women in power

Women In Power: An Essay

By Dr. Shelly Agarwal

This article is an essay by the esteemed Dr. Agarwal. She reflects on her own experience coming into her own as one of the women in power in her department. Her insights are, I think, applicable to all.


An attending once pulled me aside as a young resident and said these very important words to me. “Shelly, you have a strong personality and good judgment in medicine. But as a woman in medicine, either you’re going to be a leader or a bitch.” 

To say I was floored is an understatement. It was my first very real introduction to navigating both being a woman and being in a powerful role and position.

Throughout the years this is a lesson I have reflected on many times. First, I had to understand what power means. In a general sense, power is the authority to dictate change. It is the knowledge that your decisions and actions have the profound capacity to affect people. It also comes with confidence in one’s ability to do those things well and effectively.

As a woman, I have often been silenced. My contributions haven’t been heard, my personality is too much, even my passion for my career is overwhelming. I was told these things and subsequently learned to lower my voice only to have it all challenged when learning how to navigate this male-dominated field of power and medicine. All of a sudden I was the leader being given this power. At first, I became extremely hard and abrasive to hide my insecurity and difficulty with being a leader, often using anger and frustration to make changes or dictate decisions.

Spoiler alert- it was not effective. People did not respect me, they didn’t want to work with me and I wasn’t effective at making any progress. 

I had to learn that women have a unique gift when in positions of power. We have the intelligence, problem-solving skills, confidence, and ability to make changes, but we also have empathy, understanding, and are able to see the big picture in different ways from our male counterparts. We have the capacity to bring both male and female energy to problem solve. We are natural-born leaders once we filter out the societal noise telling us to quiet down. 

As women in power, we have the utmost responsibility to embrace our confidence, trust our judgment and lead effectively and empathetically. It is not always easy and often I have to remind myself to take a step back, re-evaluate and remind myself of that attending’s advice. I remind myself that it is a privilege and choice to be powerful. 

Women In Power: TFP Thoughts

This experience is, I think, universal to so many women in power, no matter their career field. We often assume that confidence and authority come from being strong and loud, but that’s not the case because as a woman you’re also held to a different standard. What may be acceptable for men to do, is not acceptable for women.

To Dr. Agarwal’s point above, you have all the tools you need to be powerful, you just have to learn to utilize them. Don’t be afraid of your differences; rather, embrace them as they are your strengths as well.

A woman in power is a unique place to be. The fact that you’ve made it here means you deserve to be here. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and don’t let your self-doubts stop you from doing what you know needs to be done.

Image courtesy of unsplash

Author Bio: Dr. Shelly Agarwal is a board-certified OBGYN. She lives and practices in Chicago and considers prevention to be the best medicine. Combining her Eastern roots with western knowledge helps bring a variety of solutions to many of the problems that arise for women.