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Sergio Kaufman of Accenture, leading the way in female leadership

For a CEO, Sergio Kaufman is as easy going as it gets. He’s an Industrial Engineer by training but he’s definitely a people person.  A champion of inclusion and diversity and a strong believer in female leadership. It’s leaders like him that move the needle faster in gender equality in large organizations. Find out why he’s so successful.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Leveraging 100% of the talent pool is Sergio Kaufman’s goal. And to that effect he’s been instrumental in designing and supporting policies that make it easier for everyone at his company, Accenture, to progress in their careers. And given that Accenture is a consulting firm that works with many large corporations around the world, their success serves as a model for the rest of the world.

At a recent presentation in front of a conservative audience of mostly male executives, Sergio Kaufman talked about men as the weaker sex. Needless to say his comments made more than a few people uncomfortable. But Sergio says he likes to shock. To disrupt. To get people to discuss the important issues. And today, he sits with us to talk about what it takes to promote female leadership, the advantages of gender equality, and a lot more. Meet Sergio Kaufman, one of the leaders in the Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.

Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director & Leader of Hispanic South America

Sergio Kaufman, CEO, Hispanic South America, Accenture

Sergio Kaufman, CEO, Hispanic South America, Accenture

What are the traits of an effective leader?

An effective leader has two interesting variables. The old model of leadership was based on power (I tell you what you have to do) and knowledge (even when your boss was a complicated person, you respected him/her because he/she was knowledgeable.) Today, knowledge changes every 6 months so it’s difficult for leadership to be based on knowledge. And power has been transformed into influence. The new organizations clearly have much more respect for an influential leader than for a powerful leader. And that has an interesting effect.

If I work with people based on power, the day I leave my job, everything returns to the previous situation because once the leader changes, the power changes. If I work with influence the change is much more permanent and effective. That “old knowledge” changes into “values” that are much more permanent than knowledge that changes all the time. We went from a leadership based on power and knowledge to one based on influence and values.

And why do I mention this in connection to gender issues? Because the first two attributes I mentioned are much more frequently adopted by men, while influence management is much evenly distributed between genders. I would even say that in public life, there are more examples of influential women and powerful men. It is a different leadership model that allows for a completely different dynamic in business. It encourages and it will continue to encourage the inclusion of women in decision-making positions and positions of increasing responsibility.

The second point is the issue of diversity. Very likely, many of the attributes of empathy required for an inclusive leadership are also more balanced in women.

Read more about Integrated Talent Management in this interview with Marcelo Fumasoni of Novartis.
Accelerating female leadership is one of the areas where Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, excels

Accelerating female leadership is one of the areas where Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, excels

Given that you are a man who firmly believes in gender equality, what is happening in terms of female leadership at executive levels in the region of Accenture you lead?

Diversity is an operational necessity. We operate in a large region with about 10,400 people. We interact with the world, with diversity. Trying to manage a diverse organization connected to the world with a scheme where I think I can choose people, train them, and expect for them to all fit into identical little bottles of talent, leads to a serious loss of richness. That richness is our innovation. So it’s about having diversity in all aspects. We have people who think differently to solve different problems. And definitely leveling the playing field for women is part of the success we are having in terms of talent development and innovation. When you level the playing field male and female leadership emerges equally. 

Sergio Kaufman surrounded by his diverse talent

Sergio Kaufman surrounded by his diverse talent

Sergio Kaufman’s suggestions to involve more male leaders in promoting female leadership

What is the best way to involve more male leaders on the issue of female leadership in Latin America?

It’s a virtuous circle and when you see it in others you become someone who sees the result. What the Red Shoe Movement does in disseminating this information is useful and I think it is also useful for companies that have gender equity initiatives to tell their story. My role in this is to share transparently our experience. One could say that Accenture has an advantage because it has active policies for women and diversity in general. And that if we share them openly we lose the market advantage that attracts distinct talent. I think sharing these stories helps improve society as a whole and also it helps position the organization. I think you have to compete to make things better and not hide what you think you’re doing well and that is working for you.

Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, is a strong proponent of verbalizing the inclusion and diversity priorities of an organization.

Sergio Kaufman, Country Managing Director and Leader of Hispanic South America, Accenture, is a strong proponent of verbalizing the inclusion and diversity priorities of an organization.

More on talent strategy in this interview with Arturo Poire of Erickson.

What are some practices that you think inadvertently affect women negatively?

There’s a behavior that many men see as something positive. It is looking after women, taking care of them, protecting them. So you tend to protect your female team players more than your male talent. And it seems like a good thing to do until that additional protection ends up, inadvertently, being a problem.

For example, say I have a fantastic project that can speed up a career trajectory, but is in another country. And I say, “I’m not going to offer it to this woman because I am going to complicate her life. So I give it to a man. The appropriate thing to do would be to tell the woman, “Look, I have this opportunity, you’re the right person for it. I will support you. We will figure out together how to manage the travel required. Do you want to take it?” Sometimes we don’t offer opportunities to women not out of selfishness but because we think we are offering something that is not fair to her. And actually, the best thing to do is to offer every opportunity and let women choose. In addition, when you offer the opportunity you must support the person appropriately. Sometimes one tends to give men more straightforward career advice and to be more careful with women.

Sergio Kaufman tries virtual reality technology

Sergio Kaufman tries virtual reality technology

Pursuing female leadership

What advice would you give to a woman interested in career growth who is forced to turn down opportunities due to lack of flexible policies in her organization? 

There are three choices: you can change the organization, you can sacrifice your expectations, or you can move to a different organization. But first I’d try to change the organization by being very outspoken about what’s not working. Be vocal in a positive way. I believe in saying things assertively with good manners.

But don’t give up on shedding light on any problems you notice in the organization.

Go and talk to your bosses and let them know they are not giving you the opportunities you seek. That is what helps change organizations. Because if you leave you end up contributing to the self-fulfilled prophecy. The organization is left with the idea that women have family concerns and that’s why they leave. So you as a woman end up reinforcing that stereotype.

Leaders like Sergio Kaufman are key to moving the needle in gender equity in large organizations

Leaders like Sergio Kaufman are key to moving the needle in gender equity in large organizations

In a recent conference you talked about an article in “The Economist which talked about men as the weaker sex. Why do you think future employment presents a challenge to men?

The new economy is ripe for female leadership. According to this article, we should start worrying about men's future job opportunities.

The new economy is ripe for female leadership. According to this article, we should start worrying about men’s future job opportunities.

First, the evidence is academic. You look at any university in the world except in a few careers and men are outnumbered in quantity, they take longer to graduate, and have lower grade averages than women. These are important facts to consider. And it’s true, demographic waves move slowly but the effects are already starting to be felt. In addition, in the past many jobs required physical skills, something in which men had an edge, but with technology, that becomes less important. Those are two strong trends. There is still a difference in careers like economics, engineering, and technology where there are smaller percentages of women. Our challenge is to encourage more women to enter those fields.

There is a McKinsey study that says that in itself, the fact that there is a greater proportion of women than men graduating college is not enough to move the needle at the highest positions of decision-making. That the needle moves when this becomes a top priority in an organization. Your thoughts?

I fully agree that gender diversity has to be an explicit priority. I believe in what is verbalized and that the organization has to express how important diverse talent is. When you tell the women in your company, “I hope that the future leadership of the company emerges amongst you and I will actively look at that,” it changes attitudes and expectations.

You can follow Sergio Kaufman on Twitter.

In Male Dominated Occupation Captain Kate is Queen

Kate McCue is the first female American Captain of a mega ship. In a male dominated occupation, Captain Kate is at the helm of the Celebrity Summit. A 965-foot-long, 91,000 gross tonnage, luxury cruise-ship. And she’ll rock your boat!

She could’ve been a cruise director, her dream when she was a child. But her dad suggested she could “drive the thing.” And he reminded her of that long-ago conversation when it came time to go to college. He encouraged her to apply to California State University Maritime Academy, where there were 15 men to each woman. And only 8 girls in her graduating class.

