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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Do You Still Apply When You Don’t Meet the Job Requirements?

Do You Still Apply When You Don't Meet the Job Requirements?Here’s a question, ladies: do you apply for a job if you don’t meet the listed job requirements? For those of you who do, is there a general number of percentage that you use as a goal (“if I meet at least 50% of the requirements, I’ll apply!”)? For those of you who’ve already gone ahead and gotten the job that you weren’t qualified for — share your success! How’d it go? Was there a learning curve, or did you hit the ground running?

I think often about The Confidence Code and their conclusion that “[u]nderqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in. Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. . . . Women applied for a promotion only when they met 100 percent of the qualifications. Men applied when they met 50 percent.”  I mean, yow. I just recently passed a job listing along to a friend that, we both agreed, was a bit of a stretch for her — she joked that she’d like to work for whoever was hired for the position, and decided not to apply for other reasons.  But the job posting itself seemed a bit absurd to me — like someone just wrote down The Perfect Candidate — and I wondered, really, how many of the listed requirements, the ultimately-hired candidate would meet. Alison at Ask a Manager even notes that “[t]hose qualifications are a composite of someone’s idea of the ideal candidate. Believe me, they will look at people who don’t perfectly match it.” I agree with her that you have to do a bit of extra prep before applying, such as rewording your resume to better match some of the skill sets, or even signing up to take other courses or certifications so you can at least show that forward movement is planned.

Ladies, what are your thoughts — do you apply to jobs where you don’t meet the job requirements? Do you think imposter syndrome is behind this, or something else?   (Fun challenge idea (maybe): let’s all apply to one job (or volunteer position) for which we’re only 50% qualified sometime in the next 6 months, and all report back on how it goes.)

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Being Confident at Work vs. Being Arrogant

Confidence, Arrogance: How to Tell the Difference | CorporetteWhat’s the difference between confidence and arrogance, especially at work, especially for women? How can you tell if you’ve crossed that line at work? Reader A wonders…

I’ve got a sensitive subject that I haven’t seen discussed about discipline at work. I was recently hired at a law office where I’ve summered the last two summers doing litigation.

At work I was called into the hiring managers office and told the following. Hiring Manager is one of my biggest supporters. He thinks my career can take me far beyond where most people go in their careers into the top division. However, a couple of my evaluations from supervisors from the summer thought I sometimes acted arrogant. He said he didn’t think I was arrogant but that some things I said at my interview danced the line between confident and arrogant and raised red flags. He said he only brought it up because he didn’t want to not say something in case it became an issue in the future.

Any insight on responding beyond thanking him for telling me and thanking him for supporting me?

Interesting question, reader A. We’ve talked about how to be professional without looking like you think you’re in charge, as well as stressed the importance of being humble and grateful when you’re networking with older people — but we haven’t talked about what to do when you’re told you’re arrogant. (On the flip side, we’ve talked about how to take a compliment, as well as a lot about a lack of confidence; we had a discussion about the book The Confidence Code and we’ve shared posts on facing fear and low self-esteem, imposter syndrome, and doing work you feel unprepared for.) I have a few thoughts, but I’m curious what readers will say.

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Weekly Roundup

Liking these posts? Follow Corporette on Twitter — this is the edited version of what we’re reading! (We also Tweet if we hear about a good sale.)

– We’re kind of against this kind of analysis, but we would be remiss if we didn’t point you to WaPo’s critique of Sonia Sotomayor’s fashion choices, followed by Fashionista’s and Jezebel’s critiques of the WaPo for not running similar stories about Alito or Roberts.

– Fake it till you make it: The Simple Dollar advises on ten ways to improve your appearance of confidence.

The Harvard Business Blog advises how to be super productive at work. (Hat tip to Lifehacker.)

The Frugal Duchess breaks down Kiplinger‘s annoying slideshow on when to save money, on what.

work fashion blog press mentions