Woman Up at Work

Usually, I encourage women to express their sensuality and explore their desires, but at work, these behaviors can get you in trouble.

A woman who exudes sex appeal on the job can undermine her professionalism and limit her chances for advancement. But that doesn’t mean she should look or behave like a man. Sex aside, it’s time to woman up in the work place.

Leadership in our society is still defined by masculine traits because the vast majority of leaders are men. Women earn 60 percent of U.S. undergraduate and master’s degrees and hold 52 percent of all professional jobs, but are woefully underrepresented in top positions. According to the Center for American Progress, women make up only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, and are similarly absent in top levels across fields like law, advertising, medicine and filmmaking.

But according to Anne Doyle, author of “Powering Up, How America’s Women Achievers Become Leaders,” the world is going through a cultural evolution that increasingly values women’s natural strengths. In a recent interview, Doyle explains the term she created to describe this full-fledged female power: womaninity.

“The word ‘femininity’ has some weak connotations in the professional world,” says Doyle, who in addition to a long career as an auto executive was one of the first female TV sports reporters in the U.S. “Femininity is not a parallel word to masculinity. Femininity is a word that refers to a woman’s softer side, particularly in relationship to how appealing she is to men. Femininity is a part of womaninity, but it doesn’t capture all of the pieces of being a fully evolved woman. The idea of womaninity is about tapping into all your strengths, your perspective, your life experience and your instincts as a female.”

Women share many characteristics with men, but they tend to naturally be more collaborative and attuned to what other people are thinking and feeling. And these “softer” skills are becoming increasingly necessary to organizations. I recently attended a Positive Business Conference at University of Michigan where practices like supporting employee health and well-being, community involvement and decentralized, team-based management styles were found to increase productivity and profit. Sound familiar?

“It’s hysterical,” Doyle says. “No one is teaching ‘women’s style’ of leadership. They call it Emotional Intelligence, they call it Positive Leadership, but all of this stuff is coming from huge numbers of educated women in the workplace and bringing the natural strengths of women to leadership. The research shows it’s quite effective.”

The point is not to take anything away from the contributions of men. It’s to expand the definition of leadership to encompass the talents and characteristics of women, because the combination is powerful. Doyle describes it as “men and women, balancing one another and bringing a lot of similarities but also distinct differences and strengths to decision-making in the work world.”

Here are five things you can do to amp up your womaninity, wherever you are:

1. Support other women.

“‘Every woman for herself’ is a losing strategy,” Doyle says. Give women colleagues credit, attention, and, most importantly, your business.

2. Don’t laugh or remain silent when men mock or undermine other women.

3. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate your talents, even though they may be different than men’s.

“It is no longer a weakness to be a woman,” Doyle says. “It’s a leadership strength to be leveraged and put into play.”

4. Use your voice. 

Express your opinions and don’t allow yourself to be interrupted or brushed aside. Make sure other women are heard as well.

5. Dress stylishly, but appropriately.

Cleavage, short skirts, tight clothes, and super-high heels are fun for date night, but detract from your authority professionally.