What You Don’t Learn in Executive Presence Training

Let’s face it, executive presence training focuses more on erasing gender differences than on teaching women how to assert their presence by taping into their own strengths.

Is there a real need for executive presence training?

Almost everywhere I go lately, I hear about the need for women to go through executive presence training in order to reach the highest levels of decision making. Well, maybe women do need to learn a thing or two about the way the game is played in their organizations, the politics, and the unwritten rules. But the problem with the notion that they need to go through executive presence training is the implicit belief that women lack executive presence altogether. That by attending executive presence training they will learn how to imitate the group that currently occupies the majority of the executive positions, namely white middle -aged men.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning—how to diversify your network and how to manage a relationship with a potential sponsor, how to negotiate and delegate, how to improve your communication style, and so on.

The difference is that when you talk about executive presence training you are educating people to look and sound all the same. Rather than encouraging your team to discover and hone their own style you’re asking them to emulate someone else’s style.

The thing about my hair (and why executive presence training would not work for me)

Case in point: When I first started my career as a speaker, my then career coach —a very successful executive man— told me that I would have to do something with my hair. “You’ll have to straighten it or pull it up. It doesn’t look professional.” (Code for “it doesn’t project executive presence.”)

Early-on in my career I was told to "do something" with my hair. I refused. It's always been part of my brand | What You Don't Learn in Executive Presence Training #executivepresence

Early-on in my career I was told to “do something” with my hair. I refused. It’s always been part of my brand.

I remember clearly how my stomach churned at the comment. My immediate response was, “I will wear smaller accessories. I will wear a jacket and a skirt. But I won’t change my hair. It’s my brand.” I was sure of it. I knew that if I did anything to my hair I wouldn’t look or feel like myself and something important would be lost in the process.

Through the years, that decision has served me well. Not only because my hair is indeed a big part of my brand and the way people recognize me, but mostly because it helps others see that it’s possible to succeed while being yourself. That you can be taken seriously “even” with big, curly hair. That you can get a seat at the table even when you look very different from everyone else.

It's important to focus executive presence training on building confidence and projecting gravitas. | What You Don't Learn in Executive Presence Training

It’s important to focus executive presence training on building confidence and projecting gravitas.

Why we need more women supporting women’s styles rather than offering executive presence training to force them to imitate someone else’s style.

Very often it is women managers and executives who feel the need to bring executive presence training to their organizations without exploring what the focus of the program is. And it is often women who don’t realize their role in perpetuating a homogeneous workforce that they are allegedly trying to diversify. Managers who make their staff feel inadequate when they wear a dress instead of a pantsuit to work at a financial institution. Or who frown at the sight of red shoes or curly hair.

It’s time to start watching carefully how you provide feedback to men and women

In a recent study of how men and women are given feedback during their performance review, a startling statistic emerged: 71% of women receive negative feedback vs. 2% of men. In addition the feedback women receive is almost always loaded with negative criticism focused on their personality traits (you are too abrasive, aggressive, strident, etc.) rather than on their performance.

And although the gender of the managers didn’t make a difference in terms of the feedback they provided, it’s worrisome that when it comes to their female staff women managers still focus on personality or style much more than on performance and accomplishments.

Carefully review the executive presence training before you offer it to make sure it encourages women to embrace their own styles. | What You Don't Learn in Executive Presence Training

Carefully review the executive presence training before you offer it to make sure it encourages women to embrace their own styles.

Executive presence training is valuable when it instills a sense of confidence and provides insights on how to project gravitas and credibility. When it helps women remain calm in the face of adverse situations so they can exert their leadership. But how can you ever be credible if you’re imitating someone else’s style, values, and behavior? If the only way in which you can be taken seriously is by being someone else?

So before you bring executive presence training to your company consider your goals. Are you trying to create leadership opportunities for more women or are you trying to get women to adopt the reigning leadership style? Are you inadvertently setting them up for failure? Answer these questions first and you’ll choose a meaningful executive presence training. One that actually helps your female staff leverage their female traits to move forward.

You can always test your team’s executive presence by asking them to take our Executive Presence quiz.


Professional Women: Kailin Villamar, Ad Inventory Planner, NBC Universal

Kailin Villamar - NBC Universal & Red Shoe Movement AmbassadorKailin Villamar is one of our professional women and a Red Shoe Movement Senior Ambassador. She was born and raised in the Bronx, went to Iona College where she started focusing on chemistry until she realized she lacked the aptitude for it and decided to major in Advertising Communications and minor in Marketing. She began her career as an intern at Time Inc. and then got a job at InStyle magazine where she learned about online media and ad sales. Two years later, she’s now working at NBC Universal as an Ad Inventory Planner where she’s responsible for all things related to online inventory and forecasting within the NBC Digital News Group.

While at InStyle magazine she discovered that she had a passion for the fashion industry so she started her own fashion and style blog, Kazzled.

What are some of the major changes you notice around opportunities for professional women advancement?

If you take a look around, there is simply no way to put it except: women are changing the world. It is with women like Marissa Meyer who are changing the way women take roles in business. No matter what criticism she may face, she knows what success means to the company and her employees. Or with issues like gender inequality in India being brought to attention. Women are now taking a stand and defining what success means to them. It’s not all about the American Dream anymore.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your industry and in your job where you would appreciate some help?

I would love to find more blogger resources.

What do you find the most satisfying part of your work?

The most satisfying part of my work at NBC is being able to gain skills in the analytical field. Everyday I am learning innovative ways to research, analyze, optimize and perform.

Give us an example of how you’re currently helping other women advance professionally to fulfill their career goals?

I am the person that friends and loved ones come to for advice. Most of the time it is career advice. They seek my advice in different ways: how to ask for a salary raise (if you are truly up for one), how to switch careers, or how to figure out what the next step in their career might be.

Could you mention one or more women who have helped you get to where you are now?

I can name MANY women who have helped get to where I am now. From Chiara Alcivar at People En Espanol to Teresa Geovanna from Avon. These women have inspired me from the first day I met them. From being my very own cheerleader to just listening to me, there are women like these two out there who are angels from afar. They believe in you the way you should believe in yourself. I think every woman has someone like that in their life. If not, that’s what the Red Shoe Movement is here for.

You can connect with Kailin directly at and via the following platforms:

Instagram: @kazzled
Twitter: @kazzl3d