reexamine my challenges with a new perspective.
And I gleaned new daily impact phrases to remind myself:
● Take charge of your story.
● Don’t let defeat define you.
● You have the power to redefine success.
● Find your voice and use it strategically.
● Life is 10% about what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
Although Take Back Your Power provided relatable and actionable content for readers, two areas in particular seemed to lack development, and I wish Liu would have expounded.
First, in the chapter on creating balance at home, much of Liu’s dialogue focuses on married women, the imperative need for spousal career support, and how to develop that support if it does not currently exist. She provides good information drawn from her own experience with a husband who believes in egalitarian marriage.
While she does include a “note” on unbalanced partnerships and single parents, those practical strategies paled in comparison to other sections. Since most of the aspiring women climbing the corporate ranks who I know are single, divorced, or they do not have a spouse championing their career to the extent they desire, some women may come away from this “rule” feeling dismissed or dejected––like they often feel at work.
Second, although this book is presumably written for “the masses,” I still would have preferred a more faith-forward approach to some of Liu’s content.
She does briefly mention her role in workplace faith resource groups, and she provides a few anecdotes involving her Christian faith. She also includes at least one story of a female Christ-follower who has made a tremendous impact in the workplace and in the world.
However, in her many examples of women making their mark, the reader finds very little communication of faith. For instance, Liu cites this mantra of Katia Verresen, the “Tech Exec Whisperer” coach: “We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we are born creators and can create possibilities from anything.” Whether or not Verresen is a professed Christian, Liu could have planted a seed of faith by adding a line of commentary like, “As women, we are all created in the image of God who creates, thus intrinsically we too are creators in life and work.”
Notwithstanding these two areas Liu could have developed further, Take Back Your Power exceeded my expectations, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to women in all spheres of culture.
Liu has undoubtedly walked the talk through an impressive non-linear career path—learning through loss and growing through challenges. Her willingness to share her experience and the wisdom she gained along the way truly is a gift to women at all stages of their careers.
Who is this book for?
● Anyone who grew up assuming she was competing equally with her male counterparts and then found out she is “only a girl.”
● Anyone who feels herself pushing against a world that gives her less credit for accomplishing the same things as a man.
● Women who wish for a way to rebalance the playing field.
● Parents and teachers of girls.
The book also lends itself to lunchtime discussions, mentor/mentee conversations, and employee resource group and community group studies.
As a final note, although Liu specifically writes this book to and for women, Take Back Your Power could serve as a valuable resource for every male mentor, sponsor, and ally at work and at home who wants to champion the women in their circles.