There has been no shortage of solutions being put forward in the quest to tackle gender diversity in the work place ranging from quotas and policy to cultural changes and targeted recruitment. These solutions place a lot of emphasis on a shift in attitudes, corporate governance and government intervention but there is a lot that aspiring women can do themselves and how they dress in the office is a great place to start.
Before I continue I must confess that I am writing from the perspective of a man. But, while I cannot say I have ever been discriminated against because of my gender, I can talk about the role smart dressing for the office has played in my own career progression.
I was about 26 when my boss, over an after work drink, told me: “you have everything going for your career, you are highly capable and a proven track record but there is one thing that is holding you back. You need to improve the way you dress in the office”. I was a little taken back by this at the time. I always felt I dressed smart enough.
I wore a smart shirt and trousers and a nice pair of shoes. And as long as I continued to deliver results for the business, why did it matter?
But it turns out that she was right. Research by Image Dynamics has shown that 55% of another person’s perception of you is based on how you look and I can understand that. You only have to sit on the train in the morning and observe the people around you to see this is true.
The person who invests in sharp, quality tailoring – whether that is a male or a female – stands out by a mile and really does look the part. They invariably draw admiring glances and a sense of wonder about what that person might do for a living while the rest of the passengers go unnoticed. The way you dress can give you that “X Factor” and, given that job promotions are often down to the perception of you across the wider management team and not just your direct manager, it can play an important role in your career progression.
The positive “side effect” of smart dressing in the office is what this can do for your confidence.
Research conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management on ambition and gender found that, when compared to their male counterparts, women tend to lack self-belief and confidence. This, the research notes, can lead to a cautious approach to career opportunities. But it’s not just women who can lack self-confidence in the office and I can speak first-hand about the difference wearing a good suit to make in how you feel going into work every day.
So, when you go into work tomorrow, think about how you dress. Look at your peers and, more importantly, look at the most senior women in your business and how they dress. Does the way you dress help give you that “X Factor”? Have you invested appropriately in your working wardobe? If there is room for improvement it might be time to do a bit of shopping. An investment in your working wardrobe is an investment in your career.
Rob White is a Director at Nooshin London , designing premium office wear for women. Nooshin London also offers a made to measure and bespoke tailoring service from their showroom on Savile Row.