Can Women Be Confident AND Elegant?

There’s so much talk in the media about how women should be more confident, powerful, and authoritative. We’re told to find our female gravitas, exude executive presence, and project leadership qualities if we aspire to reach the corner office.

We look up to role models such as Arianna Huffington, Marissa Mayer, and Sheryl Sandberg, seeking advice on how we can reach a similar level of success in our career.

We learn that confidence is perhaps the missing link, the quality that will take us from “where we are now” to “where we aspire to be”.

So we go out and search for advice on how to look and feel more confident, and happily return with a collection of body language, style, and communication tips that we begin to put into action.

But before long, we realise the confidence advice we’ve collected pushes us to imitate masculine traits and hide our feminine qualities that make us so unique and special.

Projecting confidence begins to feel unnatural, and often impractical. How are women supposed to use open body gestures when sitting down in a skirt?

This constant struggle between confidence and femininity is a dilemma that makes me wonder: Is it possible to be both confident and elegant? Or are confidence and elegance mutually exclusive?

The Confidence Dilemma for Women

Confidence is often projected through powerful nonverbal and verbal behaviours. If you take up more space, speak louder, faster and more often than others in the office, chances are you’ll be seen as more confident and authoritative.

But for women, there’s a fine line. As the Clayman Institute sociologist and Lean In researcher, Marianne Cooper pointed out in the Harvard Business Review, “when women behave authoritatively, they’re disliked much more than men”.

It seems when women adopt traditional confident type behaviour, we’re easily seen as “bossy”, “pushy” or “aggressive”, while men would simply be seen as confident.

So we’re left with a choice to either continue down the path of traditional, masculine style confidence, or to pivot, and merge our feminine traits into our confident image.

Image courtesy of US Department of Agriculture/ under Creative Commons license. No changes were made to this image.
Image courtesy of US Department of Agriculture/ under Creative Commons license. No changes were made to this image.

The Confidence Shift For Women

I think there’s a fear that as soon as you add feminine traits to your image, you lose on confidence.

In a way, we may feel that confidence and elegance are mutually exclusive. But let me ask you: Have you ever seen an elegant woman with no confidence?

Leadership styles today value feminine traits such as sensitivity, warmth, and understanding, according to a study in the American Psychological Association.

While women can sometimes benefit from masculine style body language to boost our external confidence, it appears we have the freedom to add our own feminine touch as well.

This is evident if we look at successful businesswomen such as Christine Lagarde or Michelle Obama. They’re both confident and achieved women, yet they carry with them an air of grace when they walk down the street.

They offset powerful body language with poised and calm movements. Their outfits are structured and influential, yet feminine and elegant.

Even a recent article in Levo League pointed out that women have moved away from “trying to fit into the stiff, male-influenced power suit” and can “wear flowers at work and still project power”.

Image courtesy of Chatham House/ under Creative Commons license. No changes were made to this image.
Image courtesy of Chatham House/ under Creative Commons license. No changes were made to this image.

Final Thoughts

For women, confidence no longer means you have to be aggressive. And elegance doesn’t mean you have to be weak.

It seems we’re truly witnessing a shift in the way women can express confidence. Women are no longer restricted to confidence in a masculine sense.

It’s okay to add a feminine touch to your outfits, gestures and behaviour around the office. In fact, feminine mannerisms are now valued.

Yes, businesswomen can be confident AND elegant at the same time.

So put on a dress with your favourite pair of heels. Walk down the street proud knowing that you can exude power, confidence, AND elegance. Because confidence is being redefined.

Now I want to turn the discussion over to you. Do you think women can be confident AND elegant? I’d love you to leave a comment in the section below with your thoughts on this topic.

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About Kara

Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She is an executive coach who specialises in leadership presence, social skills and business etiquette. She is also the creator of Bestselling Udemy course, Business Etiquette 101. Kara’s advice and unique perspectives have been featured in Time Inc., Business Insider, Ignites Europe (a Financial Times Service), The Muse, The Local France, The West Australian, and more. Kara works regularly with lawyers, investment bankers, and finance professionals to help them build presence, authority and influence in business. Get Kara's insights delivered straight to your inbox

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