Inclusive fitness theory has been very successful in predicting and explaining much of the observed variation in the reproductive characteristics of insect societies. For example, the theory correctly predicts sex–ratio biasing by workers in relation to the queen's mating frequency. However, within an insect society there are typically multiple reproductive optima, each corresponding to the interest of different individual(s) or parties of interest. When multiple optima occur, which party's interests prevail? Presumably, the interests of the party with the greatest ‘power’; the ability to do or act. This article focuses on factors that influence power over colony reproduction. In particular, we seek to identify the principles that may cause different parties of interest to have greater or lesser power. In doing this, we discuss power from two different angles. On the one hand, we discuss general factors based upon non–idiosyncratic biological features (e.g. information, access to and ability to process food) that are likely to be important to all social Hymenoptera. On the other hand, we discuss idiosyncratic factors that depend upon the biology of a taxon at any hierarchical level. We propose that a better understanding of the diversity of reproductive characteristics of insect societies will come from combining inclusive fitness theory with a wide range of other factors that affect relative power in a conflict situation.