The right balance - the limits of dress for success?
Executive appearance – and style – is the elephant in the room of diversity.
Getting executive appearance right is more difficult for women and minorities, as they face higher and more ambivalent standards. There is pressure to fit it, but too much conformity may be looked at negatively.
Successful executive appearance means presenting yourself in a way that is genuine to you while projecting professionalism and avoiding anything that distracts your audience. When your appearance is not aligned inside and out, that lack of harmony sends signals to your audience. When you are genuine, you feel confident, you generate trust, and others notice.
A one-size-fits-all model of dress for success is, to say the least, problematic.
First, it doesn’t take into account that dressing artificially doesn’t lead to success, and second, it disregards the fact that the same outfit may not communicate the same message when worn by individuals with different backgrounds.
Many times, the corporate environment is not supportive of or clear about multicultural executive appearance. And when people have to conform to models of dressing that suppress who they are the consequences are detrimental to the employee and the business.
There are no hard, general rules about the balance between conformity and genuineness.
The tips above offer guidance, but what works and what doesn’t, and how, when and where has to be figured out on a case to case basis.
Business professionals who care about their cultural identity usually lack role models for an empowering executive appearance. And many times companies do not realize that this is an issue of diversity and inclusion with strong implications for talent retention.
For the increasingly diverse millennial workforce, self-expression is a matter of great significance.
Savvy companies know they must create an inclusive and supportive environment to leverage talent, unlock productivity and amplify engagement. Fostering multicultural executive appearance—that is, creating an environment in which individuals can express who they are professionally and culturally, and feel empowered—has become a corporate necessity.
To fill this gap in corporate life, I have partnered with Cosmin Gheorge, MD. a certified cultural intelligence consultant, to offer an interactive workshop “Cultural Corp-Couture” on empowering multicultural executive appearance and fostering an inclusive workplace.
I would love to hear your questions about executive appearance as well as comments about challenges and possibilities in your workplace. Email me! Be genuine, inside and out. Mara
About the author
Mara Kolesas, Ph.D., is a style with substance expert, based in Berkeley, CA, who provides intelligent styling for professionals. She grew up in Buenos Aires where she breathed style from an early age. She went on to a career in political science, studying for a doctorate in New York City, and later lived in Florence, Rome, Berlin and Beirut, where she pursued my two passions: she studied and promoted citizen empowerment, diversity and inclusion, and she explored small boutiques, helping friends find outfits that gave them joy and confidence. Along with her artistic eye and knowledge of fashion, she brings analytical and social expertise to a field with superficial associations.Website Facebook Twitter