First Impressions, Handshakes Are Key To Women In Leadership

By Paula Burkes The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This article has some practical advice for women in business. For example, something as simple as a handshake can make a difference in how you are perceived. One body language expert says that when someone approaches, you should raise your eyebrows to show an openness, which causes approachers to be open. Then you should scoop in, with your hand tilted down, so you get a palm-to-palm firm grip, versus someone grabbing the end of your fingers in a wimpy handshake.

The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

Attention businesswomen: Want to be more successful in the workplace? Don't worry so much, and master the perfect handshake.

Such was the advice of presenters at a women's leadership conference on Wednesday that drew 310 attendees to the Cox Convention Center. Oklahoma City University's Meinders School of Business hosted the seventh annual event, which was presented by the Chickasaw Nation.

Nancy Parsons, CEO of Tulsa-founded and now Texas-based CDR Assessment Group, said studies show men and women are basically equal in leadership energy, calmness and emotions.

"But under pressure, men dominate and women tend to move away and not speak up," she said.

Her company offers coaching tools that, along with leadership characteristics, measure inherent negative risk factors, including rule breaking, egotism and upstaging, which all are more common to men but -- perception-wise -- more detrimental to women, Parsons said.

For example, a male rule breaker is seen as a change agent, while a female rule breaker is viewed as inconsistent, she said.

Meanwhile, an egotistical male is perceived as overconfident, while an egotistical female frequently is called the b word.

"We're taking ourselves out of the running for fear of failure," Parsons said. "We women often work harder, putting in 80 hours, but we're not being noticed because we're not speaking up," she said, noting worrying is seen as a lack of courage, and companies want leaders with courage.

Atlanta-based body language expert Patti Wood said first impressions on credibility, likability, attraction and power are made within the first second of meeting someone, and take up to six months of face-to-face interaction to change.

Because women want to be perceived as equals, they always should extend their hands for handshakes, Wood said.

When someone approaches, people should raise their eyebrows to show an openness, which causes approachers to be open, Wood said. "Then scoop in, with your hand tilted down, so you get a palm-to-palm firm grip, versus someone grabbing the end of your fingers in a wimpy handshake," she said.

To compensate for bone-crusher handshakes: "Use your free hand to encompass the shake, and send the symbolic message, 'You're surrounded,' " she said.

For shakers who won't let go: "Lean in over your right foot, to discombobulate them so they'll loosen their grip and you can splay your fingers and break down and away."

Other conference highlights include:

--Jaynie Studenmund, a public company board member of LifeLock, Pinnacle Entertainment and Core Logic, and former southern California banking and Internet executive, said colleagues always trump products.

"An A group of people can turn a B product into an A product," she said. Also, "keep walking cash, so you're not emboldened to a particular job because of what it pays" and "Take jobs or board positions to get out of your comfort zone."

--Brian Uzzi, a professor of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, said networking is not about having lunch, but sharing sports, nonprofit, community service and other activities with something at stake, such as a record to break.

"Through shared activities, we build trust with a diverse group of people who see our true colors," Uzzi said.

Bill Gates' big break came through his mom's service with an IBM executive on a United Way board, he said. When IBM opened up its desktop publishing division, it -- at the suggestion of Gates' mom, Mary Gates -- opened proposals to smaller companies and Microsoft won the exclusive licensing agreement.

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