How I Projected Office Confidence Without Joining the Boys' Club

The Surprising Way Women Can Project Office Confidence
by Kara Ronin
December 14, 2016
The perception of confidence is often attributed to masculine characteristics, but women in the workplace can be both powerful and feminine if they want.
Women are climbing higher up the corporate ladder than ever before. We’re becoming managers and directors, and many have even made their way into the sacred “corner office”. And yet, irrespective of these achievements, there still seems to be an inner conflict that many women in the workplace face on a daily basis.

How do you project confidence and power in the office, without having to act differently?

Projecting confidence has traditionally been aligned with very masculine body language. Taking up more space and using open body language postures is a common recommendation when you research “how to appear more confident.”

But as a woman with particular interests, I often questioned the practicality of such recommendations. For example, when I’m at a business meeting trying to sign a client, of course, I want to appear confident and self-assured. Yet if I were to follow these recommendations and use open body language postures, how will it look if I'm wearing a skirt? What if I want to take a normal amount of space and still radiate power?

Then, there’s the issue of “likeability.” Many women are afraid of being labeled “bossy” or “pushy” if they project too much confidence or power in the office. This fear is not completely unfounded. Even Clayman Institute sociologist and Lean In lead researcher, Marianne Cooper, pointed out in the Harvard Business Review that “...when acting authoritatively, women leaders are disliked much more than men.”

So, it seems women are often caught in a dilemma: should we continue down the path of traditional, masculine-style confidence, be mislabeled as “too aggressive," and still feel like we're playing a role we never asked for? Or, should we shape our own rules and stay true to ourselves by learning how to project confidence in a manner that doesn't require adapting to male-dominate rules? What if we prefer to embrace our femininity? 

Let me preface this by saying: I understand that not all women struggle with this issue. But as a driven, entrepreneurial, and naturally feminine woman, I’m personally invested. And through my experience as a business etiquette expert, I’ve discovered that there are things you can do to come across as both confident and feminine if that's what feels true to you. 

How I Kept My Own Feminine-Leaning Personality Without Losing Face

BY ADDING A 'FEMININE TOUCH' TO TRADITIONALLY CORPORATE OUTFITS
When choosing an outfit that projects the most authority, research and your own intuition will probably tell you to opt for darker colors. It’s true that a black or navy blue suit, as opposed to beige or light gray, will make you look more confident and powerful. But a lot of women I’ve spoken to feel that a traditional suit is too masculine. So they want to find ways to add a touch of femininity and elegance to their professional look.If that sounds like you, then here are some tips:

Using your dark suit as a base color, you’ve already created authority.

Next, let’s look at your shirt. Instead of a plain white shirt, why not opt for a white shirt with unique buttons or detailed feminine tailoring? Or perhaps there's a unique patterned look you can layer under your suit! Looking expressive but professional projects a confidence that lets you have some freedom. 

And how about your accessories? Instead of a traditional black or brown belt, why not switch to a gold, red, or jeweled belt? 

The options you have to add a feminine touch to your outfit are limited only by your imagination.

BY USING POWERFUL, YET ELEGANT AND NATURAL BODY LANGUAGE

Once you’ve added a feminine touch to your outfit, you can turn your attention to your body language. It’s important not to neglect this second step because no matter how confident your outfit looks, you cannot project total confidence without the right body language. Studies have shown that 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal. So that means your body language and facial expressions are a crucial part of sending a self-assured message.

Since confident body language is traditionally aligned with more masculine traits, you'll have to find ways to use powerful body language postures that feel true to you—whether they elegant, feminine, or downright girly. Here’s my favorite example that you can try at your next business meeting: 

When you’re sitting down at the business meeting table, instead of taking up space with your legs, assume powerful postures with your arms and your upper body instead. 

Use both the armrests on your chair to look relaxed and self-assured. 

Sit back in your chair to show authority when you’re listening to others.

Lean forward when you’re speaking to engage others. 

When it’s your turn to speak, gently scan the room from left to right looking each person in the eye for a couple of seconds. This jolts people awake so they listen to you, and your confidence naturally shines.

BY ADJUSTING MY VOICE AND WORD CHOICE

Due to the physiological makeup of our throat, women naturally have softer voices than men. But even though it might be more difficult to sound as loud or as authoritative as a man, it’s not impossible. You just have to know how to use your voice to sound more confident when you speak. Here are my tips:

Increase the volume of your voice by drawing more oxygen into your lungs and pushing more oxygen out when you speak. 

To sound more commanding, you might also want to adjust the vocabulary you use. For example, if you’re at a restaurant, instead of using hesitant language, such as “I think I’ll have the Cobb salad,” try something more certain: “I’ll have the Cobb salad, please.” If you’ve already decided, why be hesitant? It sounds simple, but stating what you want is a huge start. 

Eliminate any upswing in your voice, otherwise known as “Valley Girl Talk." The upswing is the vocal rising at the end of a sentence that makes your statement sound more like a question than the statement it undoubtedly is. This projects uncertainty in your voice. Avoid this by pushing down the intonation at the end of your statements.   

Clearly, it’s possible to be a confident female leader—and it’s important that you properly convey that confidence at every turn. And why should you do otherwise? I believe women can stay true to their feminine traits and project bold assuredness at the same time.

Have you struggled with balancing power and femininity in the office? Let us know how you handled it in the comments below.