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executive presence for women

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Mastering Executive Presence for Women in Leadership


Executive presence for women isn't just about looking the part; it's an amalgamation of qualities that make you the person people stop and listen to, the person others want to follow. In a nutshell, executive presence combines confidence, poise, and decisiveness with the soft skills of empathy and interpersonal effectiveness.


Imagine you walk into a room, and people instantly take you seriously. They hang on to every word you say and respect your opinions. That's executive presence. It's not about throwing your weight around or talking the loudest. It's an aura of authenticity, confidence, and capability.


Why Executive Presence for Women Matters

Ladies, let's get real. It's 2023, and women hold only 31% of senior leadership roles globally. Shocking, right? I was floored when I read that stat. In a world screaming for gender balance, this number isn't just disappointing; it's alarming. If you're a career-oriented woman like me, you've probably wondered: "What's the missing piece of the puzzle?" It's not just about filling quotas; it's about creating balanced, effective leadership. That's why executive presence for women is such a hot topic and is so misunderstood.


I remember a conference I attended years ago, surrounded by sharp suits and even sharper minds. Despite having the skills and experience, I felt alone in discussions and decision-making. I felt alone because I was the only woman in the room and approached things differently than my male counterparts. It was then that I realized having expertise wasn't enough. You need something more transcendent, often called "executive presence."


It is executive presence—and no man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without this heady combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal. It’s an amalgam of qualities that telegraphs that you are in charge or deserve to be. - Sylvia Ann Hewlett


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The Unique Challenges Women Face in Executive Presence

The Confidence Gap

The reality is harsh but true: women often work twice as hard to receive half the credit. Societal conditioning and gender stereotypes contribute to a personal take on failures, making it challenging for women to display the confidence often expected in leadership roles.


Style Over Substance

Earlier generations emphasized the need for women to adopt a more masculine style to fit into leadership roles. This limits the positive impact of diverse leadership styles and forces women to behave contrary to their authentic selves.


The Unconscious Bias and Double Standards

This bias affects how different leadership styles are perceived and rewarded. The bitter truth is that women are often penalized for the same aggressive styles men are lauded for, creating a double bind.

Strategies for Mastering Executive Presence for Women


Be Intentional, Not Popular

Leaders should focus on getting work done rather than seeking popularity. Make your goals clear to your team, and align these objectives with your actions and decisions. Verbalizing your intentions sets the tone for effective leadership and robust executive presence.


Rescue Less, Empower More

The “rescuer mentality” does more harm than good. While it’s tempting to swoop in and solve problems for your team, doing so could strip them of their self-worth and hinder their growth. Instead, empower your team to face challenges head-on and learn from their experiences.


Manage Up and Make an Impact

It’s not just about managing your team well; influential leaders also strategically manage their relationships with higher-ups. These individuals will likely have a significant say in your career progression. Be proactive in establishing and maintaining solid relationships with them.


Fill Your Own Cup

Are you seeking validation from colleagues? Stop it right now. Seeking external validation can be a slippery slope. You are enough just as you are, and your worth isn’t determined by the validation you receive from your colleagues. Seek emotional support outside of work, if necessary, but remember: you’re complete all on your own. If you find yourself struggling with this, consider seeking support from mentors or coaches outside your professional sphere.


Navigate the Double Bind with Finesse

Understanding the dynamics of the double bind and unconscious bias can equip you to navigate them effectively. Awareness is the first step toward change. Once you’re aware, you can adapt your behavior to project the confidence universally recognized as “executive presence.” By doing so, you’ll cultivate an executive presence that won’t just open doors—it’ll blow them off the hinges.


Unpack Unconscious Bias

Understanding your unconscious biases and those of your colleagues can help you navigate complex dynamics more successfully. Developing an executive presence that’s recognized as a leadership asset requires this level of self-awareness and adaptation.


A Top Tip and Deep Dive: Unpacking the Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Executive Presence

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is another crucial component of executive presence for women. Having a high EQ means you’re adept at recognizing and understanding emotions—both your own and others—and using this awareness to manage behaviour and relationships. That is your superpower.


When we talk about leadership, it’s not just about being the smartest person in the room. Leadership is about inspiring, motivating, and bringing out the best in others. An emotionally intelligent leader is often more effective in a collaborative work environment, and let’s face it: today’s business world is more about teamwork and partnerships than ever before. Cultivating emotional intelligence can be an excellent way to navigate unconscious biases in the workplace and add another layer to your executive presence.


The Significance of Mentorship and Sponsorship

Even though formal mentorship programs have been around for some time, their impact on elevating women in leadership roles is still less than ideal. However, mentorship and sponsorship are vital in honing executive presence for women. A mentor can provide guidance, constructive feedback, and career advice that is invaluable in career progression. Meanwhile, sponsors can help by advocating for you regarding organizational decisions, such as promotions or significant project assignments.


It’s crucial to seek mentors and sponsors who can provide emotional and instrumental support. These relationships are a two-way street. Just as you benefit from their guidance and advocacy, you provide them with fresh perspectives and ideas, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.


Conclusion: Take Control of Your Executive Presence Today!

You have the tools and understanding to build a powerful executive presence for women. Now, it’s up to you to take the next step. Are you interested in diving deeper? Sign up for our email list to receive exclusive tips and insights designed to help you break through the glass ceiling. So stick around, explore our blog, and let’s shatter some ceilings together!


You’ve read the strategies, understood the challenges, and hopefully, recognized the potential for growth in your career journey.  If you found this article valuable, don’t forget to share it with your network. Together, we can change the narrative and make leadership a more inclusive space for everyone. Sign up for our exclusive email list to get specially curated content right in your inbox. These insights are designed to help you level up your career, develop remarkable leadership skills, and achieve the work-life balance you deserve. Why wait? Your future starts now.


Feel free to share this article with your network. Let’s support each other in breaking down barriers and making the world of leadership more inclusive for everyone.

International Association of Women membership
Free work interview preparation for first time manager questions
Career with a View networking event

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