Bringing all of who you are to the workplace, including your femininity, is a powerful and valuable thing to do, writes Jackie O’Fee.
I recently spoke to a senior management team at one of New Zealand’s larger companies and during the ensuing one-on-ones, was asked by one of the attendees what I thought about her having to play down her feminine side to be accepted as “one of the boys”.
This was the advice she’d been given by one of her peers when she was given her management role, and she felt this was directed mostly at the way she needed to dress for that role. She took that to heart by not wearing dresses, not wearing any accessories and tying her hair back at work.
Although company culture will dictate your workplace dress to a point – plumbers wouldn’t look “right” fixing your leaking pipes in a business suit, I’m not sure having to play down large aspects of who you are helps you do your role to your fullest ability.
Over the years I’ve met many women who have fallen into a slightly more masculine style of dressing to reflect the male dominance in the industry they work in or specific role they have. I don’t mean it’s all trouser suits and sharp collars, I mean they simply eschew anything deemed as feminine; so that’s any colour beyond navy, grey or black in suiting and they wouldn’t be caught dead in a floral print or soft floaty blouse.
All of this is often done on a completely subconscious level rather than with any intent, and as we tend to take our cues from those around us, it’s hardly surprising. Ironically, with the arrival of an array of pinks, mints and lilacs in men’s business shirts any colour in the office is often now the domain of the boys.
I can remember once having the privilege of watching a woman I worked with present an idea she had for the business to members of her senior team. In that moment (and no doubt many other moments) she was incredibly compelling and charismatic. Her ideas were solid, she came across as a total expert with extreme credibility. Her colleagues would have no cause to doubt her sincerity or her competence. I was there at that moment because she had sought my advice for her business dress and we were about to meet to discuss her wardrobe. I was so glad I got to observe her in that arena, as it helped me formulate a plan for her. She too had taken on the ‘fitting in with the boys’ mantra as she felt being feminine would undermine her in her workplace. After witnessing that small exchange I felt softening her dress a little would more likely add another element to her credibility, rather than damaging it. A case of being ‘the whole package’, if you like.
I’m a big believer in being appropriately dressed at work, but I’m not sure that means you need to dress less like a woman in a male dominated industry to be taken seriously. The flip side of that is I don’t think you want to look overly girly either, I just think that bringing all of who you are to the table including your femininity, is a powerful and valuable thing to do.
My advice if this is something you are struggling with is to embrace who you are, don’t feel you need to supress it. Here’s some ways to do that:
- Keep the suit, but try a softer colour or team it with a soft blouse rather than sharp shirt.
- A dress worn with a tailored jacket is a great combo that still has you looking professional.
- Wear prints.
- Accessorise your outfits – simply adding a necklace and earrings will finish your look.
Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations, is a popular speaker and television presenter.