Why do we see so few highly successful women at the top? A key reason, I believe, is that women are not as aware as men are of the power of personal branding, whether it’s self-promotion, projecting confidence or strategic networking.
I’ve asked over 150 highly successful women their tips for success. Here are seven that I think all women should take to heart:
1. Take a “seat” at the meetings
In general, women tend to speak up less than men in meetings and wait to be asked a direct question before they speak. While this can be polite behaviour, it can be misinterpreted. When you aren’t an active participant in meetings, you don’t appear to be an integral part of the team. People might even think that you lack ideas or confidence or talent. Being a meeting wallflower is a mistake that the most successful women don’t make. In the business world, meetings are your stage. You have to learn to join the business conversation and confidently express your ideas if you want to be successful.
2. Stay “on brand"
Marketers think of being “on brand,” consistent at every touch point where people come into contact with the brand. And they evolve brands slowly over time so they are relevant while being true to the brand. Highly successful women know what they stand for and are authentic and consistent in the way they present themselves at every touch point too, whether it’s participating in meetings, leaving a succinct voicemail message on the phone, composing an email or attending corporate events.
3. Don’t under-market yourself.
Humility may be a virtue but women can take it too far! One global study of male and female leadership found that most women tend to downplay their accomplishments, which it dubbed the “Female Humility Effect,” while men tend to promote their accomplishments, which it named the “Male Hubris Effect.” Highly successful women don’t leave career success to chance. They learn how to promote themselves like men do, and figure out a way to do it that’s authentic and effective. After all, if you don’t market yourself, who will?
4. Fake it until you make it
Women are notorious at feeling that they’re not ready for a new assignment or promotion unless they can check off every box in the skill set required for the position. Men, on the other hand, can have some of the qualifications, and yet can feel comfortable pitching themselves for the job. That’s why highly successful women often told me that they forced themselves to go after stretch assignments even if they weren’t ready. Sometimes you need to “fake it until you make it,” to get over the initial jitters and until you feel confident in a new role.
5. Be visibility minded
Many women are visibility challenged and are not well-known outside of a very small network. Women can focus on the task at hand and neglect to nurture relationships throughout their organisations. Despite things we’ve been told like “talent wins out,” the reality is more like, “visibility wins out.” Talent is important, but visibility separates those who are wildly successful from those who are just doing okay. That’s because there is a “visibility premium.” If you’re well-known, people think you are better than others who are not so well- known. She must be good because she’s well-known in the company is how the thinking goes.
6. Pay attention to style
Women are scrutinised more in the business world, so you might as well turn it into an advantage! Women have more options at their disposal in terms of style and visual presentation. Men have it simpler and easier. Career dress for men is practically a uniform, while women have a wide range of choices in terms of colour and styles. Realise that your clothes, hairstyle, office, even your make-up convey “messages” to others. You want to convey the right message for your organisation but have your own style. For most career women, there’s one important message your image must convey; you must project authority.
7. Take a power pose
There’s a lot of talk today about “body language” and “power poses” yet few of us realise how important body language really is in influencing how others see us. New studies out of Harvard Business School show that some power poses actually affect our own performance because they change our body chemistry. Poses such as standing tall, leaning in towards others or expansive hand gestures convey high power. Crossing arms across your chest or crossing your legs convey low power. Highly successful women try to use high power poses to underscore the words that they use.
These personal branding principles are easy to understand, but highly successful women act on them. After all, if you don’t take charge of your brand, who will?