How to loosen gender stereotypical bias

For women it is important to work on a leadership presence (gravitas), and at the same time not to overdo this to the extent of being perceived as a threat. Gravitas can be defined as dignified presence or dignified demeanour.

Said principal and senior executive coach David Peck: “While it may be difficult to define, it is a quality that is immediately noticeable on a first-time meeting. When gravitas is lacking, people know it, and when it’s present, they take notice: “She can really hold a room.” “His ideas are always welcomed by the board, even when there’s debate or disagreement.” “When she speaks, people sit up and take notice.”

I once met the CEO of a large multinational who walked into our meeting room with confidence and poise, and who shook hands firmly with all members of the senior management by looking us straight in the eyes, asking us how we were, and that too by referring to us individually by our first names. We were all floored by this two-minute interaction. That first impression for us was certainly the last impression. We knew we were dealing with a leader, and that too a formidable leader, the type you would not want to mess with. It was obvious to all that he possessed gravitas.

It’s difficult to provide a to-do-list in a one-fits-all-manner on how to develop this leadership presence, since we all have different personality characteristics, and also because the demands of various industries vary. However, as a starting point, I am sharing some of the perceptions people in the workplace have expressed about me, across two industries:-

1. A former boss said to me, “You’ve got one hell of a handshake.”
2. One colleague said, “You have a power walk. When you walk down the corridor, people know that someone in authority is arriving.”
3. A colleague: “I see you taking part in so many high-level meetings each day. You always leave the room so calm and move effortlessly onto the next work project.”

How can women develop a leadership presence:-

1. Understand when to speak and when to maintain silence in meetings. Constant banter may do you a disservice. On the other hand it is important to be heard, and definitely to ask questions (if you receive an agenda before the meeting, you can prepare your questions in advance). Don’t let a meeting go by without being heard at least once.
2. Knowing that body language dominates all other forms of communication, go for power dressing. However, some feminine touch would be advisable.
3. Build your self-esteem. Be confident about your strengths, and while you need to be aware of your weaknesses, it’s best to downplay them.
4. When you talk of your achievements try not to attribute this to luck or hard work, but talk specifically of your skills and experience.
5. Don’t constantly self-promote:Self-promotion has been seen to have a positive impact on a man’s leadership image, but less so for women.

If you are in a leadership position help other women in your team develop poise at the workplace by providing them a ‘safe space’ where they can vent their emotions privately. Woman managers have often come to talk to me if they were upset, and after a confidential talk (and maybe a few tears) they would resume work more invigorated and poised than before. It is certainly better to vent emotions with someone you trust at the workplace, rather than internalizing these emotions (Studies have shown that men are more likely to suffer a heart attack in the workplace as they tend to suppress their anger).

Gravitas includes maintaining poise in the workplace at all times. As a leader you are always being observed by your team members (possibly as a role model), and hence the importance of poise, power dressing and etiquette.

Business women at the office ready to work

  • Written byPayal Kumar

    payal kumar has worked in senior managerial positions in the higher education sector and in the corporate sector in India, including as Registrar and Professor at a university in north India, and earlier to this as Vice President Editorial and Production, SAGE India Publications Pvt Ltd. Amongst her scholarly publications, she has published a book on Indian women leadership with Palgrave-Macmillan:http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/unveiling-womens-leadership-payal-kumar/?K=9781137547040 She can be contacted at payalk1@gmail.com


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