Women have been taking the workforce by storm, becoming leaders, and making impactful changes within the labor force. Female entrepreneurship has also been steadily increasing within the past two decades, as approximately forty percent of businesses in the United States are owned by women.
As women continue to pursue entrepreneurship, it can often be challenging to navigate spaces that are still male-dominated. Women who own businesses, or are leaders within their workplaces, are often expected to have an executive presence. What does executive presence mean? I talked with Jenna Fagnan, co-founder of Teremana Tequila, a sustainable brand that creates high-quality and responsibly sourced tequila. Jenna has decades of corporate and entrepreneurial experience: before starting Teremana, she was President of Tequila Avion and Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing at TAG Heuer. Jenna discussed what executive presence means to her, how we can destigmatize female leadership in the workplace, and her day-to-day as co-founder of a hugely successful business.
What is executive presence?
The term executive presence is often talked about in an ambiguous way. In fact, 81% of human resources practitioners claim it’s easy to spot executive presence, while only 51% say it’s easy to define. Demystifying this term is important because this particular quality in the workplace as a leader or an inspiring leader is vital. Executive presence is about inspiring confidence amongst your subordinates and instilling trust and confidence amongst peers that you’re reliable and capable.
Entrepreneurship has benefits and challenges
With the creation of Teremana as a new tequila brand, Jenna developed her second successful entrepreneurial venture. She thrives on how variable her days are, depending on what aspects of her company she needs to focus on. One day she might be assessing the cost of manufacturing a product, focusing on forecasting product demand, how to bring a brand to life, or figuring out where the product should be placed and how to engage with retailers.
Being the CEO of an entrepreneurial venture is very different from being the CEO of a large company. As an entrepreneur, you can’t be limited to just one lane of managing or growing your business, you must be engaged in pushing all the efforts and work streams at a company forward because your team is small, time is short, and the company is resource constrained. Being the CEO of a start-up or small business is more challenging, and more rewarding. Details are important and you’re forced to engage a number of different avenues in exploring avenues to scale. At the end of the day, being an entrepreneur and owning your own business means “every day is different and every day is a challenge”.
Executive presence: What it means and how to Possess it // Female Leadership and Garnering Executive Presence
Each of us has a different executive presence that is largely an outcome of current and past work environments and experiences. Jenna explains that as women, we’re often encouraged and expected to be less vocal, but part of building your executive presence as a woman means “leaning in and making room for yourself”.
Executive presence can be learned, and it is a “conscious effort” as you begin to learn from leaders around you and develop your learnings about what to do and what not to do as a leader. Examining different leadership styles is really important in formulating your own leadership skills and executive presence. Most importantly, garnering this skill means that you’re able to inspire others to follow your lead.
Jenna feels strongly that women should not adapt their leadership styles to emulate male leadership. Women have unique leadership facets to bring to the table that make workplaces more diverse and successful. In fact, a study examining the difference in leadership styles amongst genders found that female leaders are often more inspiring and encouraging than male leaders. Learning from past experiences is a huge component in crafting your own leadership style and executive presence. For Jenna, a huge part of curating her executive presence was practicing public speaking at a young age – it helped build her self-confidence. Jenna also points out that how you look in the workplace matters: it’s important to dress for the job you want, not the one you have, from an executive presence standpoint.
Tips to improve your executive presence:
Jenna has a number of recommendations for how each of us can improve our executive presence:
- Practice public speaking: this can help build confidence and is an essential quality to possess as a leader.
- Watch people who you admire: learn the qualities that successful people in the workplace possess and use.
- Emulate leadership styles: find out what does and doesn’t work.
- Consciously practice: don’t lose sight of the type of leader you’re striving to be.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions: stay curious and attentive.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: they’re vital in the learning process!
Destigmatizing Female Leaders in the Workplace
As a female entrepreneur or leader, learning to achieve executive presence can be difficult and takes time. We’re still in the process of destigmatizing female leaders in the workplace – similar behaviors are often interpreted differently with respect to women than they are for men. Each of us has a role to play and continuing to make progress in this requires a joint effort from each of us to create and foster environments that are welcoming for everyone, not just men. We need more female leaders, plain and simple.