What’s fascinating about Kate is that she started her career at the bottom, as an Apprentice Officer 3rd on a training ship and banana boat. In an occupation known for being predominantly male, she worked her way to the top by working hard, establishing strong relationships and smiling a lot.

Contrary to studies that show that smiling a lot can negatively impact your career, Captain Kate says her tendency to smile a lot has helped hers.

Contrary to studies that show that smiling a lot can negatively impact your career, Captain Kate says her tendency to smile a lot has helped hers.

How did it feel the first time you sat at the head of the Celebrity Summit as the captain?

When I took over the Celebrity Summit as Master, there is only one word that comes to mind: “EPIC”! It was the culmination of the dream, the hard work, and years of hope coming to fruition and it felt larger than life.

Do you feel a sense of added responsibility being the first female American captain of a mega ship? Is there something you must prove being a woman in a male dominated occupation?

Many are surprised to hear that I have always worked with women in this industry, whether they were my senior officers, my peers, or my apprentices. I am not alone and only on very rare occasions did I find myself as the solo female presence on the bridge.

One of the secrets to success, regardless of gender, is the ability to do your job, do it well, and do even more than what is expected. Then there is no way you can’t succeed.

Don't miss another great piece on a male dominated occupation: Bia Figueiredo, race car driver.

From the get go, you said you wanted to be a very visible captain. (And judging from your passengers’ comments you are!) How much of a leader’s role is staying in touch with her clients and her team?

Safety is and will always be the number one priority.

The ability to understand what your team, your guests and your ship need or want is imperative. Being a visible captain means that I am accessible for open communication and constant feedback, which makes a more cohesive environment.

"Safety is and will always be the first priority," says Captain Kate who is known for begin very friendly with passengers and crew.

“Safety is and will always be the first priority,” says Captain Kate who is known for begin very friendly with passengers and crew.

What kind of leader are you?

I strive to be an approachable manager who can reach out to others with warmth and sincerity. Besides being quick to offer a smile, the most valuable contributions, as a manager, are the commitment to teamwork, empathy, and the ability to connect with others.

What traits are clear advantages you bring to a male dominated occupation?

Before becoming a Captain I was sent to Sweden for a Marine Profile, which is a series of psychological tests, specifically for mariners. The results surprised me as I was diagnosed with excessive tendency to smile, even under the pressure of the tests. Many people will tell you that if you smile too much, you won’t be taken seriously. I found the contrary because a genuine smile breaks the ice, makes people feel comfortable, instills trust, and is contagious. I have even read that smiling can be a more effective leadership technique than having great management abilities.

Hear Rosemary Rodriguez talk about being a film director, a male dominated occupation.

What are some of the aspects of your personality or your style that you’ve had to adjust for this role?

On the way up the ranks, I liked to do it all. However, when I was promoted to Captain, I came to the realization that I couldn’t do it all myself. I needed help. I had to share the responsibility and tasks or I wouldn’t be able to build a team or even sleep. Luckily I have an incredible group of experts in their respective fields that constantly exceed my expectations. It makes my life and my job that much more enjoyable.

As in any profession, in a male dominated occupation you will work hard. Having fun along the way is a must.

As in any profession, in a male dominated occupation you will work hard. Having fun along the way is a must.

It seems that the captain uniform was originally designed for an all male workforce. Do you think eventually there will be some adjustments to accommodate more women in this male dominated job? What would be some of your suggestions for a uniform that would be more feminine?

My husband is from Croatia, home of the Cravat. While I must respect that, I have to add that when it comes to a woman in uniform, neckties detract from femininity, so it would be best to make them optional

My husband is from Croatia, home of the Cravat. While I must respect that, I have to add that when it comes to a woman in uniform, neckties detract from femininity, so it would be best to make them optional.

When I started sailing, I had to buy my own uniform pants because the women’s pants never came with the basic necessities: Pockets & belt loops. Try carrying around items like keys, a radio, and flashlight with no belt or pockets!

