Despite the famous adage saying, “beauty is only skin-deep,” executive women need to be mindful about how they look. How you present and the way you communicate will determine how successful you are.
Appearance can present a double-edged sword for career women
For businesswomen, their presentation can be a very ambiguous aspect of their professional life. Despite the perspective that looks and the way women dress should not be related to performance, it still plays a huge role in job hiring and promotions of women.
With appearance offering benefits, how can women tip the scale for their own advantage? Though there’s no clear-cut answer, the best strategy is to dress according to the job. Obviously, too much makeup or clothes more fitting for afterhours or weekend wear should not be worn to work and will not leave a favourable impression that you are serious about your career. On the contrary, having a neat hairstyle and professional clothing connotes professionalism. Selena Rezvani, a leadership consultant, recommends that women should dress more according to the industry they are working in, and less on their personal style. One example of this is Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, whose conservative suits show femininity, without compromising her message. Furthermore, her formal attire demonstrates leadership in the IT industry where casual wear is the norm.
Apart from their appearance, women can go further in strengthening their leadership in the corporate world. This can be done by channelling an executive presence.
Look like a leader with executive presence
Aside from physical appearance and clothing, projecting an executive presence involves the way you behave and speak in front of your colleagues and clients, according to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder of Center for Talent Innovation, a think-tank group in New York in the U.S.
To convey an executive presence, women need to demonstrate gravitas in their behaviour. This entails displaying confidence in stressful environments, as well as exhibiting decisiveness, integrity and empathy. In terms of communication, this includes the non-verbal cues and body language that women use in talking to others. When giving a presentation, it is essential to maintain eye contact with your audience and to establish a connection with them. For those using PowerPoint presentations, Hewlett recommends knowing your material and rely less on the slides. Engage and communicate more with your audience and you will help them become more interested with the topic that you are discussing.
Demonstrating your leadership skills, professional behaviour and effective communication skills, along with a polished appearance, will help women attain promotions including executive positions. If you want to be a leader, including a Partner in a professional services firm, dress and act like one; don’t wait to be appointed to the role before you change the way you present. You could be waiting longer than is necessary.