Working Mother

The New EXECUTIVE PRESENCE

Ask any career coach what it takes to get to the top in the corporate world, and you’ll hear about “executive presence,” the qualities that make you stop, listen to and follow someone. “It’s a combination of gravitas (the way you behave), communication (the way you speak), and appearance,” says Laura Sherbin, Ph.D., managing director at Working Mother Media’s Culture@ Work, a strategic advisory and analytics group, and co-author of a report on executive presence by the Center for Talent Innovation.

Historically, Dr. Sherbin says, cultivating a strong executive presence meant adapting your professional image to the mold of leaders who came before you—typically, straight, cisgender white men. “We’ve made tremendous strides, but there is a really narrow band for women in terms of getting it right. Tilt a little too far to one side and you’re labeled aggressive, a little too far to the other side and you are passive.”

“I don’t water down my race or gender, and it has yielded better results and relationships in all aspects of my work.”
—Thasunda Brown Duckett

That band gets even narrower for women of color, who “face more

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