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By on October 25, 2012

Executive Women“Executive Presence” Is Key to Corporate Advancement

New York, NY: October 23, 2012— When it comes to career success, attractiveness and hard work don’t match the influence of “executive presence (EP)”, according to a new study from the Center for Talent Innovation. In a survey, 268 senior executives cited executive presence–being perceived as leadership material–as an essential component to getting ahead. In fact, executive presence accounted for, on average, 25% of what it takes to get promoted.

The findings contribute fresh, startling new insight as to why so few women make it to the C-suite. Though work/life balance challenges are often cited as a major factor, the fact that many women do not understand executive presence, let alone how to exude it, also plays an important role, according to the study.

The study, which will be published in the November issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands October 23, aims to close the information gap about executive presence—especially for women and multicultural professionals—by defining the three areas that govern the perception of “leadership material”:

  • Gravitas, or the ability to project confidence, poise under pressure, and decisiveness
  • Communication, which comprises excellent speaking skills, assertiveness, and the ability to read an audience or situation
  • Appearance—looking polished and pulled toge ther

Women and multicultural professionals surveyed feel that they are held to stricter standards of executive presence and are given hopelessly contradictory feedback on expectations.

In addition to defining and unpacking the often-murky concept of executive presence, the study also provides tactics for individuals, managers, and HR professionals to improve their own and o ther’s executive presence. By understanding the nuances of this key leadership competency, individuals and corporations can work to ensure that top talent advances and companies reap the full leadership potential of their most promising employees.

The study’s revelations were gleaned from 18 focus groups, nearly 4,000 college-graduate professionals, and 50+ one-on-one interviews with high-level executives.

Key Findings:

  • Executive presence (EP) accounts for 26% of what it takes to get the next promotion, according to senior executives
  • Gravitas is the core characteristic of EP, according to 67% of the 268 senior executives surveyed
  • Communication telegraphs you’re leadership material, according to 28% of senior executives
  • While only five percent of leaders consider appearance to be a key factor in EP, all of them recognize its potential for curtailing or derailing talented up-and-comers. Notable appearance blunders, not surprisingly, are unkempt attire (83% say it detracts from a woman’s EP, 76% say it detracts from a man’s) and, for women, too-tight or provocative clothing (73% say it detracts from a woman’s EP).
  • Sounding uneducated proves a tripwire (59% say it detracts from a woman’s EP and 58% say it detracts from a man’s)
  • Women and multicultural professionals tend to struggle with EP due to intrinsic tension between conforming to corporate culture and remaining true to oneself. 56% of people of color feel they are held to a stricter code around EP, compared with 31% of Caucasians; 36% deliberately recast the way they tell their stories, compared with 29% of Caucasians.
  • For both women and people of color, feedback on EP can be hopelessly contradictory—which may be why 81% say they’re unclear as to how to act on it.

“One of our goals at Marie Claire is to provide working women with the tools for a successful career,” said Marie Claire Editor-in-Chief Anne Fuldenwider. “We are pleased to partner with the Center for Talent Innovation on this study and empower our readers with the insight they need to get ahead in the workplace.”

Research Partners:

Marie Claire, American Express, Bloomberg, Credit Suisse, Ernst & Young, Gap Inc., Goldman Sachs, Interpublic Group, and Moody’s Foundation

About the Authors:

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist and the founding President and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation where she chairs the Task Force for Talent Innovation. She also directs the Gender and Policy Program at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University . Dr. Hewlett is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Economic Forum Council on Women’s Empowerment. She is the author of 10 Harvard Business Review articles, 11 critically acclaimed nonfiction books including Off-Ramps and On-Ramps, and Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets (Harvard Business Review Press), and is ranked #11 on the “Thinkers 50” listing of the world’s top business thinkers. Her writings have appeared in theNew York Times and Financial Times, and she’s a featured blogger on She is a frequent guest on television, appearing on Oprah, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose, the Today Show, and CNN Headline News. Dr. Hewlett has taught at Cambridge, Columbia, and Princeton universities. A Kennedy Scholar and graduate of Cambridge University, she earned her PhD in economics at London University .

Lauren Leader-Chivée, Senior Vice President at the Center for Talent Innovation and Partner at Sylvia Ann Hewlett Associates, has 14 years of experience in human resources leadership and management consulting. Before joining CTI she advised hedge funds, investment banks, and Fortune 500 companies as an independent talent management consultant, and as part of the human capital practice at Booz & Company. Before that, she was Vice President of Human Resources at OfficeTiger and held HR leadership roles at Credit Suisse and Pfizer. She is the coauthor of CTI publications The Battle for Female Talent in India, and The X-Factor, and Harvard Business Online blogs. She’s on the steering committee of the Aspen Institute’s Socrates Society and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is a graduate of Barnard College .

The Center for Talent Innovation

The Center for Talent Innovation (formerly the Center for Work-Life Policy), a non-profit “think tank” based in New York City, has emerged as a thought leader in diversity and talent management, driving ground-breaking research and seeding programs and practices that attract, retain, and accelerate new streams of talent around the world.

The Center for Talent Innovation’s flagship project is the Task Force for Talent Innovation (formerly the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force)—a private-sector task force that helps organizations leverage their talent across the divides of gender, generation, geography, and culture. The 75 global corporations and organizations that constitute the Task Force—representing 4 million employees and operating in 190 countries around the world—are united by an understanding that the full utilization of the talent pool is at the heart of competitive advantage and economic success.

About Marie Claire

Marie Claire ( is the fashion magazine with character, substance, and depth, for women with a point of view, an opinion, and a sense of humor. Each issue is edited for a sexy, stylish, confident woman who is never afraid to make intelligence a part of her wardrobe. A culturally relevant experience, Marie Claire is published in 35 countries and is read by more than 15 million worldwide. The magazine was founded in 1937 by French industrialist Jean Prouvost, whose goal was to present the realities of life mixed with fashion and beauty coverage. The American edition is published by Hearst Magazines, one of the nation’s largest diversified communications companies. With its acquisition of Lagardère SCA’s 100 titles in 14 countries outside of France, Hearst Magazines now publishes more than 300 editions around the world, including 20 U.S. titles. Hearst Magazines is a leading publisher of monthly magazines in the U.S. in terms of total circulation and reaches 82 million adults (Spring 2012 MRI). Follow Marie Claire on Twitter at @marieclaire. 

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