What Does Executive Presence Mean and Why It’s Important For African American Women?

Executive Presence is about establishing a persona that allows you to manage your perception as an individual contributor in the workplace.  Executive Presence is an ambiguous quality but lacking Executive Presence can prevent you from receiving promotions and moving forward into leadership positions.  Unfortunately, Executive Presence is not a subject taught in schools. For many African American women, Executive Presence is learned from mentors, good bosses or individuals that may have a vested interest in you and your career.

Women of color face a multitude of obstacles to overcome in the workplace. We often feel the pressure to be better and smarter than our counterparts. Plus, we are saddled with negative stereotypes and unspoken biases. Like most women, we must learn how to achieve our personal goals in corporate America with finesse. This tightrope for African American women comes with more complexity. An unintended outcome of attributes such as being assertive, passionate or outspoken is the dreaded label of being an “Angry Black Woman.”

However, Executive Presence is a critical tool that African American women can leverage to build positive workplace relationships. Remember: Executive Presence is about perception and you can do that by following three components:

  1. Gravitas: How You Act

Act with confidence, competence, decisiveness, poise and remain calm under pressure.  Being self-aware will help you develop these attributes and impact the way you behave and act towards others.  Get to know yourself and understand what makes you tick.

  1. Communication Skills: How You Express Yourself

Verbal and non-verbal communication is an equally important part of developing Executive Presence.  Finely-tuned speaking skills, as well as the ability to actively listen to others, will enable you to interpret implied messages and recognize crucial verbal cues. You can also initiate positive communication without speaking a word by greeting colleagues with a firm handshake, appropriate eye contact, positive body language, including facial expressions and good posture. Communication skills can be learned and improved with practice. Consider seeking the assistance of an executive coach, reading self-help books, or attending workshops and seminars. As you become more comfortable with communication, reach out to your personal network of colleagues to ask for open honest feedback.

  1. Appearance: How You Look

Unfortunately, people make quick judgments about who you are, and your level of competency based on your appearance. Your personal style is tightly intertwined with your Executive Presence.  To dress the part, avoid clothes that are ill-fitting – too loose or restrictive, wear appropriate shoes and maintain good personal hygiene. Your daily grooming routine should also include your hair, nails, and oral health. Our appearance speaks volumes about how we feel about ourselves, which also influences the opinion(s) others form of us.  Not to mention one African American woman represents the entire race, especially if they happen to be the only “token” at the office.

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