Body Language in the Workplace

Although accomplished women continue to make names for themselves across multiple
traditionally male-dominated industries including tech (Sheryl Sandburg of Facebook), energy
(Lynn Good of Duke Energy), and manufacturing (Mary Barra of GM) we must not forget that
we still have a long way to go. According to the independent nonprofit organization, Women VC, the number of female partners in venture capital firms in the United States actually declined
recently from 10% in 1999 to 6% in 2014.

Women should take a stand against being forced out of boardrooms. I mean this in both a
figurative and a literal sense. Your body language says a lot about your confidence level and
about how much you feel you deserve to be where you are. From a very young age, across
cultures, boys are taught to take space and girls are taught to yield it. When these boys grow to
be men, they continue doing what they have always done—they assert themselves by how they
move and position their bodies when they interact with others. Women who seek leadership roles
would do well to adopt some of their masculine traits.

You don’t have to be overt, and you certainly shouldn’t be aggressive. But you must be
confident. Awareness and mindfulness are the key elements. For instance, consider some of these tips and observations from executive coach and leadership consultant Carol Kinsey Goman,
PhD:

  • One of the ways you can convey confidence in a room is by taking up a lot of space in
    that room. Perhaps it has something to do with the primal need to claim territory, but
    confident men will spread out their papers and other materials on a shared surface,
    whereas women will often keep them close by. Show that you have earned your spot at
    the table by claiming that precious real estate!
  • Make sure that you’re aware of the position of your head when listening to someone else
    talk. Tilting your head can be a positive indication that you’re interested in the
    conversation. Unfortunately, it can also be taken as a sign of submission to the person
    who is speaking. A woman interacting with a man in a business setting would do well to
    keep her head held up straight in a neutral position. Don’t make it look like you
    automatically agree with everything that’s being said!
  • No discussion about body language in the workplace would be complete without a few
    words about handshakes. This ancient ritual is not only proper etiquette in most business
    situations, it also conveys trust. Although there is variation among cultures, women who
    have a firm, professional handshake, (especially in the West), are more likely to be seen
    as confident. Make sure that your palm touches the other person’s when your hands meet,
    and square your shoulders as you face him. You don’t want to seem like you are turning
    away or afraid to meet him head on.

You’ve put in the work to get where you are. Don’t unconsciously cede your ground to a man
who’ll gladly take it without a second thought. Show him that you mean business!