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Executive Presence for Women Leaders

Executive Presence and How to Get It (Or Fake It) | CorporetteHow would you define “executive presence,” particularly for women? Have you worked to build your executive presence? What are your best executive presence tips? Here are some qualities of women with executive presence that Corporette readers have mentioned during conversations that have taken place in the comments:

  • having a “cool, calm, and commanding” presence
  • being a skilled public speaker
  • appearing put-together (clothes fit well, hair is neatly styled, etc.)
  • seeming “knowledgeable but not a know-it-all”
  • staying cool in a crisis
  • showing confidence
  • having an attitude of “the buck stops with me”

Earlier this year, we discussed new research that showed that looking “put-together” and exhibiting “good grooming” can boost women’s salaries (even more so than being considered attractive), and a couple of years ago we talked about a study that stated wearing more makeup makes women look more competent. Today we’ll go beyond that to take a closer look at executive presence and what it means for women leaders at work. (In the past, we’ve shared posts on imposter syndrome, the difference between confidence and arrogancebeing taken seriously when you look young, and books and resources to help you become a leader and a better manager. We’ve also discussed the book The Confidence Code.)  

According to research from Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation, executive presence is composed of “how you act (otherwise known as gravitas, the most important quality), how you communicate, and how you look.” A 2013 Business Insider article describes it with 7 Cs: composure, connection, charisma, confidence, credibility, clarity, and conciseness. Hewlett (whose book we link to below) says that executive presence “accounts for as much as 28 percent of a woman’s success” (!).

These definitions sound straightforward enough, but cultivating executive presence requires women to walk a very fine line, thanks to the maddening contradictory messages we receive about how to act at work. You know: If you don’t ask for a raise, you’re blamed for the gender wage gap, but if you ask for a raise, you’re viewed as “greedy, demanding or just not very nice.” If you act with confidence and strength, you’re “too aggressive” or “a bitch”; if you don’t appear assertive enough, your behavior is interpreted as weakness. (As social psychologist Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson puts it, the typical dichotomy for women is “competent and cold — that’s the bitch — or warm and incompetent — the doormat who no one takes seriously.”) Of course, this predicament extends to physical appearances, too; research shows that women with “unkempt nails” lose executive-presence points but that those with “overly done” nails are also viewed negatively. Faced with this “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” minefield, some women are paying $2,000 to $5,000 to attend special workshops on executive presence.

Putting all of that aside for a moment, here are a few concrete tips on exhibiting executive presence at work:

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Wear Makeup, Increase Your Salary?

Wear Makeup, Increase Your Salary?“How a Little Lipstick Could Add Thousands To Your Paycheck” — that’s the title of a recent Fortune article reporting on a new study. Anyone else feeling a little stabby? We thought we’d take a closer look at the research and discuss it here. Some questions to consider at the outset: Do you agree that “good grooming” affects your salary and career success? Do you think there are other correlations at play (e.g., women who make more have more money to spend on grooming, or successful women are more organized to remember to schedule things like regular haircuts and drycleaning)? 

So, the study: Last week, Fortune reported on some research about the effects of looking “put together” at work. Two sociologists found a new way of crunching data from a study that looked at how people’s ratings on attractiveness and grooming compared to their income levels. “Grooming” in this case meant how “put together” they looked, which included makeup for women. Their analysis revealed that for women, “grooming was actually more important than looks when it came to earnings.” Men’s grooming affected their salaries to a lesser extent, while men’s and women’s salaries got the same boost from being considered attractive. The sociologists found that “[A] well-groomed woman of average attractiveness makes about $6,000 more annually than an average-looking, averagely-groomed woman. She also makes about $4,000 more than her better-looking, but less put-together coworker.” Researchers saw this as a positive, concluding, “[t]he big takeaway here is that people can capture most of the attractiveness premium [through putting effort into their appearance]… It’s not just what you’re born with.”

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What to Do if a Colleague Takes Credit for Your Work

How to Deal When a Colleague Takes Credit For Your Work | CorporetteHow should you respond when a coworker takes credit for your work? Reader N writes in with this great question:

Surprised I can’t find this in the archives: How do you deal with a colleague (usually male) stealing your ideas, passing them off as his own in meetings with clients and/or repeating what you’ve said as though its his original idea? The phrase “I just said that” comes to mind, but it seems unprofessional to bicker in front of colleagues. What’s a gal to do?

