For many women, establishing presence at work is an enduring issue. It seems to come easily to most men, but not to women.
In Understanding Gender at Work, psychologist and lawyer Delee Fromm says that women are taught that it’s important to fit in, while men seek to stand out. So women instinctively reduce themselves – their very presence – and thus fail to convey vital leadership traits such as confidence and authority.
Ms. Fromm urges women to counter that tendency by displaying expansive postures. Think of an actor on stage: To convey power, the person walks with a swagger, chest out, arms relaxed. Pulling shoulders back, standing or sitting, adds to the signal.
One of the clients she coaches, a vice-president at a major bank in the United States, found that when she started taking up more space when seated across from her boss he started to approve all her requests.
Here are some tips:
- Start your day with an expansive posture. Stretch like a starfish or sit expansively in a chair with your hands behind your head. “You might even want to sit with your feet on your desk or stand over your desk with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on the desk supporting you,” she adds.
- When seated in a chair, open your shoulders and fill the chair back so that none of it can be seen. Place your arms on the arm rest or far apart on the meeting room table. Be ready to deploy these postures in challenging situations.
- Before an important meeting or presentation, sneak off into the washroom or another private area and practise your expansive postures.
- Pay attention to the temperature. If the office is too cool, you will shrink. Keep a suit jacket in your office, or layer up. It’s hard to look relaxed and expansive when you’re chilly.
- Make sure your chair height doesn’t place you in a subordinate position. “If you are petite, crank the height to a maximum, even if your feet don’t touch the ground. Many petite women in seminars have told me this is how they feel comfortable – when they are at an equal height at the table with others. It is also important from a psychological perspective; when a person is lower in height than others they can tend to feel less confident and competent than others,” she says.
- Avoid crossed arms, which can make you appear withdrawn and less engaged. One woman keeps her elbows out on the meeting room table as if playing aggressive hockey – it stopped others from figuratively knocking her out of the game.
- When waiting in a reception area, don’t sit down, which may lead you to scrunch up as you work your smartphone. Remain standing while you wait, which will give you more energy.
Beyond expansive postures, you must reduce any distracting movements, she says. People who command authority and respect don’t fidget. And you must shun subordinate signals, such as nodding and offering assenting reactions or smiling excessively. This non-verbal behaviour might make you look less confident.
Beware of casual days, Ms. Fromm adds. If you are petite and young, casual clothing can make you seem more junior. Dress as if you are about to be called into a client meeting.
These tweaks can help you establish yourself as confident and competent, a woman of presence.
- Novelist Mark Haddon announced he was leaving Twitter with these words: “I am taking a long break because every tweet had begun to feel like a peep of steam through my whistle – Listen to me! Listen to me! – which reduced the boiler pressure I needed to write another novel.” You may not be a novelist, but we all must tend to our boiler pressure.
- Don’t put your hobbies on your resume. Business Insider writers Rachel Gillett and Allana Akhtar say nobody cares: If it’s not relevant to the job you’re applying for, it’s a waste of space and the hiring officials’ time.
- To decide whether a job is a good fit, journalist Rebecca Muller recommends asking: Does my personality mesh with the company’s culture? Is this work meaningful to me? Can I show up with my whole self here?
- Listen to a podcast when you wake up. Tee it up the night before and push play upon awakening, suggests freelance writer Erin Greenawald. It will help you get out of your brain fog and start the day with learning.
- It’s difficult to say “I was wrong.” But entrepreneur Seth Godin says things change – the environment we are operating in, for instance, or the information we have – and we regularly get a chance to make things more right. Try this alternative to saying you were wrong: “Based on new information, I can make a new decision.”
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