Body Of Work

Published 7 years ago

A woman in a boardroom often needs to work twice as hard as a man; and it also means conveying the right intent and tone, and paying attention to the finer details, body language being one of them.

“Within our very patriarchal history, the boardroom is still very much a man-cave, where the few women who have dared to ‘trespass’ constantly navigate both the written and unwritten man-cave code,” says Khosi Jiyane, a clinical psychologist and corporate training facilitator in Johannesburg.

In order to survive, some women have felt the need to man-up, as currency for being seen and treated as one of the boys, which she says has resulted in some men feeling threatened, while some fellow women see it as a “betrayal of femininity”.

Thrown into this mix are gender and cultural pitfalls that can be effectively countered if the female executive is aware of her body language.

Being attentive is a key aspect according to Durban psychologist Claire Newton who says: “Be sure to sit right up at the table and lean in over the edge slightly. Put your hands and arms on the table. Have a notebook and pen to take notes, but never fiddle with your pen. Don’t take notes on your lap if there’s a table in front of you, this forces you to move away from the action. Women tend to do this a lot. Men don’t.”

“Also ensure you have an open posture, meaning you don’t block the front of your body in any way. Blocking off the front of your body makes you feel safer (which is why you do it), but other people get the message you are insecure and unapproachable,” says industrial psychologist Brian Jude who has been in the communication training industry for 35 years. He says it’s important to stay true to your own personality in the boardroom.

“More aggressive people tend to take up space, with quieter people taking up less space. With any kind of boardroom activity, stay in your comfort zone,” says Jude, adding that women generally feel more comfortable crossing their legs or ankles, but that the ‘figure four cross’ or loose leg cross should be avoided as it is perceived to be aggressive.

“Keep your hands and arms parallel to the body as much as possible. You can use your hands in natural gestures, such as open palms, but avoid any form of finger pointing, which is seen as aggressive.”

He adds that the ‘match and mirror’ technique in body language must be subtle.

“As the other person changes body position, count to four and then change your own position to match. If there is gentle eye contact, maintain the same behavior. This can create an enormous connection, but not if it’s overdone. If you do it too quickly, it is interpreted as mocking behavior,” says Jude.

And while it may be daunting to enter the man cave, never use flirtatious techniques.

“Women are used to flirting and may tend to try and use this in what is still a predominantly male environment. Clothes must be conservative and neutral, with no overt jewelry. Maintaining a professional demeanour says ‘take me seriously’,” says Jude.

Carry handbags, tablets, or files at your side and not in front of your body;

Be aware of nervous habits – don’t fiddle with hands or hair;

Good eye contact shows you are listening, but do not hold eye contact to the point of being either uncomfortable or threatening;

Avoid sitting in the chair next to the door – if you are speaking when someone enters, you lose your message;

Pushing your sleeves up slightly and putting your arms on the table shows you are serious about what is happening in a meeting;

Be aware of your facial expression at all times.