Categorized | Blog

Keeping up appearances

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that when I’m not writing the SheEO blog, I’m also a farmer.  True!  So I’m writing this blog from the farm where I’m spending a few day away from the hustle and bustle.  Partly because I’ve been off crook, partly because I’m adoring a new set of twin lambs born on Monday, and partly because – to be frank – I love that out here I don’t have to keep up any appearances.  The animals don’t notice if I’ve styled my hair, put on makeup or if I’m wearing that same outfit, again!

But in corporate and public life, quite the opposite is true for women at the top.  It shouldn’t be the case that appearances matter, but from my experiences and observations it is.  Never mind that half the blokes I’ve worked with wouldn’t know style if they bumped into it, their fashion faux pas seem to go unnoticed.  Yet women are expected to be smart (but not too smart), sophisticated (but not snobbish) and suitably styled (but definitely not slutty) before they’ll be taken seriously.

Where does this double standard come from and why have we become slaves to it?  Even Lois Frankel of Nice Girls fame wouldn’t dare step onto the stage at one of her keynote speeches without looking perfectly groomed (I’ve seen her – it’s true!)  Certainly there’s pressures from the media and external environment and I was reminded of this yesterday when my friend Deane sent me this YouTube link direct from New York.

Wherever it stemmed from, it’s infiltrated our workplace culture and our thinking.  I recall at a women’s networking event a couple of years ago an up and coming leader was sharing her views on leadership and board aspirations.  Midway through her presentation, the female investment banker sitting next to me whispered “she’ll have to do something with that hair if she wants to be taken seriously”.  Clearly the same standards don’t apply to Donald Trump and his comb-over!

I know we’re all dealing with time pressures, with most women burdened with the lion’s share of domestic duties on topic of their working week.  So it seems even more unjust that we’re expected to spend more of our precious time in the hair and makeup greenroom than men before we step onto the leadership stage.  I take my hat off to those women who are prepared to go natural, but personally I’ve found it easier to simply think of it as part of my corporate coat of armour.  So while I don’t like it, I realise that my presentation is going to be assessed at every opportunity and I take that into account in my preparation and negotiations.

I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is – or if indeed it is a problem at all.  I’m just glad that today I am here, hours away from CorporateLand, communicating with the virtual world without a veneer of external perfection.  Bliss!


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