Executive Coaching Blog
Why men and women should be worried about our professionalism and not our high heels
As you might know, I am French. Born, raised and lived in France for 30+ years. Professional attire is part of our culture and it has a different meaning. A professional woman is still expected to wear high heels, a suit or a fitted dress as professional look matters for your career. Hair and hands must be impeccable.
I noticed that working a professional job means a number of things, including dressing to impress in many organizations in the US as well. Especially for women who want a senior leadership role. A drive to look the part as well as act it applies to both genders. However, a sexist connotation still to this day lingers over the women that work in offices all around the world.
One way or another, women are judged by their appearance. Women dressed in figure-hugging pencil skirts and high heels are viewed as great for the company image but not for strategic roles while women dressed in loose pant suits often are not thought of as potential leaders. Even in an attempt to balance their outfits, women in the office receive snide comments and cruel judgement from both genders.
Some may think that the clear solution to this problem is for women to dress more professionally – no cleavage, no short skirts, kitty cat heels only, and so on. The more conservative, the better. The only issue with this is the blatant censorship that comes along with that. Women, as well as men, have the right to dress how they want, within reason.
Value the professional in everyone you meet regardless of their appearance
The real solution to this problem is simple – everyone needs to mind their own business. Focusing on a woman’s outfit, granted it isn’t extremely revealing, rather than how she conducts herself as a professional career woman is flawed and wrong. She is not her outfit!
In or out of the office, a woman’s value is not based on the clothes she feels comfortable enough to put on her body. Any clothing a woman feels good enough to wear in public is an important step in her personal development and should be treated as such. Persistent judgement and belittlement is demeaning and causes a woman to think less of herself; it also makes others view her as “less than.” Open conversation about professional attire may be necessary to meet the organization looks and feel but should not hinder or limit individuals in their “BEingness”.
The only important thing that people should be worrying about in the office is whether or not everything is getting done and getting done correctly. That is not reflected in what people wear, men or women. Distracting coworkers with comments is way more distracting than the outfits females coworkers are wearing.
Our tips to challenge the perception others have of you:
1-Ask for constructive feedback about your attire to assess what are the top attributes or challenges people perceive about the way you dress
Don’t feel offended by what people think, use this information as an opportunity to address any challenge openly and to redirect people toward your strengths and your qualifications
2-Own your style and respect other people’s appearance
If you want to be appreciated for your skills and your professionalism, walk the talk: practice non judgement. The best way to hone this skill is to focus on what is said and not what you perceive. Don’t get distracted by an outfit or someone appearance.
In one office, individuals come from different background and different cultures. Simply be mindful of how your attire can unconsciously trigger someone because of their faith, beliefs system or education in a different part of the world. What is acceptable for you, might not be acceptable for them and vice-versa. Be curious instead of judgmental and you might learn something about another culture you did not know about.