Women tend to have the advantage when it comes to body language. We naturally use our body language to express affinity and intimacy in order to bond with people and let them know we’re listening. We smile more and are better at keeping eye contact than men. We stand closer to others. We lean forward rather than back in a chair while listening, and we face a person directly rather than turning to one side. We touch and use gestures that indicate a desire to reach out to the other person. We use this body language to establish connections. We’re also better at reading body language because we’re so intuitive. Unfortunately, there is a point where the “Feminine” advantage falls short.
However, women, particularly in business environments, fall short when it comes to using body language to communicate power and confidence. Research shows that people who can see and those who are blind from birth both raise their hands to celebrate athletic victory. Keeping your voice tone low (not high pitched or raised); not forcing a smile as you are speaking (it looks insincere); keeping eye contact with whom you are speaking with; not crossing your legs, especially when standing; keeping your palms open; not raising your arms or crossing your arms; and not talking with your hands are just some of the ways to maintain a more universally powerful appearance. Try talking with your hands on your hips. This body language will allow men to look at you as more of an equal, and it will give you confidence. Understanding and implementing the nonverbal indicators of confidence and power will drastically affect your workplace behavior and put you on par with the men who understand these indicators intuitively.
In Gender and the Body Language of Power, Lisa Wade, PhD, professor at Occidental College, writes that philosopher Sandra Lee Bartky once observed that being feminine often means using one’s body to portray powerlessness. Research has shown that expansive body postures that take up room instill a psychological sense of power and entitlement. The fact that this behavior is gendered may help explain the persistence of gender inequality and, more pointedly, some men’s belief that they have earned their unearned privileges. As women, we move and situate our bodies in ways that take up less space. We take smaller steps, for example. Men spread out more, gesture more freely, and carry themselves in a more relaxed manner. Men often perceive the person with the more relaxed posture as having higher status. Women are said to have smaller personal space bubbles. These behaviors reinforce gender stereotypes of male independence and assertiveness and female dependency and passivity. This is where the “Feminine” advantage falls short, but as long as you’re self aware you can avoid this and come out on top.
Marja Norris is the CEO and Founder of MarjaNorris.com, a company dedicated to helping women achieve their career goals with style and confidence. With a distinguished career in finance, Marja has successfully navigated the male-dominated business world. Working her way up from an entry-level assistant to a Senior Vice President, she draws on her three decades of experience in the corporate world to empower women to pursue their highest goals and blossom into everything they can be.
Marja is passionate about coaching women on projecting their best professional selves. With the publication of her latest book, The Unspoken Code: A Businesswoman’s No-Nonsense Guide to Making It in the Corporate World, Marja’s mission is to provide women with the tools to successfully navigate the workplace through heightened confidence, excellent communication skills, and dressing the part to achieve career success.