Looking like men is not the way to success – phew! By Joanna Gaudoin*

WICE winners

It’s a regular topic of conversation in the media and at my events and workshops too, particularly those which are a female audience only – how to stand out appropriately and avoid criticism in a male dominated work environment of which there are still many.

Just on Saturday, there was a debate in one of my workshops about women wearing pale pink to an important meeting. It’s amazing the seemingly simple decisions that generate not only debate but which can have a huge impact on how we are perceived as women.

With a third of the cabinet now female and the work place balance having changed over recent years, work environments are no longer the male focused zones they once were.

Many women feel criticised in the workplace and much of this seems to be at the ‘shallow’ level of their appearance.

A tempting response is to try to mirror men, ok seeing a woman in a tie is a rare thing but grey suits and conservative clothing, lacking in colour can been seen as the answer.  Not at the WICE (Women in Construction & Engineering ) Awards it would seem.

Business colleagues of mine went to this awards dinner the other week, I was delighted to hear of the glamour and elegance of the award winners, totally breaking the stereotype of women in the building and engineering industries. These ladies had well and truly ditched any trace of hard hats and overalls and embraced their personalities and femininity. No hint of blending in, a fabulous variety of outfits with not a hint of a uniform.

The pressure to be taken seriously as a woman is constant, there are 3 key themes that I hear frequently and would like to address.

“Should I cut my hair?” I think the starting point for this question is that most men have short hair so women feel this make them stand out and look too ‘girly’. In my view shorter hair can make you look more dynamic. There are 2 very important considerations though. If you feel most yourself with long hair then that is what you should have, all of us perform to the best of our abilities when we feel like ourselves.   However, what you do need to avoid with long hair is it being a distraction, anything that is a distraction, whether male or female is a negative. In professional life, you want people to focus on what you are saying. Therefore, especially if you have a tendency to flick your hair or fiddle with it then make sure it is out of reach!

“Black and white gets me heard and taken seriously.” Absolutely, black and white communicates authority – it is the most ‘extreme’ combination of dark and light tones. However, if they don’t suit your personal colouring, they will draw attention away from your face. It’s about finding your version of ‘authoritative’ if your industry allows – mine is navy and off-white. Still striking and authoritative but draws people more towards my face which is where I want the focus as it’s my communication centre.

“I avoid ‘colour’. Men criticise it and get ‘scared’ by red.” There is a point to make that as the number of women increase in the work place, if they embrace ‘colour’ then this will become the new ‘normal’ even in the more ‘’serious’ and currently male dominated sectors. However, small steps are the way forward. Firstly, to know which colour tones, such as the specific type of red, suit you is important, think back to the face focus already mentioned. Secondly, it doesn’t have to be wearing a dress in a ‘colour’. You can start small and introduce colour through accessories – a scarf, necklace, shoes, even a handbag to build up slowly.

Being a woman is a wonderful thing, we have skills that are highly valuable in the work place, some that are different but some that are the same as men. It doesn’t mean we should try to look more masculine to achieve. The important thing is to dress appropriately for your role and your day ahead and feel like you so you perform to the best of your ability.

So how can you start to feel more like you in how you dress for work? If you’d like to look at this in more depth and boost your confidence, Joanna will be running a Masterclass on ‘The Importance of Image & Impact for Professional Success & How To Increase Your Influence’ on 26th June. Click here to learn more and book. Early bird runs out on 12th June.

* Joanna Gaudoin is a personal and corporate image expert, passionate about helping women look and feel confident. Joanna is an associate of Voice At the Table. Read more about Joanna here.