It’s a topic which corporations once routinely ignored, then dismissed, and are only now beginning to discuss: the dearth of multicultural professionals in senior positions. Multicultural professionals hold only 11% of executive posts
Performance, hard work, and sponsors get top talent recognized and promoted, but “leadership potential” isn’t enough to lever men and women into the executive suite. Top jobs are given to those who also look and act the part, who manifest “executive presence” (EP). According to new CTI research (PDF)
EP rests on three pillars: gravitas (the core characteristic, according to 67% of the 268 senior executives surveyed), an amalgam of behaviors that convey confidence, inspire trust, and bolster credibility; communication skills (according to 28%); and appearance, the filter through which communication skills and gravitas become more apparent. While they are aware of the importance of executive presence, multicultural men and women are nonetheless hard-pressed to interpret and embody aspects of a code written by and for white men.
CTI research finds that multicultural professionals, like their Caucasian counterparts, prioritize gravitas over communication, and communication over appearance. Yet, “cracking the code” of executive presence presents unique challenges for multicultural professionals because standards of appropriate behavior, speech, and attire demand they suppress or sacrifice aspects of their cultural identity in order to conform. They overwhelmingly feel that EP at their firm is based on white male standards — African Americans, especially, were 97% more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to agree with this assessment — and that conforming to these standards requires altering their authenticity, a new version of “bleached-out professionalism” that contributes to feelings of resentment and disengagement. People of color already feel they have to work harder than their Caucasian counterparts just to be perceived “on a par” with them; more than half (56%) of minority professionals also feel they are held to a stricter code of EP standards.
[Executive Presence Chart]
EP further eludes multicultural professionals because they’re not likely to get feedback on their “presentation of self.” Qualitative findings affirm that their superiors, most of whom are white, hesitate to call attention to gravitas shortfalls and/or communication blunders for fear of coming across as racially insensitive or discriminatory. While sponsors might close this gap, specifically addressing executive presence issues with their high-potentials, CTI’s 2012 research
[Unclear on Feedback Chart]
In short, because feedback is either absent, overly vague, or contradictory, executive presence remains an inscrutable set of rules for multiculturals — rules they’re judged by but cannot interpret and embody except at considerable cost to their authenticity. Consequently, in a workplace where unconscious bias continues to permeate the corridors of power, and leadership is mostly white and male, multiculturals are measurably disadvantaged in their efforts to be perceived as leaders.
As America becomes