As extraordinarily successful as women have been in reaching new heights in today’s workplace, we still have work to do. The Council of Economic Advisers 2014 report shows that females earn 78 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts. Many upper echelons are male-dominated with 4.4% of the S&P 500 CEOs being women, and only 19% of those companies’ boards comprise women, according to Catalyst. Suppressed feelings of frustration and self-doubt are simmering amongst female talent who believe their career potential is not being recognized or rewarded. Heightened awareness of some business etiquette strategies that can be fluidly employed at the precise time in a range of business situations can help women get noticed for advancement opportunities.
In a collaborative effort, Pamela Eyring, President of the Protocol School of Washington (PSOW), and Tiffany Adams, President of Cincinnati Etiquette & Leadership Institute, LLC (CELI) and PSOW alumni team up to examine 5 areas of interest for women empowerment:
Minimizing Emotion and Building Relationship Capital Business etiquette underscores the importance of having self-awareness and self-restraint. It arms leaders with the business acumen they need to respond to situations pragmatically and professionally, not emotionally and counterproductively. Etiquette intelligence suppresses the big ego, in favor of making others feel valued which strengthens relationship-building. The sooner women focus on building relationship capital, the sooner they gain power. Eyring explains, “We must build relationships, forge alliances, and network relentlessly to thrive. Women gain respect through their interactions.”
Mistakes Women Make First, avoid the temptation to emulate male counterparts. It is to a woman’s advantage to stay true to themselves by tapping into their natural talents. We want to see women stop bruising themselves in an imperfect world about their weaknesses and find work that celebrates their strengths. Second, a woman’s reputation is at risk when her image is compromised. Eyring reveals, “A common complaint I hear is a woman’s lack of professional image. Showing too much skin or cleavage does not earn respect as a leader. People are visual and it still rings true - first impressions count.” It’s counterproductive to rely on sex appeal to influence an outcome, but looking up-to-date and approachable is advised. One might ask why a woman has to worry about their appearance when a Mark Zuckerberg can don a hoodie or Steve Jobs can wear the same black turtleneck day after day without a second thought. Honestly, most women enjoy having the creative freedom to wear different clothes. However, this artistic license to be creative with image can hurt, rather than help, one’s credibility if it is not done in an appropriate way. Yes, women should be judged for their intellect and not what brand name or accessory they are wearing, but the reality is we feel more confident when we look the part. And if we feel more confident, we project more authority. Third, articulating your message more succinctly will win respect. Challenge yourself to get to the point quickly. It’s unnecessary to explain how to design the clock when you are simply being asked what time it is.
Communication Skills & Interruptions Eyring declares, “The combination of listening, eye contact and facial expressions is a winning trifecta. The starting point is active listening. It is easy to interrupt, but a true leader listens with their eyes. They press “mute” and use facial expressions to reinforce their intended emotion.” However, what can a woman do when she cannot get a word in at a meeting? While excessively interrupting is viewed as having undeveloped people skills, women should find a balance. Women have been socialized to be polite and to never interrupt, but sometimes it’s appropriate to confidently interject if you can add value to the discussion. Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, was no verbal mystery declaring, “Women have to be active listeners and interrupters – but when you interrupt, you have to know what you are talking about.” Try these appropriate phrases to interrupt, but remember, there is no reason to begin your interruption with an apology which undermines women’s credibility:
• Excuse me, let me add to the point you just made by offering this...
• I am not sure that is possible to do at this point because…
• Oh, I see we are running out of time and still haven’t addressed the other agenda item. Can we table your point (or take it offline after this meeting) so that we can discuss this other issue as a group before we leave?
• You are passionate about this and I respect that. Let me offer another idea so that the group can weigh in on both perspectives.
Power Body Language Be large and in charge. Fifty-eight percent of our like-ability is due to body language. Women unknowingly condense their physical stature to make themselves smaller. Legs are crossed, elbows are tightly pulled in, shoulders are hunched, and papers are neatly stacked to minimize occupied space. Spread out and expand into every available space. Avoid the self-pacifying, distracting gestures like nervously playing with jewelry, hair, or placing hands in the “fig-leaf position.” Widen your stance and use arm movements that make a statement, but are not overstated.
It’s How You Say It Avoid the “upspeak.” Interestingly, women have five voice tones, whereas males have three, so women can sound more emotional which undermines authority. Women’s voices tend to rise in inflection at the end of sentences, especially under pressure, as if they are asking a question and seeking approval. Deliver your messages with conviction and project your voice. Eyring adds, “Speak with meaning and clarity. When I worked for the United States Air Force, I learned how to speak to generals and officers quickly and directly. It was important to use an assertive, but not aggressive, voice tone. Due to my workplace being predominately male leaders, I kept to the business at hand. I didn’t want to be seen as a “girly-girl” who could only do certain duties. What I said mattered as much as how I said it.” It pays to be patient.
Successful empowerment requires small shifts in thought and behavior over a long period of time. It is not the large shifts of actions all at once, but the smaller “pivots” that produces results.
As Audrey Hepburn eloquently stated: “Nothing is impossible. The word itself, impossible, says I’m possible.”
2014 PSOW Graduate of Train to be a Corporate Etiquette and International Protocol Consultant and President of Cincinnati Etiquette & Leadership Institute, LLC (CELI)