It's not that women are supposed to act, dress and sound like men to get ahead in the workplace, but there are a number of gestures women commonly use that denote vulnerability and fragility, rather than power and authority. In a blog called "7 Behaviors that Keep Women from Getting Ahead," Dan Erwin cites an article by Mary Ellen Drummond many years ago, which still applies to many women today.
I know I'm guilty of several, and have been advised by managers and producers to "cut that out if you ever want to go anywhere." Check out these half-dozen behaviors that prevent you from "looking like you mean it."
1. Nodding your head a lot when listening. Women often nod their heads to encourage the speaker to go on, but this connotes approval and agreement when often none is intended or required, and you can end up looking like a bobble-head doll. Men usually nod their heads only to show agreement, or to indicate that they are about to make a point. Constant head nodding can express encouragement, but not authority.
2. Not taking up enough physical space. By this we mean stand firm and tall, shoulders out, head up. When sitting at a table or desk, spread out -- your papers, you laptop, your pad and pens. Let everyone know you're there -- don't try to blend in. By receding or folding in, it looks as if you're trying not to inconvenience anyone. Take ownership of as much space as possible; that sends a powerful message.
3. "Uptalking." Women's voices often rise at the ends of sentences as if they're asking a question even when making a statement. For example: "On that report I completed? It says that viral marketing is more effective?" It implies you're asking for approval, rather than stating a fact. Most women are not aware that they do this, and it's a particular habit with the young -- students and the freshly graduated. Speak with authority and periods, not with tentativeness and question marks.
4. Fidgeting. Are you constantly adjusting your clothing, hair, jewelry, purse, cell phone, etc.? Although the study was done several years ago, Drummond cites that when women enter a room, they make 27 movements. Men make 12. When you appear calm and contained, you appear powerful. Fidgeting implies nervousness.
5. Tilting your head. Women often tilt their heads when they talk. They think that directing an ear toward someone says that they are listening. Instead, it appears as if you're distracted or trying to deflect the message. If looking directly into someone's eyes is disconcerting, look just below their eyes at their cheeks or nose. But look directly at them and don't tilt your head. This, again, is something most women don't even realize they're doing; but if they watch videos of themselves, they'll note it happening.
6. Introducing yourself too quickly. It's common for a woman to say, "Hi, I'm Jane Smith," right off the bat. But studies have shown that people seldom remember anything that's said in the first 5-7 seconds because they're too busy checking each other out, and visually processing whoever is in front of them. When meeting someone new, wait a few seconds before introducing yourself. Instead make a comment about the environment, event, etc. first, then introduce yourself.
The good news is that most of these bad behaviors are learned, so they can also be unlearned. You might want to ask a family member, friend or co-worker to bring it to your attention when some of these negative nuances creep in. They might drive you nuts at first -- but you'll thank them for it later, when colleagues start showing a renewed respect.