Women moving to the C-suite– Focus!

A new white paper on women CEO’s called “Women CEOs Speak” by Korn Ferry reminds us that only 6% of CEO’s are women. Surprisingly, the paper did not have any research on influence of dress, voice, or body movement for women. In my experience, nonverbal qualities are mentioned as much or more when writing about or surveying women ascending the corporate ladder. The concerning 6% statistic made me ask myself what nonverbal advice I can give to help women who seek C-suite jobs? Focus came to mind!

Why focus? Women are taught from an early age to be kind, gentle and quiet. This results in body language which can be withdrawn, light, soft and small. Women who have bold body language or “talk a lot with their hands” will come to me to be “fixed” so they are taken more seriously. The “fix” I give them is not to switch to be light, soft and small, but rather to be laser focused!

The problem of “fixing” behavior.

If women try to alter their natural behavior too far from their normal, they look doll-like, stiff and non-authentic. Some women portray the superwoman pose, take a wide stance and turn on a “linebacker” persona left over from power suits, shoulder pads and masculine attributes of the 80’s. Others have adopted very feminine suits, jewelry, and body twisting from the Millennial generation which comes across as dangerous and flirtatious (yes, think sexual harassment!).

Obviously, neither of these options is the answer. A middle ground is discovered when one keeps focus in mind.

Rather than changing our natural movements, women need to be mindful to be more focused and purposeful.

Keeping focus in mind when gesturing will help:

  • Quick movements slow down
  • Large movements become a bit more narrow
  • Distracting, extraneous movements tend to cease.

When speaking from the stage, focus helps:

  • Prevent wandering
  • Increases eye contact and connection with the audience
  • Magnifies presence

Focus will also help your voice!

  • Focusing your movements will also help you ground your voice and lower the pitch a little.
  • Focus will help prevent “upspeak.”
  • Focus will reduce little nervous giggles, “ums” and “likes” because the focus will go to your thoughts too.

Remember video tends to magnify large, quick, extraneous movement and high-pitched voices and giggles. Be aware to be particularly focused if you are on a video conference, live feed or recording promotional video.

Speaking of video- check out this tip as a video: https://youtu.be/om4JCBJgJzI

How do you know if you need to be more focused? Ask your male office-mates.  

Why ask men? They are the ones likely judging you in a negative light. Women tend to accept women’s body language more than men.

  • Ask if they think you gesture too much or too large.
  • Ask if they find your voice irritating.
  • Ask if they think you move and/or speak too quickly.

Do not take any responses you receive as the end all. Bring this new knowledge to a body language and voice expert. Improving your nonverbal presence is just as important as life and business leadership development coaching if you seek to move into the C-suite!