Women at Work: How to Command a Room #SHRM18



Earlier this year, I launched a series here on Workology focused on women in the workplace. The feedback from my first blog post was clear. I received many emails, DMs and phone calls sharing their stories and wanting more. Since I’ve written about women supporting women in the workplace, and because it’s a topic that is near and dear to my heart (and my job), I was excited to attend Monday’s SHRM18 session, “The Art of Executive Presence: A Professional Woman’s Guide to Commanding the Room.” In this session, Jennifer Lee, Director of Learning and Development at JB Training Solutions, discussed the critical components of professionalism and detail how you can create a positive impression, walk the line between too formal and too casual, and instill confidence in any audience.

Let me say that this is one of my favorite sessions I have attended in my nine years attending the SHRM Annual Conference.

How to Build Your Brand in HR

Lee covered the importance of building your brand on social media, from sharing expertise to selecting the right headshot photo. Your brand matters whether you’re looking for a job or have an eye on the corner office, and it’s just a fact that women – in particular – have to work harder to establish authority and garner confidence. A “glamour shot” profile photo doesn’t exactly shout “CEO.”

Three Things That Drive Presence

Jennifer’s presentation was fabulous. She definitely has presence. She says presence has three things:

  • Gravitas – How you act in space
  • Communication – People make assumptions about if you know your stuff. Do you sound like an expert?
  • Perceived Identify – Who we believe you are.

But first the most important thing about how you look, according to Lee, is to match the environment. “You have to blend in so people can trust you.” Lee uses two examples. If you work at a creative agency, you can dress creatively. If you work at a luxury hotel, you’ll have fewer choices in what you need to wear. “You want to think to yourself, are people going to feel comfortable walking into my office and trusting me with benefits?” If the answer is no, you need to change your attire.

Lee says that being well read can help you connect with clients about contemporary issues that might affect their business. She says, “It can be extremely helpful, and it can make you seem helpful.” Preparation is critical. This means arriving at meetings early, preparing by reviewing materials ahead and planning with questions, statements, and ways to handle potential objections, you will rule the room. 

How to Be Confident and Have Presence in Workplace Situations

Research shows that using music helps you prepare for meetings giving you a confidence boost before meetings and events. Lee says that Queen’s Will Will Rock You is the top confidence boosting song and suggests you rock out to the music before your big meeting, interview, or presentation. While building self-confidence is not a quick five-minute remedy, it’s a long process in a cycle that the more you build, the more you have, and the more you can build even more. Music can help give us a quick jump start.

Avoid disqualifiers like sorry and maybe in your statements and everyday interactions. This is one I have done from time to time. This Pantene video really sums it up when it comes to hurting your confidence and impacting your presence in work and life.



How Women Can Thrive in Their Careers and Work

Lee said that “women are told to ‘Lean In,’ DRIVE, and put on their bossypants to achieve success in the working world.” Studies show that cultural perceptions associate men with leadership qualities and women with nurturing qualities putting women in a tough spot when it comes time to command a room and wow a crowd.

Women are just as interested in being promoted as men, and they ask for promotions at comparable rates. In fact, senior-level women ask for promotions more often than senior-level men. Despite this, women are still not advancing at the same pace as men. And external hiring is not making up the disparity in promotion rates. Is this an authority issue or a societal one?

[Source: Women in the Workplace 2017, a comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America, part of a partnership between McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org.]



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