How Women Leaders Can Use Body Language to Convey Competence and Likeability
The actually-kind-of-disturbing-if-you-stop-and-think-about-it phrase “beating a dead horse” comes to mind when the topic of double standards between men and women in the workplace arises.
The gender pay gap is definitely a problem, for example. Despite the fact that women are increasingly occupying positions traditionally held by men, including top positions of leadership, they’re still only earning 77 percent of what their male counterparts make, according to stats released by the White House in April 2014.
Differences in how male and female leaders are perceived is another concern, and one that creates extra obstacles for the so-called “fairer sex.” Change is hard to bring about; the problems are rooted in age-old stereotypes and concepts of gender roles. But if women are aware of these perception issues, they can use body language to overcome them.
The Competence-Likeability Tradeoff
Women leaders contend with a tradeoff that doesn’t affect male leaders: the more powerful and competent they appear, the less likeable they become. This inverse relationship makes leading considerably more difficult for females, as most successful leaders are respected and well-liked.
Confidence, authority, decisiveness, and similar characteristics are valued in male leaders and don’t affect people’s evaluation of their likeability. However, when a female demonstrates these qualities, it clashes with an ingrained belief that she’s supposed to be warm, compassionate, and demure. She’s seen as power-hungry, overly aggressive, and self-promoting; and yes, she’s called a b****.
Body Language Is the Answer
It may seem hopeless, and it’s true things will only truly change over the course of generations. For now, once women leaders recognize their inherent PR problem that’s built into the American consciousness, they can turn power posing body language techniques on and off as needed to counteract it.
Power posing sends messages in nonverbal ways. It includes body language that expands physical presence. Standing up straight, spreading the legs more broadly than the shoulders, and spreading the arms or placing hands on hips are some power poses. Smiling less and holding eye contact are also part of power posing.
With power posing, a woman retains authority, reinforce directives and messages, and is assertive in physical ways without using “unlikeable” language or tones. Once directives have been given, women can withdraw from power posing. For example, women shouldn’t smile while doling out responsibilities, but adding a smile afterward reassures people and projects likeability.
Does this play into stereotypes? Yes, to some extent. But until there’s a broad and deep change in public attitudes and perceptions, women have to work the stereotypes to find success as a leader in today’s environment.