As women continue to take the workforce by storm, female leadership and executive presence continue to develop alongside increasing equality in the workplace. Women are changing the workforce and leadership roles for the better, curating spaces that work for them, instead of against them. Creating healthy and positive environments for all people should be at the forefront of every business’ mission and values. I talked with four key leaders of the ideamix team: Mahitha Gokulachandra, Milena Strasser, Katie Doyle, and ideamix CEO Sam Jayanti, to discuss what it means to be a female leader, their personal experiences and life lessons through their careers, and why that drives the mission and culture of learning, development, positivity, and purpose at ideamix.
What is Executive Presence?
What exactly is executive presence? For Sam Jayanti, executive presence is just a longer word for communication, and this includes non-verbal communication like your presence – literally how you are and what you convey even before you open your mouth – and how you positively impact the environment you’re in. Being an ineffective communicator is a major impediment not only within the workplace but in life generally, and better communication skills help create more positive and productive interactions in professional and personal environments. Sam explained that as you ascend in your career, your job begins to transform – from entry-level work that is task-oriented – to leadership and management of teams which requires effective communication and mentoring. Being able to create a space in which those around you can engage with you and others, allows them to do their best work possible, and serves as a great example of effective executive presence. How can we learn this particular quality as leaders? Sam highlights the importance of observing others: “Taking note of other people, and whose presence is effective in getting people to be open, listen and share, is a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t. We’ve all come across and interacted with individuals who displayed negative and positive presence and understanding how and why they made us feel as they did, is instructive in developing and cultivating our own presence.”
How to Advance Cohesion in the Workplace
As more women participate in the workforce, female leaders are more common in most industries. But unequal workplace expectations persist that can continue to inhibit women in succeeding to their greatest potential. Often, women do not judge their female colleagues and bosses by the same standards as they do male colleagues. It’s important that as professional women, we continue to bolster and support other women. And while authenticity and originality are essential qualities in today’s work environments, Sam points out that all leaders have to find a happy medium in developing an effective communication and interaction style: “the iron fist-velvet glove analogy is a great way to think about being firm while still remaining relatable.” Mahitha explains that female leadership can often bring heightened scrutiny and extra surveillance within male-dominated spaces, and for her, having female colleagues as a support system was vital for her success. Mahitha stresses: “It’s new for women to be inhabiting leadership roles, and we‘re forging the path for ourselves and future women to create a healthy work environment that benefits men and women, not just men.”
The Pandemic Exposed What Women Always Knew
Milena highlights that the workplace has become more diverse and collaborative, and women bring flexibility and more open communication to the table. Much of this flexibility grows out of the dual roles women constantly play, as mothers or caregivers, and businesswomen. Milena, Mahitha, and Sam are all mothers, and they all highlight the importance of flexibility as an all-important requirement for women. Work-life balance has become a huge priority for Mahitha, after spending years feeling dissatisfied at how much work left her unable to focus on personal priorities. Similarly, Milena explains that finding that balance between work and family is something that takes time and will look different for everyone, and the balance isn’t always 50/50. Sometimes, depending on circumstances and the environment, your work might take up thirty percent of your time while family takes up the remaining seventy. What’s important to remember is that you’re creating a schedule that works best for you while delivering on the business goals you have and it’s important to assess and measure balance not day-to-day, but month-to-month.
Diverse Experiences are Learning Experiences
The most important thing to remember is that the diversity of experiences is key. As Katie explains, “taking every opportunity I could, and varying my opportunities to find what career I wanted to be in was key to figuring out the right position and environment for me.” Working hard is important, and as competition continues to thicken, doing something that you enjoy while utilizing your skills and strengths to your advantage is essential in finding a career that fits you. For Katie, success to her means helping others grow and learn, and as women in the workforce, it’s important that we define what success means for us. It’s perfectly understandable that the definition of success evolves and changes as we do, and that’s okay. As the workplace continues to transform, one quality essential to success is adaptation: if women continue to demonstrate and support diversity of thought, female employees and leaders will thrive.
The data is in: more diverse teams make for better business outcomes. This means businesses are focused on encouraging more diversity, which is an opportunity for current and future female leaders. Seize that opportunity!
Diversity isn’t just about who individuals are. Diversity is just as much about experiences. Making it a goal to have diverse experiences is key to developing as a female leader. Think less about how people will perceive you or your CV, and more about how your various experiences weave into your professional narrative.
Actively seek balance to make your work life sustainable. Without a sustainable work-life balance, careers become unsustainable for women and we end up with phenomena like The Great Resignation which are giant steps back for us women.
Build your own support system of coaches, cheerleaders, and mentors. They’ll help you develop your own version of executive presence – important to your leadership style being authentic to you.