When I am asked whether or not a women’s appearance is important for business and leadership success, I always hesitate before responding. My gut reaction is that women should be in touch with their authenticity and wear what they feel is appropriate and professional.
My recent radio interview with Marie Wilson, president and founder of The White House Project and long time advocate for women’s leadership, reminded me, however, that women do not yet have the luxury of ignoring the basic fact that it is much more important how they, as women, present themselves then it is for men. Plain and simple; women are not judged in the same way.
The White House Project, in fact, did a media study in 1998 that addressed this very issue. They analyzed six political campaigns and found that journalists were more likely to focus on the personal characteristics of female candidates and less likely to focus on the issues.
More recently, in her book Closing the Leadership Gap, Marie Wilson states, “After the first Democratic presidential debate in 2007, MSNBC host Chris Matthews focused obsessively on the appearance of Clinton and Michelle Obama to the point and chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell reminded him that they are Yale and Harvard educated lawyers, respectively.”
When the subject of appropriate dress came up in my interview with Marie Wilson, she shared her opinion that women need to be aware of the intense scrutiny they are under as business and political leaders and if they are interested in achieving their career goals, they must dress for success.
What is appropriate attire in your business environment?
Be aware that clothing that is too frilly, too sexy, and perhaps even too masculine may not project the professional image required to succeed in that company culture.
Quite honestly, I think this may be our present reality but it still remains tough to swallow. I believe that as more women assume leadership roles, this will change.