Being powerful, likable and feminine at the same time

Forbes-most-powerful-women-named1I sat down this week with now a 3 time woman entrepreneur who is currently involved in her latest venture.  Her first two ventures were successful exits.  I could say that having those two successful exits under her belt gave her a comfort level when she spoke to me or perhaps it was just two women talking business but there was an ease and confidence she exuded that is powerful, likable and feminine at the same time.

That is not easy to achieve.  Even men, who have yet to be funded and are just starting out their businesses have a different air about them than men who have been funded (or exited).  There is something about getting to the next level that is empowering and it comes across. 

There is an interesting study that is read at HBS and probably other business schools across the country about gender.  The gist is that the students all read about an entrepreneur and their approach to their business, people, raising money, etc.   Although the read is the same for each class there is only one thing that changes and that is the name of the person.  One class reads that is it a man and another class sees the entrepreneur as a woman.  What is fascinating yet not surprising is the reaction of the students reading the case study.  The woman gets denounced as aggressive and pushy with a business model that isn't great.  The man gets high kudos for his business and the way he deals with everyone around him.  Now that does that say about our culture in regards to women entrepreneurs? 

I do believe, at least I hope so, that it is getting easier for women entrepreneurs.  I can attest to the fact that women are amazing entrepreneurs at every turn.  It is important for women to exude power yet be likeable and feminine at the same time.  Men exude power and are likeable at the same time but for whatever reason can get away with more and are not judged as strongly in regards to their swagger.

Women are women and men are men.  As we go about our business life, lets try really hard to remember who is sitting on the other side of the table and pretend they are a totally neutral human being and appreciate their bravado, their business, their charm, their smarts no matter what gender they are.  I think we'd all be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Consider me lucky as I’ve been around powerful, women entrepreneurs as friends for my entire career.First one was Heidi Roizen who I met just before her TMaker exit and known since.Diversity is the key to everything for me.

  2. Scarlett Sieber

    Very interesting piece. Being a young female in tech this topic is near and to my heart. I love the idea of being powerful, likeable, and feminine all at the same time and that is exactly how I try to live my life.

    1. Gotham Gal

      As we all should

      1. Scarlett Sieber

        Agreed. Although it is hard at times because so many women I know are their own worst enemies. It is not their boss (or investors) who is stopping them from moving forward, it is them. They constantly second guess themselves and are afraid to ask for what they want. I agree with what you said about that confidence coming after a large accomplishment (in this case having a successful exit with a company) but what we as women need to figure out is how to have that same confidence beforehand. That confidence and power could end up being the “missing piece” and lead to n exit,promotion, etc.

    2. JLM

      .The most powerful people in the world are those who never exhibit their power. If you have to call it to someone’s attention then it is likely an affectation.JLM.

  3. ag

    I think the question is how do women find the balance between being powerful, likeable, and feminine. I consider myself a feminist and I look up to strong and confident women, but I also know that there are many strong women who rub me the wrong way or come across as unnecessarily intimidating. So why is that? I think men and women look to other women to be supportive, sensitive, approachable, and emotionally available, and I’m not sure these characteristics fit in neatly with the embodiment of strength and confidence–or if they do, I’m not sure we have figured out how they do. I think part of what needs to happen is for society to stop expecting women to be like men, to understand that women can be strong in their own way. Or maybe women need to stop being intimidated by other women who aren’t soft and friendly first. But these are just thoughts. The topic has fascinated me for some time. I’m still trying to figure out how to strike the right balance. One things for sure–having strong female role models (especially mothers) helps a whole lot.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Strong role models definitely help alot

      1. AG

        I’ve been thinking about this a bunch, and it occurred to me that what I was grasping at really had a lot to do with confidence. Projecting genuine confidence is really powerful. I think women struggle with it more, and maybe because they are often looking for validation from men, maybe not. I read an article a little while back about raising confident girls. I just wish more women in high-powered positions were focused on driving home this point.

