Hello SOTGC community,
It’s no secret that as career women we work hard. We are driven, focused, and masters at multi-tasking with finesse. We’ve earned our positions with great due diligence. We know what we want and aren’t afraid to go after it. Passion plus knowledge equals power!
No doubt, you’ve spent years gaining an education through various avenues that have equipped you with technical skills necessary for career success. Perhaps you’ve gone the extra mile of gaining multiple degrees and certificates, lest anyone doubt your ability and competence. Every effort has been intentional, with your eyes on the prize – climbing the corporate ladder and taking your rightful seat at the boardroom table. You have networked your way into influential circles. In many cases, you have paid your dues. So have I. But the best thing I’ve learned on my own journey was to tap into the knowledge of others – especially women already in positions of influence; women who are highly regarded.
I have had the privilege of learning from both male and female mentors. But my greatest take-aways were from the women who shared candid conversations with me. “You must work like a woman but present like a man,” one told me (funny how a movie with a similar title came out years later!). I was puzzled at first but tried not to seem naïve; I was still in my late twenties. She began to explain that what really separates us in the workplace is not so much how we think or go about our work; it’s our “feminine behavior.” It’s our mannerisms, our approach when communicating, and how we use our voice. Though I wouldn’t have an epiphany about my calling until nearly ten years later, this was the beginning of my journey towards becoming a business etiquette consultant. I learned to watch, read, and improve body language; recognize what it takes to have a commanding presence; speak with authority and follow protocols that move you into higher circles. I was thrilled to have such insider information!
Since that time, I have learned so much more, always seeking to improve myself and pay it forward by sharing with others, especially younger women coming up behind me. I’ve learned to combine my womanly intuition with diplomacy and no-nonsense approaches to business interactions, ever mindful of how I might be coming across to others. I’ve learned that you can boost your power and influence by correcting a few things in your personal presentation.
- Use your tenor voice. Practice speaking in the lower register of your voice. Men speak with authority partly because they don’t raise the pitch of their voices; we do, which makes us sound too soft or “fragile,” making it easier to be dismissed. Remember how your dad could get you to do something your mother could not? It was the surety and finality in his voice. It was his tone.
- Avoid sounding doubtful. Do you apologize before making a point or otherwise suggest doubt by the tone of your voice (i.e. sounds like a question rather than a statement)? Avoid opening statements such as, “I don’t mean to trouble you but …”, or, “I’m not sure but I think …”. Speak with certainty. That’s speaking with power!
- Cross at the ankles. Sounds funny but when you cross your legs at the knee while wearing a skirt in mixed company it draws attention to your legs, thus your femininity. This is distracting to men and is a subconscious reminder that we are not the same therefore not equal.
- Mind your carriage. Men tend to stand tall and take up more space, so to speak – even when sitting. Good posture and body language makes a person look confident, credible and even attractive (in a non-gender way). Stand straight with your arms at your side and feet shoulder-width apart. Be careful not to lean towards one hip or the other or rest your hands on your hips (like a scolding mother). Placing hands on other parts of the body weakens your stance as well (i.e. covering a part of your face or touching the opposite shoulder as if to protect or hug yourself for reassurance).
- Your hair – fix it once and leave it there! Do you play with your hair when speaking? This single habit can do more to undermine your power and credibility than many other habits. Resist the temptation to toss your locks or frequently tuck them behind your ear, particularly while in a business meeting and especially with members of the opposite sex. To help you break this bad habit, pull your hair up, back, or pin it on the sides to remove the temptation – but not just before going into the meeting. Taking time to redo or change your hair once you’ve already been seen during the day can seem fickle and juvenile. Unless you are just returning from your lunch-time workout at the gym, there is no need for a hair (and makeup) redo at the office. Instead, plan ahead. If you know you have an important meeting the next day, choose a fitting hairstyle that will be less distracting – along with a power suit.
This one thing I have learned for sure: It is far more impactful in business to be seen as a professional first and a woman second. Now let me be the first to say that I love being a woman! I love having the flexibility to wear pants or dresses, light colors or dark, long hair or short. I appreciate my God-given curves and softer voice. But I will also be the first to admit that with such distinctions from men comes a responsibility to subdue these femininities in order to be given the same respect. And when you see that it works for you, I hope you will pay it forward and share your knowledge.
The list provided is far from being a comprehensive “how-to” guide to power and influence. But I hope that it will get you thinking (and discovering) what else you might do to improve your personal presentation. I would encourage you to be ever mindful of the subtleties in your behavior that could be holding you back or secretly undermining your authority. Just by perfecting aspects of your personal presentation, you can establish greater confidence and increase your power, influence, and overall professional image.
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