When I came to Celebrity Cruises, they actually asked for my opinion on several uniform pieces, which I thought was pretty fantastic. We now have more tailored evening jackets and pants with all the bells and whistles!

I have a few more suggestions for uniforms, for example, work shoes. My go-to shoe for evenings is a Christian Louboutin black patent leather platforms. You simply can’t go wrong there! In a perfect world, every one of my female crew would have access to that fabulous feminine addition to their uniform!

Another suggestion I would make for any company uniform is regarding neckties. My husband is from Croatia, home of the Cravat. While I must respect that, I have to add that when it comes to a woman in uniform, neckties detract from femininity, so it would be best to make them optional.

You are a role model to women and girls who might not have considered a career like yours. How do you embrace that role?

I am honored and humbled to be considered a role model by any means. With that comes the obligation to uphold the position.

I do like to use social media, Instagram in particular, as a platform to answer questions or impart advice to inquiring minds. The focus of my Instagram account is to provide a behind the scenes look into the life of a Captain, making it more tangible and hopefully interesting to others attracted to the career or the shipping industry.

Kate McCue is ready to embrace #RedShoeTuesday!

Kate McCue is ready to embrace #RedShoeTuesday!

Finally, do you keep up with the comments your guests leave on the Celebrity Cruises website? What are some of the most surprising comments you’ve read?

A guest posted on the Celebrity Cruises Facebook page, the following, which really rocked my world: “On our Celebrity Silhouette transatlantic crossing in April, a man sat with us one night for dinner. I apologized for not remembering his name but you, Captain Kate, I am sure will remember him. He lost his wife and has been cruising alone. He could not say enough about you and how kind you were to him. He was on the cruise with you and your parents. He even travels with a 8×10 photo of you and proudly shows it to all of his dinner mates. I just wanted you to know how much your kindness touched this man.”

On a much lighter note, a guest once told me at a cocktail party that I am to Captains what Southwest is to airlines. I hope I can assume that Southwest’s reputation of incredible crew who strive to provide Positively Outrageous Service with a fun-loving attitude was what she meant! Just don’t hold your breath waiting for me to dance in the corridors or sing on the public address system. I save that for special occasions!

Connect with Captain Kate McCue on Instagram!

@captainkatemccue

Cross Cultural Mentoring: Mentoring 2.0!

Cross cultural mentoring relationships offer unique opportunities to broaden perspectives and reduce unconscious biases. Here’s how they work.

Given the rapid changes in workforce demographics, understanding the potential challenges and opportunities created by a cross cultural mentoring relationship has become as critical as finding a compatible mentor.

Try cross cultural mentoring to receive insights into your unconscious biases.

Try cross cultural mentoring to receive insights into your unconscious biases.

The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring defines cross cultural mentoring as “relationships where mentors and protégés differ on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, socio-economic class, or other group memberships.” Note the definition goes beyond race and ethnicity to include other social factors that shape mentors and mentees values, beliefs, and behaviors. This broader, more comprehensive way to define cross-cultural mentoring is the core factor to identify the challenges and opportunities this new scenario presents.

Why is this important? Gaining a clear understanding of the dynamics of cross cultural mentoring provides a layer of information that could enrich the development and launch of mentoring programs and proactively address potential blind spots.

Challenges of Cross Cultural Mentoring 

Any type of mentoring relationship– from peer mentoring to a more formal set up (i.e. experienced and junior individuals)—will encounter the challenges of starting a new relationship. It takes time to develop and cultivate trust. Interactions between mentors and mentees are influenced by underlying biases, assumptions, and beliefs. When you add the element of culture to the mentoring experience, unforeseen challenges could emerge. Two challenges come to mind:

  • If you are looking for an honest cross cultural mentoring relationship, you definitely have to go beyond the food. But going out for a bite is a great way to get the conversation going!

    If you are looking for an honest cross cultural mentoring relationship, you definitely have to go beyond the food. But going out for a bite is a great way to get the conversation going!

