Category Archives: workplace appearance

Career success and tattoos

Sam Cam’s dolphin tattoo

I’m not a personal fan of body art, partly because I’m afraid of needles and even fainted when I had my ears pierced.  My son has a number of mystical messages tattooed on various parts of his body. The only advice he listened to was that none of them should visible when dressed professionally.  What can look cool on a toned, youthful, wild- child body, can also look less appealing as age and gravity kick in. You may aspire to be something arty and Bohemian at 18, but what happens if 10 years later your rock ‘n roll ideas fade and you decide to become a Chartered Accountant?

So without going into aesthetics and into debates such as women with “tramp stamps”  being allowed in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot,  when I was recently asked the question whether body art can impact  career success, I had to be mindful of my own biases.

So I would say, it  will very much depend on some or all of the following factors:

The particular body art – the size, the position, the message, the visibility. Even the  U.K. Prime Minister’s wife Sam Cameron has a small ankle tattoo, so some discreet tattoo on a part of the body unlikely to be on display in a normal business environment  is clearly not going to be a problem. My son’s answer to my own vocal doubts was “Mum, my boss isn’t going to see me without my shirt on.”  Well, that’s a relief then!

The targeted organisation: some organisations will be very tolerant and accepting of tattoos and piercings – fashion, music, media, sport for example are sectors where tattoos abound, but others will not. If you had a crazy, youthful moment and have now settled on a more traditional path, then this could be a problem if the result of that moment is highly visible and can’t be covered.

Marcus told me “ I have a half sleeve tattoo which I had done as a student. It’s not visible when I’m wearing a business shirt.  At a recent company golf outing when I was wearing a short sleeve polo shirt,  the lower part could be seen on my upper arm. I could feel the disapproval of the senior, older partners. Nothing was said directly at the time, but my manager told me I am lucky I am a good golfer, the implication being that if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be invited back.  I feel annoyed because it has nothing to do with my performance in my job. But next time I’ll wear a long sleeve shirt

Some  organisations, particularly public service bodies ask for photos of any body art as the part of the application process particularly if the use of communal changing rooms is part of the work routine. I have also been involved in processes where facial piercings have been held against candidates, both with and without jewellery in the holes.

The type of position applied for: body art can be problematic in any client facing role.  HMV made headlines recently by introducing an appearance code requesting employees to cover up extreme body art. As the competition for jobs becomes more intense in the recession, many are opting for painful removal of their tattoos by laser surgery, at possibly a higher cost than having the original . One Spanish clinic is reporting an upturn in tattoo  removal business as employment opportunities contract “Getting rid of a 4in sq tattoo will cost about €200 (£167); a larger one will set you back €1,500, and the more colours involved, the longer and more costly the treatment.” Learn from Belgian Kimberly Vlaeminck who now deeply regrets the 56 star constellation she had tattooed on her face which are still visible after laser surgery.

So overall message, think hard before going down the permanent body art path. If you change your mind it could be painful and expensive, and not just to your career.

Mad Men poll from the Economist : Women and MBAs

Mad Men meets Stepford Wives in outdated Economist poll

Named Editor of the Year in 2012, Mr John Micklethwait is Editor-in Chief of the Economist. Given his background, as a leading figure in global intellectual and business media, one would assume that he is a pretty smart and savvy gentleman.

The Economist is normally associated with balanced,  neutral, informative reporting on the issues of women in the workplace and business. I am a regular reader. So,  I was astonished  this weekend by a departure from their usual high level,  objective content,  into the tabloid style enforcement of gender stereotypes.

Loss of balance
Why on earth would his publication send out such a thoughtless, sexist poll asking if women with young children should consider waiting before starting an MBA?  Here is the text which reads like something from Mad Men meets The Stepford Wives:

Juggling the twin demands of an MBA programme and young children is bound to be tough. But it is not impossible. According to one student, interviewed here, it means devoting days to classes, afternoons to her daughters, and evenings and Sundays to school work. Still, multi-tasking can be a mistake. Children demand your full attention and trying to concentrate on it and your assignment at the same time inevitably means you do both poorly. One answer is to hire a babysitter. But this can be costly….”

Out of date
Notwithstanding it came out the morning after the major office party night of the year, and a few brain cells might have been lost. Perhaps  Mr. Micklethwait was having a day off. Or maybe the The Economist is short of  readers and needs something a little contentious. Perhaps the 21st century notion of dual career families has completely passed them by. The expectations of women, especially Gen Yers in the area of  the roles their partners play in household and childcare responsibilities, are very different from their mothers’  generations.  Not only that there are actually  significant numbers of  men who want to be actively involved in their children’s upbringing.  My own questions would be:

  • Why don’t they pose the same questions to men?
  • Where are the fathers in the childcare process? Why are they coming home when the children are asleep?

Only one-third of MBA students are women. Surely the poll  and business schools should be trying to establish  how to attract high calibre women without imposing the ” Mummy penalty”, rather than going into the family planning advisory business which serves to re-enforce out dated thinking. As one MBA candidate in a career workshop in Paris told me last week, as a married man with children  he felt he was perceived as offering employers stability, echoing Curt Rice’s fatherhood bonus theory.