Great question, N — I can’t wait to hear what the readers say. It’s worth noting that this sort of thing has become more recognized in recent years, almost to the point of being a punchline: woman in meeting says, “Hey, how about we do X?” and is ignored; two seconds later a man is called on who says “Hey, how about we do X?” and is lauded for his great, original idea. (Readers who can remember actual instances of this, please share — Pantene commercials? SNL? I feel like I’ve seen it all over the place.) A few notes about the different ways this can occur:

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Sexual Harassment at Work

Sexual Harassment at Work | CorporetteWOW.  Staci Zaretsky over at Above the Law has collected some amazing sexual harassment at work stories from women lawyers, and the collection is too… revolting, I guess?…  to not discuss over here. (My first reaction to the post was of a mental roundhouse kick, but the fight scene from Mr. and Mrs. Smith will have to do to illustrate the post.) What stories do you care to share, ladies? Here’s one story of the several they share:

I wore dark purple suede heels to court. Opposing counsel asked, “Where are you dancing now?” in open court. Later that morning, he came to my office with cash in his mouth.

PURPLE HEELS, LADIES. Purple heels. For my $.02, I remember recognizing that people were being inappropriate around me in my legal eagle days, also, I suppose — older male lawyers I worked with would occasionally make negative comments about some of the secretaries based on how they dressed (usually implying something regarding clubbing), and one of the partners I worked with said something once about my “long, flowing hair,” like I was a princess or something. (I was growing it out for my wedding!)  But mostly I remember there being an invisible thin line that seemed to be present in every interaction I had — that was definitely not there for my male coworkers, who were free to drink, joke, have meals, and share personal stories with partners.  Vivia Chen at the Careerist had an interesting post a year or two ago where she scoffed at the perception that older male lawyers couldn’t take female associates out for a meal, and in response got a ton of emails from older male readers saying YES, the fear of being accused of sexual harassment absolutely did limit their interactions with younger female attorneys. In some ways that’s worse, because sponsorship and mentorship are essential to move up the career ladder.

Above the Law is suggesting women lawyers band together to speak up and say something — do you know who you would speak to in your workplace if something came up? (Or, in the above example where it was opposing counsel — do you know who would you speak to regarding that kind of behavior?) Do you feel like there would be retribution — or at least judgement, such as “she can’t take a joke” — for speaking up?) How do you think workplaces should walk the line between discouraging sexist behavior and encouraging senior workers to sponsor more junior workers, regardless of gender?

Psst: we’ve also talked about what to do when a client hits on you, how to discourage a flirtatious boss, how to deal with sexist coworkers, and how to network with older men

 

When Your Client Hits On You

client-asked-me-outHow should you handle it when a client hits on you? We got an emergency email from reader K, who is getting a bit uncomfortable with a prospective customer:

I am a [physical product that attaches to buildings*] sales woman. During intermittent conversation with a prospective client I mentioned I am a dancer, he mentioned he used to take dance classes. He asked if my “honey” takes me dancing and I said (in hindsight, I should have just said yes) but I just said “our schedules don’t match up well.”

Later on we were talking about the project via text and he randomly says “we should go dancing!” I said (probably not the best response) “sure – maybe after we figure out these projects” to which he replied, “might have to see how good of a dancer you are first.”

What on earth do I say to that? I don’t want to lose the project (he owns 3 properties that he wants [physical product that attaches to buildings] on), but of course, I am also happily engaged, and not interested in dancing with strangers… all other conversations with him have been appropriate.

I saw there was another post along these lines but the context is a bit different and I’d love some advice from the horse’s mouth. HELP!

Eeesh. We have talked about the sexist client before (a client commented five times in one lunch on the OP’s beauty), as well as in the offensive client (who commented loudly about the price of his lawyer’s purse), but we haven’t talked about a direct request for a date before, and I’m curious to hear what readers say. Some thoughts:

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Negotiating a Salary (and Other Benefits)

negotiating salaryLadies, have you ever negotiated your salary or other benefits? Share your tales from the negotiating table with us — we want to hear your wins! This probably won’t be terribly relevant for all of the summer associates out there about to accept job offers, as those are usually lockstep/nonnegotiable offers — but perhaps one of you has a story about someone who actually did negotiate that offer.

Some thoughts out of the gate:

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