    Biases and Assumptions. Research shows that every single individual has unconscious biases. The ability to be biased allows individuals to discern information and make decisions. Biases could jeopardize a cross cultural mentoring relationship when either mentor or mentee make wrong assumptions about each other because of their biases. For example, a mentee could assume that her mentor—because he is older—is less experienced and tech-savvy. A mentor could assume that her mentee is unfamiliar with American popular culture because she was born outside the U.S. Both circumstances could lead to condescending behaviors—also known as micro aggressions. Behaviors based on unfounded biases can take many forms. A senior leader in the financial services industry said when asked about her current mentee, “I don’t see her as Indian because she has no accent.”

  • Differences in values, beliefs and expectations. Historically, mentoring programs have relied on matching pairs who are as similar as possible. The logic was that people who are alike (i.e. same race, gender, ethnicity, etc.) would have a higher degree of fit and compatibility. Once pairs are matched, the focus shifts to setting expectations and goals. A mentoring pair that is cross cultural would benefit from taking a step back and learning what expectations and goals look like to each other individually. For example, an expectation is to have an open door policy. The mentee, however, places a high value on formal authority and believes that rank trumps any other directive. Her expectation is that the mentor will initiate communication despite the open door expectation. This could lead to frustration and create an unnecessary distraction if not addressed proactively.

Opportunities of Cross Cultural Mentoring

Ready to move to the next level of your career? Experience what it means to be supported by thousands of professionals like yourself!

Ready to move to the next level of your career? Experience what it means to be supported by thousands of professionals like yourself!

Despite potential challenges presented by a cross cultural mentoring relationship, there are opportunities to consider:

  • Perspective and mindset tune up. Engaging in a cross cultural mentoring relationship provides a rare opportunity to broaden perspectives and mindsets for both parties. The mentee—from the previous example–who identifies herself as Indian but has no accent could leverage that exchange to discuss with her mentor that the lack of accent does not determine her cultural affiliation. The mentor, in turn, has the opportunity to become aware of this bias of assigning an American identity to those with no accent.
  • Innovation partnership. When two people with different backgrounds are invested in a mentoring program, the benefits of mutual mentoring become clear. What a better chance to brainstorm on new ideas than with a trusted thinking partner. Building on the trust cultivated through comparing and contrasting their beliefs and assumptions, mentors and mentees could strengthen their bond by directing their conversations to topics beyond career advancement and office politics. They could consult each other on business issues. Their different perspectives become a potential asset to fuel out-of-the box solutions.

Engaging in an effective cross cultural mentoring experience (HBR: Race Matters) goes beyond going out for mojitos or Thai food. Cross-cultural mentoring not only offers the opportunity to learn about others perspectives and expand your own. It also helps mentors and mentees become more agile in their thinking as decision makers and leaders.

12 Ways in Which Women Perpetuate Male Chauvinism

Most women know intuitively what male chauvinism stands for. What few of us are ready to admit is how much of a male chauvinist we have in us.

Yup. You read correctly. Women have contributed to the education and socialization of generations and generations of men, inadvertently perpetuating male chauvinism in the messages, values and attitudes they passed down to their children. Even today they contribute to the same male chauvinism that affects them so much and about which they constantly complain! And although it’s true that it’s often hard to break with the rigid and powerful social structures that support male chauvinism in the first place, (the subject of a future post) today I focus on how women help to keep it going.

What is male chauvinism?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, male chauvinism is: “Male prejudice against women; the belief that men are superior in terms of ability, intelligence, etc.” Naturally, the dictionary says nothing about how much women internalize male chauvinism and turn it into self-aggression after years of growing up in a society that still condones variations of this behavior.

And before you say, “I’m not a male chauvinist” let me show you 12 ways in which women perpetuate male chauvinism even when we don’t realize we are doing it.

Male chauvinism quote by Luis Vidales - Male Chauvinism started when they invited that God was a man

Women can inadvertently support male chauvinism

1Expecting your male partner to protect you. When you look for protection you assume that because you are a woman you are weak and because he is a man he is strong. You put both sexes in an unfair situation that is not really “natural” for either one. It’s just a male chauvinist stereotype you learned very early on.

