Category Archives: Make up

Message to self: why we need business dress codes

At the risk of coming over as a Jurassic fossil,  I’m not a fan of business dressing down, even on  Fridays,  let alone Monday to Thursday.  And before the hoodie brigade and Facebook/Google/MySpace crew come at me with Smart phones  blazing, I’ll tell you why!

Yes of course the words judging, books and covers come to mind. I know that what we’re wearing should have no impact on the quality of output, performance or decisions taken. I equally know it’s important to feel comfortable in an office or business situation.  Clearly coal miners and steel workers cannot work in a jacket and tie and pole dancers, nurses and aerobics teachers can’t wear straight skirts and business suits. Some clothing is not occupation appropriate that is obvious.  Nor am I in favour of fashion policing and suppressing freedom of expression.

It isn’t either totally about general business impressions.  At a recent meeting in London I walked to the conference room through an office which seemed to be populated by pizza delivery personnel who had misplaced both their mopeds and their pizzas. Even if the client meeting is in a side office,  many have glass walls and visitors generally have to pass through common areas. People do note the state of the offices, as well as the people working in them. This office did not inspire confidence and part of that message came from the way the personnel were dressed. It looked sloppy.

The fact is that grooming does make a difference. It sends out an important message to all around about us as individuals, as well as the organisations we work with and for.  More importantly it’s also a signal about how we feel about ourselves and our jobs.

Message to self
Last week I had an early evening coaching session with a client. I thought she had come from the gym. In fact she had come from the office.   She was struggling to assert herself in her business environment and  her late nights in the office and early morning starts had morphed  into one sleep deprived 80 hour week blur. Her personal life had all but vanished.  She  had also stopped wearing make-up and it seemed that she had possibly lost her hair brush.  Her garments of choice were more appropriate for a rock festival than the offices of a multi-national.  She claimed that everyone in her company adopts this casual approach and she is not one bit out-of-place. Not unsurprisingly there seems to be  morale and motivation issues in that organisation as it fights a deepening recession.

But effectively she has no life outside this 15/24 work day and as her job is a daily assault course, that is how she dresses.  At some level that is how she perceives her daily routine and her role in it.

Her goal was to revert to re-creating a lost professional identity, one that she could separate from her personal life,  so that in some small way she has one.   By simply getting up in the morning and putting on her professional face and uniform and taking it off every night and putting it in the laundry basket when she gets home,  she has created  a critical psychological  and physical distinction and barrier.

We are all our greatest assets. It’s important to care, believe and invest in ourselves.  Taking pride in our appearance reflects on us professionally. It’s also a cut off point and a visual and physical boundary between our work personas and the rest of our lives. We  all need that vital separation in a world where  our professional and personal selves can potentially slide into one undifferentiated continuum.

A business dress code is one way of doing that.

What do you think?

Makeup: A career issue for both men and women!

How makeup is impacting the workplace
I was facilitating a meeting in Paris last week and one delegate asked about women, makeup and career advancement. There wasn’t time to go into it in detail – but we were obviously in France where the grooming benchmark is particularly high. As I was still recovering from surgery and leading the meeting on one crutch (not the height of chic) and struggling to stay on my high heels, I possibly may not have been a convincing fashionista. In fact had I not been wearing makeup, combined with my crutch, I suspect para medics might have been put on alert.

Visual world
There is much research to suggest that basic looks, appearance and grooming lead to more rapid promotions and higher salaries. We live in a visual world where appearances matter. However, just to focus on one tiny aspect of the lookism and appearance issue, is the application of makeup that critical to career success? There is strong empirical evidence to suggest there is a connection for women.

Make up = making an effort
In fact,a recent survey, commissioned by The Aziz Corporation, reveals new information about appearance in the workplace. A survey reported in The Times also suggests that 64 per cent of directors considered women who wore make-up look more professional and 18 per cent of directors said that women who do not wear make-up “look like they can’t be bothered to make an effort”. As a career coach I would advise any woman to focus on overall professional grooming and that would include sector appropriate make-up. In a general professional sense all women are advised to wear light make up. A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetics Science in 2006 on Caucasian women has found that people judge women wearing cosmetics as higher earners with more prestigious jobs

Claire Soper an Image Consultant based in Brussels told me ” Without doubt make-up is part of your professional dress and is as important as your outfit. It must be appropriate and well applied and if you wear none, you look under dressed. A well-groomed look sends a positive message about who you, your capabilities and potential. Think about how you are perceived if you wear none? Believe it or not you could be sending signals that you are disorganized, uninterested and unable to cope and you need to be aware of this. We can control the way we look but not how people perceive us and our professional dress, the impact our image makes has a massive impact on our chances of promotion and career advancement. Know that internal career progression is based 50% on image!”

According to the Mail Online, the average British woman spends £9000 in a lifetime on makeup. Given that women are the greatest global consumer group, I’m assuming the minute they start feeling OK with their faces, bodies and general appearances whole industry sectors would simply disappear. It would seem that there are certain economic imperatives for us all to feel insecure about our appearance and therefore spend huge sums striving for improvement.

However in light of Josef Ackmerman’s CEO of Deutsche Bank’s suggestion that women would  “add colour to the boardroom“, a major faux pas, how and where do we we start overturning traditional stereotypes? Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Member of the European Party retorted pretty promptly “If Mr Ackermann wants more color in the management board, he should hang pictures on the wall.”

Claire adds “If you look capable, motivated and interested you stand a better chance of getting the promotion. It’s about releasing your potential. Many people’s careers are blocked simply because of the way they dress and women in particular, can gain authority and credibility by wearing make-up so they are perceived as somebody worth listening to.

The male view
Further research from The Aziz Corporation would indicate that men are also changing their perceptions about personal grooming. According to a study a carried out by Opinion Research, cited in the Mail Online – there is a sharp rise in male attention to makeup, with 20% admitting to wearing it to work.

William, a Senior Partner in an international law firm told me ” we live in such a “lookist” society that of course I use men’s grooming products. Men have to make sure their grooming assistance is not obvious. Women are actually lucky in this area because they can hide and enhance certain aspects of their appearance with makeup. At one time men as they got older, were deemed distinguished and women were simply “older”. Now it’s changing. If a man obviously wore make-up, it would probably be professional suicide. Most of the well-groomed women I know in their 50s, look way better than their male counterparts. An increasingly number of men in my circle have had cosmetic surgery to maintain a more youthful appearance, because they see it as a professional advantage .” Nip/tucking does indeed seem a bit drastic, when a quick dab of YSL Touche Eclat might do the trick. Guys – here’s how!

So I wondered, thinking that through, is it really better to be in a lower earning junior position, looking younger, wearing full make-up , than being a senior partner, on a great salary, looking his age? “That’s the irony” said Tom ” women are penalised for not wearing make-up and men would be penalised for doing so

So is it time to let go of our stereotypes and if women want to go to work without their “faces” and men want to head for the cosmetic counter, or will light makeup eventually be recommended for both sexes to enhance career prospects? Should any of it make a difference to the way we’re perceived in the workplace?

What do you think?