For people, and probably women in particular, there are two ways to execute power: by themselves or through others. But does power equal power?
For the longest time, most power by women was executed through others, mostly men - husbands, sons, lovers - with Queen Cleopatra as an example for this kind of executing power.
Born a princess, Cleopatra became Pharaoh of Egypt after disposing of her brother, and actually reigned her country in her own right before being conquered by the Romans. In order to avoid her country becoming just another province of the Roman empire, she famously seduced Julius Cesar and secured her country's independence through their son Cesarion. Being an unpopular figure in Rome, however, Cleopatra's power was in danger again when Cesar was assassinated. Thus, she chose one of Cesar's two successors, Marcus Antonius, to secure her power and married him. This marriage enraged Cesar's other successor, Octavian, whose sister Octavia was actually married to Marcus Antonius in Rome, and a war for the empire unrevealed, ending in Marcus Antonius' defeat and Cleopatra's suicide.
The lesson learned from this rather tragic story is that in order to execute power through others, one oftentimes has to give up oneself, and the acquired power only lasts as long as the other person is in power.
An example for a women exercising power in her own right is Queen Elizabeth I. As the younger daughter of King Henry VIII, Elizabeth was the last of his three surviving children to take the throne, and her reign was so successful it defined an entire era, the Elizabethan Age. She was queen in her own right, but never married and had no children. At her time, marrying would have meant to give up power in favor of her husband, most likely a foreign king, as the wife being subordinate to her husband was understood as a "god-given" order.
From this example we learn that powerful women were oftentimes lonely.
And in today's world? A lot of time, women who hold power in their own rights are still lonely. In China, a whole generation of "alpha females" go through life without a partner, as their counterparts oftentimes feel more secure with "beta females" and so forth. Very few powerful women seem to also have a happy private life, as it does take a strong character in a man to accept a powerful woman.
But the 21st century is also a time of change. As more and more powerful and successful women emerge in politics and business, they are becoming less of a curiosity, and while the image of the "typical man" is changing at the same time, they are also becoming more accepted in society.
It is still a way to go until powerful women don't have to justify themselves any more, until they are accepted as equals by their male counterparts, and valued for their knowledge and experience rather than just perceived as "the woman". But the change is happening, gradually, until a woman's quota on director's boards are unnecessary.
This post is part of the Strong & Influential Sisterhood project