2Assuming your male partner is in charge of your home’s financial stability. Why does this responsibility fall on a man’s shoulders and not on the shoulders of both partners? Or even, when the family-stage so requires, on the woman?

3Assuming that you are the person responsible for the home and for the children. Why not assume shared responsibility? When you continue to assume this role unquestioningly, you reinforce the male chauvinist stereotype that says that home chores are a woman’s job.

4Being always the one who takes care of your partner. This includes serving him first, offering food and beverages, laying out his clothes in the morning. Nobody says you can’t be kind towards him. But in order to avoid a behavior that reinforces male chauvinism, make sure he practices the same kindness towards you.

 

Read about achieving work-life balance (or rather, integration) here!

5Volunteering (always) to make coffee in the office. Or any equivalent activity that puts you in a supporting role rather than in a role of high visibility. Whatever enables only the men in your office to shine while you remain hidden behind the scenes tends to reinforce an old male chauvinist idea. Stay away from it.

Read about the benefits of engaging men in your career.

6Assuming that you only deserve what you are offered. Very likely you have internalized so perfectly the message that your boss will give you what you deserve that you don’t negotiate as much as you could. Studies show that given the same job, women ask for less salary than their male counterparts.

Male chauvinism quote by Mariela Dabbah - Women have contributed to the education of men for generations, perpetuating male chauvinism in the messages and values passed down to their children

Being aware of cultural ideas and stereotypes can help you avoid perpetuating male chauvinism

7Making disparaging comments about successful women. Saying things such as, “Who knows who she slept with to get there.” Every time you discount another woman’s ability to get to the position she’s in, you’re perpetuating male chauvinism by reinforcing the idea that only men reach powerful positions through merit whereas women can only get promoted by using sex.

8Making critical comments about women who don’t wear makeup. Let’s be honest: Men don’t wear makeup and nobody would dream of saying they look bad because of that. If you don’t want to continue supporting male chauvinist attitudes, avoid making these observations, particularly in public.

9Criticizing women who choose to remain single or childfree. We live at a time when women can choose the lifestyle that best suits them. For many, getting married and having children is not the path to happiness. Why force them to continue with a tradition that was imposed by male chauvinism centuries ago? Don’t judge them. Live your life and let others live theirs.

10Criticizing a successful woman for not “paying attention to her family. “We wouldn’t dream of judging successful men for working long hours, travelling, and having serious responsibilities that don’t allow them to spend as much time with their families as they wished. Why won’t we extend the same courtesy to successful women? Why do we make them pay such a high price for their success?

11Sending opposite messages to your sons and to your daughters. You could inadvertently be passing on to your children many verbal and non-verbal messages that perpetuate male chauvinism. Here’s a short list to make you more aware of them:

 

• Educating your daughters to obey or serve their brothers

Male Chauvinism definition - Male prejudice against women

There’s nothing biological about ideas of what men and women should be like

• Only asking girls to set the table and wash the dishes

• Encouraging girls to behave well and stay clean and tidy

• Punishing girls when they get dirty or break the rules

• Forbidding girls from going out unless a brother supervises them

• Minimizing the importance of girls’ opinions

• Paying boys for home chores —washing the car, mowing the lawn— and never girls

• Allowing boys to play violent sports, impose their own rules and be independent

• Congratulating boys when they break the rules to achieve their goals and when they are competitive

• Congratulating boys when they go out with more than one girl at a time

• Telling your sons “boys don’t cry”

 

12Not reporting a man who is violent against women. Gender violence is a world epidemic. Remaining quiet when faced with a violent situation against yourself, your daughters or other women is the best way to guarantee that male chauvinism will be live and well for many more generations. Your silence only allows the guilty to continue behaving with impunity. Look for help now!

Male Chauvinism Tarzan rescuing woman

Do you still hope for a man to rescue you?

