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One of the ways for women to achieve parity at work is to develop executive presence. To be able to speak up and take up space like men do. Here’s how.
Men have the cultural and physical advantage of being noticed when they walk into a room. They are also encouraged to take charge and be in the forefront. It’s just the opposite for women – and not just in our country.
We are conditioned to stand back, not be too assertive or speak about ourselves. The social perception of an assertive woman being ‘bossy’ hasn’t done us any favours. The stereotype is mostly this:
Nice = pushover
Assertive = bossy
Peggy Klaus, the best selling author of Brag! The art of art of tooting your horn and not blowing it starts her book with the conditioning that she was given as a child. She was taught not to talk about herself even though she was one of the top students in her class. And that made it really hard for her when she started working. Standing back and not taking credit in a work environment is one of the big reasons why women tend to stay behind.
The theme for International Women’s Day in 2019 was #balanceforbetter. I think this is not something to remember only for a day, but work on it all year round.
One of the ways to aim at that parity is to develop executive presence. To be able to speak up and take up space like men do. To be able to sit at the table and discuss as equals. To have as many women in the room as there are men. To break the glass ceiling and make it right to the top. And if women need to crush some of the conditioning, I think we are ready for it. We just need to focus on things that will help us project ourselves in the right manner.
There are so many reasons why executive presence is important for women to cultivate.
Let’s look at the beginning of one’s career. The way you behave, dress and carry yourself becomes associated with you. And that is what we call a personal brand. And the way you carry yourself matters every single work day and not just on departmental meetings or annual days.
Research by Joan C. Williams, a Professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law shows that women in business are still handed jobs like organising food, taking notes and making calls. Being involved in office housekeeping is taking away valuable opportunities from women. So entrenched is this bias that Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, chose to take the minutes of the meeting himself at a dinner meet in 2015. This is such a great gesture from an influential person to get the point across.
And what better time than the year when we are striving for #BalanceForBetter to change perceptions. To change the way we work around men that clearly sends the message that both genders should be responsible for all the additional tasks. Developing executive presence will ensure that you don’t relegate yourself to a corner writing what others say. But choose to be as close to the action as possible.
On this topic, the article by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Madam CEO, Get me a Coffee makes a great read.
“Speak up. Believe in yourself. Take risks.” Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg herself has accepted being reluctant to speak in meetings. Most meetings have men in the majority and that can be intimidating for women. To counter this, women tend to qualify what they want to say with phrases like – I think, I feel, I might be wrong but – and that undermines the ideas that come after that.
Using body language that takes up space and the ability to speak up clearly and assertively is an important part of executive presence.
As I said, assertive women are conveniently termed bossy. But carrying yourself with presence at all times will ensure that people take you seriously and not pass you off as bossy. Your overall image would be of being authoritative and yet approachable. Effective communication skills have a lot to do with that.
Learn more about how to be assertive and yet respectful here.
Research shows that the percentage of women in senior leadership is still very low. It is hard for women to break the glass ceiling beyond a point. Women are generally taken to be nice and expected to be nice. But senior positions require emotional competence to take on leadership roles, be willing to take risks and handle confrontational situations at work. And for some reason those qualities are considered masculine and men naturally fit the bill.
Projecting a powerful image through executive presence makes you ready for leadership roles and decision makers can see that too.
One of the best ways to ensure we have parity at the workplace is to ensure that women support other women. Jessica Bennett’s Feminist Fight Club is one such movement. If you are in a position of power, you can mentor younger women to develop their positive brand and and move up to leadership positions. But for that women need to become more assertive and project presence.
Take one thing at a time and work on it. Your verbal and non verbal communication goes a long way in projecting executive presence. Work on it.
First published here.
Image credits Unsplash
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