        1. Gotham Gal

          I believe you are absolutely right

  4. LE

    Even men, who have yet to be funded and are just starting out their businesses have a different air about them than men who have been funded (or exited). There is something about getting to the next level that is empowering and it comes across. First I don’t doubt that the above is true.But there is another way to look at it as well that I noticed when dating and also in business.Using dating as an example, If I had a date with someone who I wasn’t that “in to” I came off as much more confident than if it was somebody who I really liked.As a result those vibes (from me to the date) made the date more eager for my attention since I seemed so “confident”. But (in that particular case) I wasn’t more confident, just less interested. [2]I think this dynamic plays out in life in many life situations. [1]If you have success under your belt not only are you less “needy” but you also have a halo around you. So the person you are meeting with sends off different signals then the same person would if you were “nobody”. As a result of those positive signals you are more likely to be confident.Anyway, once I figured this out what I did was simply trick myself into believing I didn’t really care as if it didn’t matter what happened at all. And (at least for me) the technique worked very well. So in a sense you are an actor taking on a role (which is a good way to think about it). Like “method” acting.I don’t want anyone to think that the idea here is to “act as if you don’t care and this will work”. It’s much more involved than that in order to project the right degree of interest and confidence vs. making someone think you are pompous etc. Details and execution matter.[1] Another example: Salesman “on a roll” tend to close more sales.But if you walk in to the nth appointment after blowing the first 5 of the day you look all sour and depressed and desperate and the chance of closing greatly diminishes.

  5. LE

    It is important for women to exude power yet be likeable and feminine at the same time.I was discussing with my wife the other night the qualities that Hollywood’s leading men have. They are likeable and the type of guy you would want to hang out with (think Clooney, Orlando Bloom, Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas etc.) Same qualities that certain salesman have as well. They are likeable.But most importantly they aren’t a threat and aren’t trying to be someone else. They are themselves. (At least the ones I would cherry pick as examples!)And they don’t come off like an asshole. (Like, say Jim Cramer or, say, David Letterman).Women already have an advantage because men in general don’t see them as a threat because they are women, right?Unless (I believe) they start to act unnatural and pushy and overbearing.Importantly: the exact same thing that would be undesirable in a man.It is true that men don’t have to do that as much ( that is be overbearing as often because they are men ) so they have an advantage there. But women also have an advantage because they are generally off to a good start with being likeable and non threatening.Summary: Be yourself, be confident, be likeable is a step in the right direction.

  6. Wren

    Best case you can be two out of three. Best strategy is not to care. Just be who you are and push for success and understand you are equal on all levels. You might or my not succeed, but you will certainly pave the way for others by trying. If you are not ‘likable’ it’s not your fault. It is just where society is today. Don’t take it personally. Don’t care.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It is very difficult for most people to not take things personally. Although good advice it is tough.

      1. Wren

        Yes, a woman fundraising in tech… not for sissies, right.:) I guess what I’m saying is toughen up. Which should not be mistaken with becoming hardened. It helps to understand the psychology. Current business cultural is not ‘wired’ for powerful yet ‘feminine’ women. These women (a growing number) are generally viewed at best an anomaly and and worst a threat (in more the ‘human’ sense than the business sense). The women who have broken barriers have learned how to ‘read the room’ and instill confidence in the subset of investors who are truly willing to invest in them. And if they don’t get a positive response they move on. The women who worry about being feminine or being likable may struggle to get past the inherent rejection in fundraising.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Hear hear

  7. JLM

    .I suspect that the HBS case study says more about HBS and its student body than anything else.Guys are essentially clueless so I do not profess to know anything but as your sometimes audience, I can assure you that “normal” is the new standard.Once you are in the startup business, normal takes a bit of a tilt and it morphs a bit. Go with it and stay grounded.Be genuine. Be authentic. Be you. That is more than enough.This notion of “likeable” may get a bit of traction among neophytes but among folks who have been around the block, it’s just a matter of being normal. Being able to carry on a conversation.One tip I would give anyone is this — be personable. Greet folks with a firm handshake, look them in the eye and say their name.When you have a meeting drop the folks an Old School note on an Old School notecard. Talk about standing out from the crowd.Don’t press too hard. I can’t say I have met a woman in business in the last 20 years that their being likeable even entered my mind.I had a Mother, have two sisters and a daughter. I am still clueless.It is just as important to me that the chemistry be right to do business as it is that you be normal. I have as much obligation to be normal as anyone else on the planet. Don’t think it your duty. It is mine also.JLM.

  8. SallyBroom

    A bit late to the discussion but this completely resonates with me and with what I’m learning from Lean In. Your call to action in the final paragraph is bang on, and it’s our job to spread the word and encourage everyone to do just that.

    1. Gotham Gal

      difficult perhaps but yes everyone must do that

      1. SallyBroom

        It is hard but it’s get easier the more we all do it. The most inspiring thing is when my male peers call up another for chastising a woman simply for being a strong-minded/confident business person. Sure, there’s a line between strong minded and arrogant, but that should be the same whether you’re a guy or a girl

  9. panterosa,

    Strong women still need support from other strong women, and the men who appreciate them.

    1. Gotham Gal

      for sure