If you grew up in a culture such as the Hispanic (and many, many others) that still tolerates male chauvinism, you have absorbed a series of “truths” from a very young age. It’s easy to believe these “truths” are unquestionable and that the only way to belong to society is to abide by them. The problem is that behind these apparent “truths” is the false idea that there’s a biological reason for the different roles, behaviors and emotions of each sex. That it’s natural (and innate) for men to show superiority, dominance and aggression. And that it’s natural for women to be weak, servile, emotional, and so on. But the reality is that these are all stereotypes and cultural ideas that can be changed.

And the first step to make this change effective is for you to review your own beliefs, your attitudes, and your words so that you stop perpetuating this male chauvinism that only limits your opportunities.

Beyond the Traditional Executive Presence Definition

Quite often, the standards for promotion of diverse talent are stricter than for the average employee. Expanding the traditional executive presence definition will help you grow your organization’s brain.

In this article we will cover the definition of executive presence and the impact this traditional executive presence definition has on diversity talent, particularly in women.

Myrna, a highly educated Latina professional, with impressive credentials and a track record of accomplishments, was in a career development path but was denied the opportunity to move to the next level because “she didn’t have executive presence.” This is a true story (although I changed the name of the protagonist to respect her privacy) and one that many people with diverse backgrounds can relate to.

white men and white woman in suits

We need to expand the narrow executive presence definition to allow for a diversity of gender, backgrounds and styles

The truth is that the real reason for which Myrna wasn’t offered the promotion was the fact that she was assessed against the outdated standards of the executive presence definition. Her merits and accomplishments were never questioned, only the fact that she displayed executive presence in a different way than expected. The outcome of her assessment was that she did not meet the conventional criteria to be considered “leadership material,” that she lacked “leadership presence,” the “It” factor, or the “je ne sais quoi” needed to be promoted to the next level.

As a result of her performance review Myrna received “another” chance to earn her promotion, but not surprisingly, “the chance” had nothing to do with addressing her leadership presence or with a suggestion that she went to executive presence training. The standards for her promotion were stricter than for the average employee in the organization. Myrna was given a series of challenging projects to prove herself again-and-again and demonstrate that she was worthy of the next level, which always seemed to be one additional challenge away.

Executive Presence pillars

Executive Presence pillars

In a study conducted by The Center for Talent Innovation 268 senior executive participants said executive presence contributed 26% to career advancement. One of their conclusions was that executive presence is the link between merit and success.

The Three Pillars of Executive Presence

This research suggests that there are three pillars of executive presence:

Communication: How we share information

Appearance: How we look

Gravitas: How we impress others.

As simple as these three pillars sound, they show up very differently depending on the lens you use to evaluate a person.

Let’s take a look at how communication, appearance, and gravitas show up in high and low context cultures. (“High” and “Low” refers to communication styles, while “Context” refers to how circumstances or facts are explained during communication.) For example, in high context cultures –Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America— messages are communicated indirectly and implicitly with metaphors, analogies, and symbols. In low context cultures —United States, Canada Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland for instance— communication is more direct, concise, and explicit with frequent use of facts and specific examples.

Hand holding colored gears

Look at your talent through a diversity lens

In a high context culture communication styles are notably different than the styles of people from a low context culture. Africans can feel that the Dutch insult their intelligence by explaining the obvious, while the Dutch can feel that African leaders provide no information. In Myrna’s case, the American executives responsible for approving her promotion found Myrna to be secretive and unforthcoming with information while Myrna found the American executives to be offensively blunt. These examples only highlight the element of communication and culture. We are not yet discussing how the addition of other diverse characteristics such as gender, sexual orientation, or age could further influence how a person’s communication impacts their executive presence.

The combination of diverse traits makes precise recognition and evaluation of the three executive presence pillars (communication, appearance, and gravitas) even harder. The traditional and narrow executive presence definition does not allow for the diversity lens to be applied to these three pillars.

Effective global leaders, however, are keenly aware of the complexity of these assessments, the need to use a diversity lens, and the importance of avoiding generalizations.

They redefine executive presence, champion diverse expression of leadership presence, and provide everyone a fair chance to be promoted based on how their authentic self contributes to the business objectives.

A couple of these effective global leaders were the ones that championed and coached Myrna, helping her get to the next level. These leaders were willing and able to see beyond the obvious, understand, and reward Myrna’s genuine executive presence.