This is perpetuating any number of outmoded stereotypes:

  • That childcare is the exclusive role and responsibility of the mother.
  • MBAs are for men
  • Women who are both mothers and professionals will “inevitably” do both roles poorly.
  • Women who focus on the achievement of their own goals will feel guilty.

Here is the story of one woman, Lynn Barbour  who broke the curve.  I suggest that J.L.H.D of The Economist, Atlanta  interview her as well,   to show how it can all be achieved successfully. Lynn says “While formal strategies of employers and business schools need to be strengthened to increase the percentage of women in MBAs, I believe most of the change required starts with individuals” There must be a multitude of other women who have done the same and would not be OK with their partner coming home when the kids are in bed!

There are many reasons why women don’t make it to the top,  but I suspect fitting in a nappy/diaper change around an MBA assignment will not be one of them. Gender stereotypes reenforced by an influential, global press publication are far more likely to strengthen any barriers, than make dents in them.

Perhaps what we need is a female editor for the Economist.

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?

She’s Too Sexy for her Job

Women and appearance in the workplace
I’ve come across a lot of material recently about how women should conduct themselves in the workplace ranging from: smiling ( too much / too little) , speaking up (too late/too quiet/too much) , stretching the rules (not enough/taking advantage), flirting ( do/don’t) and it just seemed to me yet again that women are in a double bind. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The final straw was when I saw an article about a woman in Citibank who was fired for being “too hot” , when the bank’s own diversity instructions and career advice for women encourages them to be more visible.

Reading the discussion, Debrahlee Lorenzana seems to be in a no win situation, with comments ranging from “she should dress in looser fitting clothes” to ” she was too focused on her clothes to do her job properly ” , to “well she’s making a fuss about this to get into Playboy!” See below and make up your own mind.

Fired for being too hot

In a prepared statement Citibank said : “While we will not discuss the details of her case, we can say that her termination was solely performance-based and not at all related to her appearance or attire….”

In a survey contacting 60000 respondents with Elle Magazine and NMBC , 61 percent of women said they thought men judged them on their looks, followed by work ethic (54 percent) and accomplishments (49 percent). Do men ever struggle with the same quandaries about appearance and clothes? Are they too sexy for their suits? Do they fret if their shirts are too tight or body hugging? Are bulging biceps a concern? Ladies, I said biceps! Do they worry about being fired for being too manly? Not one bit it would appear. Men feel that female colleagues judge them on work ethic first (43 percent), accomplishments (40 percent) and looks (32 percent).

However, research indicates both attractive men and women are often seen as more talented, kind, and intelligent and that can lead to promotions and raises,” says Gordon Patzer, author of Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined. Unattractive men, meanwhile, earned 15 percent less than their attractive coworkers in a London Guildhall University survey of 33-year-olds. Unattractive women earned 11 percent less.

So if there are lots of advantages to being good-looking it would seem short-sighted not to capitalise on a natural asset or even enhance one that is less than perfect. Like Debrahlee Lorenzana, if they’ve got it, should they make it work for them? How different tactically is it to strategic networking for example? Isn’t it about stretching the rules and being visible? Who defines the parameters of those rules anyway. Is this a case of suggesting we stretch the rules but only if it’s in a certain pre – approved (male-style) way.

But how far do you go? There is an ugly downside side to beauty in the workplace carrying certain advantages. An increasing number of people who feel less blessed, are starting to facilitate their career opportunities with not just a makeover, but via plastic surgery , a sort of job seeker’s nip/tuck to give them that push up the corporate ladder. That could lead to a whole other “lookist elite ” sounding vaguely sci fi -ish which bothers me.

I asked Katie a young women in her mid -20s, based in California, a beauty in anyone’s eye, how she dealt with it all. She told me ” I am very careful about my personal dress code and tend to keep it functional and neutral. I am also very mindful of the work and social divide and rarely join the guys for after work drinks, wanting to keep my business and personal personas completely separate. I want to be treated and judged only by my professional performance

Marcia , on the other hand, tall , slim, blonde, is based in London and takes a different view. “I work in a male dominated environment. My company has a dress code which I more or less follow. I like to make a statement in the way I dress, while appearing groomed and professional. I don’t want to blend into the background, but I’m not deliberately sexually provocative. I am aware of my male associates checking me and the other girls in the office out, but I ignore it. It’s never been an issue professionally in fact it’s been helpful. People remember me “.

Playing to win
So if you’re an attractive woman and use your looks to your advantage, is that strategically savvy or a cheap shot? Should you hide your light under a bushel or a burka? Men seem to feel it’s the responsibility of the women not to distract them from the task in hand with their attire or good looks, rather than take responsibility for their own behaviour and libidos. But good-looking ladies also come under fire from other women, going back to the anthropological drive to snare the best men, typically found at the top of organisations, which is sometimes even tougher to deal with. Whoever said women are too nice, clearly hasn’t negotiated the minefields found in ladies’ powder rooms. There are fewer snipers in Kabul.

So pretty women seem to get flak from all sides and each woman therefore has to find the way which suits her best and the one she feels comfortable with, whether it’s statement, visibility raising dressing, or biz neutral. But above all, she has to put in a good performance. In the meantime we can hope that cultural perceptions will change, but truthfully, can today’s women wait long enough for that to happen?

What do you think?