"She can tell a room full of generals and admirals that they are chauvinists and sexists," says an EEOC officer, "and they are fascinated by her knowledge of power and become her disciples."
The Equal Employment Opportunity officer is talking about a former Miss West Virginia and now psychologist Sharon Lord, whose biggest "consciousness-raising" client -- numbering in the thousands -- is the U.S. government, especially in the military.
Her workshops on personal power for men and women deal with power in the workplace, why women have less of it, why we all suffer because of it, and how and why the littlest things said and done matter the most.
"Why, Sharon, you look like a little girl," Lord recalls a three-star general's greeting before an Army workshop.
Lord, about 5-feet-4, seizes this not uncommon reaction as an opportunity to teach her "principles of power."
"I told the general I know he meant it as a compliment, but that with 37 years of hard-earned wisdom and experience behind me, I'm a woman , not a girl. I could see myself grow up before my very own eyes in front of someone who was about to shrink me, decrease my own personal bubble."
Telling vivid, everyday, personal stories and even hillbilly "holler" tales, Lord, who grew up in Hatfield-McCoy country, coaxes her audience into rethinking how sex-role stereotypes (girls are pretty, boys are strong) have always affected their lives and continue to, even unconsciously.
"We've been socialized, as women, to give our power away in little bits and pieces," claims Lord, a former professor at the Univeristy of Tennessee, where she was voted "outstanding teacher."
"Through gender analysis of personal power you can take control of your life, without manipulating others and become 'president of your world,'" she told a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workshop in Washington.
"When we women quit calling ourselves by immature labels (office girls, girlfriends), we will quit being little girls. Lady and man are not parallel terms -- gentleman is -- and although ladies can be nice, and I try to dress up and be one every once in a while, most of the time my life is much too active and assertive to be one.
"Women give away from $10,000 to $15,000 each, every year in salaries because we are willing to look helpless."
For the unconvinced, Lord suggests reversing the gender. "Call a 19-year-old white male, or a black man of any age 'boy' and see the reaction.
"We will have arrived," she says, "when we take sexist behavior as seriously as racist behavior, because we all know people who no longer laugh and tell racist jokes, but who still thinks sexist jokes are funny."
Current research on the use of "he" and "man," says Lord (a student of gender issues for 11 years) shows that when young schoolchildren are asked to draw pictures of "early man," both boys and girls draw only men because there is "no linguistic cue."
"Experiment," she suggests, "using 'she' and 'women' generically, like 'womankind' instead of 'mankind,' and see what a trip it does to your head. Playing with words is like massaging our brains, and the good thing is that language evolves to reflect our changing collective consciousness.
"But which word you choose is important because words are symbols, and choosing one word over another is really choosing one concept over another."
Adds Lord, whose regular clients also include the National Science Foundation, "When a male boss puts his arm around his female secretary and tells her he needs the letter typed yesterday, he is diminishing her power. aSexual harassment is an issue of power , not sex."
Richard Barlett, a former National Bureau of Standards executive, says Lord made him realize "how homemakers and mothers are already managers and bosses."
"Picture the mother at home with her second load of wash just in," Lord has said, "something cooking on the stove, a baby in her arms, and a toddler on her hip as the doorbell rings. When she finally manages to answer, it's the census taker asking if the woman has a job."
Says National Parks Deputy EEO officer Ana Jankowski, "Somehow she is able to put men in a position that they can visualize themselves as women and feel from nside the problems women face."
"Four years ago when I started giving personal power workshops for FEW (Federally Employed Women), I spoke mostly to women," says Lord. "But now I'm sitting down with management -- all-male executive boards, generals and admirals, agency directors.
"We discuss how human relations and gender issues at work are management's responsibility, crucial to both men and women, and not just relegated to being 'women's problems.'"
"Getting women ready is only one goal," says Rosemary E. Howard, deputy director of the Defense Department's Federal Women's Program. "But unless they have managers as partners, they won't be going anywhere."
Pointing to Appalachian women as her own role models, Lord says, "Growing up, I knew a female county sheriff, a female minister, a female school principal, and my own grannies. One, even though she had 10 children, ran a boarding house because she felt it was important for every woman to have some money of her own.
"My other granny is a farmer. And even last year at 82, she put in a garden and canned it. She still runs the farm, robs bee hives, rings chicken necks, and fixes all the farm machinery.
"With models like her, I learned you didn't have to fill only one rigid sex role with only half the human parts allowed. You could be gentle and strong, passive and active, supportive and decisive, according to the situation.
"I didn't grow up disadvantaged, as one of my professors told me when he found out where I was from. (She now lives in Newport, R.I., headquarters of her Sharon Lord Associates.) "But I always expected to work.
"It's the young woman often labeled 'privileged' -- those from middle- to upper-class suburban homes -- who are really the disadvantaged because they have limited role models and expect marriage to define their life.
"We have found from our research that effective managers and creative people have moved beyond transcending sex role stereotypes. I feel like I'm doing healing work of the human spirit, helping men and women build personal bridges over the schism."