Don't miss our Executive Presence Quiz, ideal to use with your women employees.

How to embrace an updated executive presence definition

How could you become one of these effective leaders with an uncanny ability to spot executive presence by transcending the narrow definition that keeps top talent out of the leadership track? Well, there are several actions you can take to objectively assess people’s leadership potential, honoring their uniqueness while enriching the thinking power of the organization.

Effective global leaders are fully aware of the need to use a diversity lens when assessing executive presence

Executive presence quote by Lily Benjamin

  • Provide constructive feedback. Build people by focusing on their strengths. Discuss what is working and what could be adjusted. For instance, “You have a very effective way of commanding the room (Gravitas) – give a specific example. During the presentation to the senior management group, last Friday, however, your report was too generic (Communication.) Unfortunately, that came across as though you had not done your homework or as if you didn’t want to provide specific information. This made you seem aloof to the needs of the audience and out of touch. Also, next time you have a meeting with this group, dress up more formally – a suit will work better with this audience (Appearance.) The combination of providing the correct and necessary information, while being dressed more on par for this audience, will enhance your executive presence and will help them connect with you.”
  • Provide executive sponsorship. Be the agent of your top talent. Talk about their strengths when they are in or out of the room. Highlight the value they add to the teams and the organization. Humanize them by sharing unique, valuable and relatable traits. Provide strategic public recognition. This means, ensure that in public settings this person gets appropriately praised for their merits and executive presence. Be their biggest Champion. Give others the language or qualifiers you want your talent’s brand to be remembered by. For example, “Myrna is a very influential and effective leader. She is credible and reliable. I trust her to do things right in any sensitive situation.”
  • Demystify the traditional (and very narrow) executive presence definition. A good way to spot authentic executive presence, regardless of diverse backgrounds, is to distinguish between myths and facts. Be mindful of the facts that can transcend any diverse element. By that I mean tangible diverse elements such as gender, sexual orientation, age, race, etc. or intangible elements such as diversity of thoughts, and diversity of styles in areas such as learning, communication, decision making, conflict resolutions, and so on. Below find a few myths and facts on executive presence.

Executive Presence

Myths

Facts

Bold: Shows a strong demeanor, vivid appearance, and ability to take risks Confidence: Is self-assured, calm, composed, with grace under fire
Vocal: Expresses opinions or feelings freely and emphatically, drawing people’s attention Clear Communicator: Shares substantive information, with great foresight, engaging and motivating people into action
Self-promoter: Publicizes self in a compelling and persuasive way Credible: Is authentic and persuades people, also ensuring that others get credit
Sophisticated: Demonstrates knowledge on and ability to discuss complex issues with ease Emotionally Intelligent: Is aware of, can control, and express emotions. Leads from the heart and head with empathy
Popular: Is liked, admired, accepted by many people, based on skills or knowledge Outstanding Reputation: Is known for her character, trustworthiness, and track record of accomplishments
Commanding: Expresses and projects authority, imposing points of view Assertive: Speaks up, expressing and owning feelings and opinions openly
Tenacious: Is determined and holds on firmly to positions and courses of action Courageous: Is not deterred by consequences of protecting principles and shared goals
The RSM Step Up Plus helps develop diverse women year-round.

Let's broaden the executive presence definition! In order to diversify your executive levels you must expand the narrow executive presence definition

In order to diversify your executive levels you must expand the narrow executive presence definition

After being coached and championed, Myrna learned to communicate and use her strategic authentic-self more effectively, which strengthened her professional brand. A year later, she was able to turn her “naysayers” into “yea-sayers.” The leader that had denied her promotion became her biggest champion, seeing beyond Myrna’s cultural mannerisms and focusing on her contributions instead. Myrna now heads up a global function in a Fortune 500 company.

Cracking the code on how to spot executive presence regardless of your talent’s background will allow you to rip the benefits of their full potential. Most importantly, it will help you ensure that the organization leverages a vast diversity of thought to transform and grow.