From the start let me just establish that I am not advising or suggesting you change your personal style. However, in the course of exploring and examining what could be keeping professional women of color from being taken seriously, in discussion, some women have offered that they were engaged in conversation around their style preferences more often than the projects they were leading or participating in.
Their knowledge and expertise were dismissed when it came to the work, but sought after when it came to fashion and shopping.
How do you manage those incidents without being rude? Acknowledge the compliment then immediately turn the conversation to the real subject; why everyone got out of bed that morning and convened at this place called the office. Keep the conversation focused on the work.
Is Your Personal Style a Professional Distraction?
However, if you find your fashion sensibility constantly the topic of discussion, consider whether your personal style is a distraction in the environment in which you work. More importantly, is it impeding management’s ability to really see your capabilities?
If colleagues and key stake holders are paying more attention to what you are wearing rather than what you are doing, perhaps it is time to take a personal brand and image audit. It may not seem fair, but you have probably figured out already that very little in life is.
Here are some self-auditing questions that can assist you in determining whether your style is a distraction in the office.
What do you want your everyday look to say about you?
What is the dress code in your place of employment?
- Most companies today have adopted a business casual dress code. If you are not sure how business casual is defined where you work, consult the employee manual or check in with HR. There are also countless resources online to help you unravel this.
- Pay attention to how the managers and directors and executive leadership dress. This is particularly important if you aspire to any of those levels.
On any given day, where do you look like you are going?
- On a date
- The club
- Hanging out with friends
- The Health club
- Set of a reality TV show
- Fashion shoot
How often does someone comment on what you are wearing?
What are the comments about?
Do you consider yourself fashion forward? Are you up on and wear the latest fashions and hottest designers? That’s fine, but does that make you stand out from your peers? If it does, it probably is not a good thing. Why? People speculate and make judgments all the time about how other people spend their money.
Do you brag about your shopping exploits? Nothing helps make your personal style a distraction than this.
Do you have a new pair of shoes or two every week? While it may not be anybody’s business, it tells people what your focus is. Again, it may not be fair, but that’s the reality. How’s this for unconscious bias: “if we promote her she’s only going to buy more shoes.”
Do your clothes fit properly? Nothing sends a bad impression more than clothes that are too tight, too short, or cut too low. It begs the question what type of attention are you vying for?
Is your color palette visible from two blocks away? Loud colors and prints are not only distracting, but are irritants to the eyes with prolonged exposure. Wear them in moderation or balanced with darker or muted colors. Read up on the science of colors and what they communicate.
If you work in an environment that does not have a dress code, please do not suspend common sense. It is still a place of business. I dedicate an entire chapter to dressing for success – or not – in my book, The Young Professional’s Handbook.
There are any number of potential roadblocks to success for women of color. Your style being a distraction is an easily removed one. Don’t let your personal style become a professional distraction. Get noticed for the things that can make a difference in your career trajectory.