Following on from my last blog I am going to delve deeper into what causes women to feel the need to dress like a man, to wear dark colours and to blend in.
Whose fault is it anyway?
In my 8 years of image consulting and in my 25 years of working in the private and public sector including many male-dominated environments I can say with certainty that the average women working in a mixed and also a male-dominated industry such as finance, law, IT or engineering, will make some very significant choices of what to wear to work which go against what she truly wishes. And it is causing a MAJOR problem.
The most interesting and surprising outcome of questioning more and more of my clients and friends in relation to this topic is how appalled men are when they hear the truth. How so many men are astounded and disbelieving when I explain why women are choosing to 'hide' their bodies at work and to 'blend in' in dark colours.
But let's go back to women and ask the big question...
Why are many women not dressing like women when it comes to work?
Why do women feel the need to hide their feminine shape, to NOT stand out eventhough they are women of power, influence and leadership. What is going on? What is going wrong?
I am sad to say it is the F word. It is down to F E A R
Is for fear of showing FEMININITY. Women have a fear of showing their femininity in business. We are a nation builit on authority and power of men and sadly that is the root cause of the problem. Even women who are making huge waves in equality have confided in me that they feel the need to dress like a man and adversely to NOT wear feminine clothing as they won't be taken seriously. SERIOUSLY, this is the truth. An even worse and hugely concerning worry is that too many women, like the one interviewed for part 1 of this series, are frightened to show their femininity for fear of sexual harassment. We are STILL, as recently highlighted by Uber, subject to overt and covert sexual harassment and intimidation. And many women in small and large corporations are fearful of wearing something pretty, shapely, over the knee in case she attracts the 'wrong' attention.
is for fear of EXPRESSION. Further to the above we do live in a society that suffers from 'blending-in syndrome'. I have a whole talk on it. It also stems from our background of uniforms and uniformity, of historically wanting to be one of the tribe and being accepted. Most women have a workwear wardrobe of black, a little grey, maybe some navy and possibly a little colour along the way. Most women going on a night out in the UK will ask eachother 'What are YOU going to wear?' They want to know what the norm will be so that they can blend in, they have a fear of being the one that is (heaven forbid) over-dressed! The fear of turning up in a dress when everyone else is in jeans causes many women apoplexy! Conforming is key and it's killing our expression. (Yes, I have another talk on this, too as it is killing our personal brand as well as our ability to express our personality.)
is the fear of ACCOUNTABILITY. This one is simple. Many women - around 75% - believe that if they dress in a feminine way they will not be taken seriously. They believe that wearing colour, a style of dress that is feminine, will demean their accountability and lessen their status. They feel that they need to wear dark colours like their male counterparts, that wearing bright colours would suggest weakness. But every male I have ever questioned on the subject totally disagrees. They do not judge colour and actually LIKE AND RECOGNISE POWERFUL WOMEN WHO WEAR CLOTHES IN COLOUR TO STAND OUT, it is a sign of confidence and assertiveness.
Is the fear of REJECTION as women. We are holding onto the old adage of us being the weaker sex and role models thankfully, and slowly but surely are changing this. More women speakers are needed and we need to value ourselves and lose the fear of rejection. If we are turned down we need to consider it is their loss and move on, not chew over the why and NOT worry about our fees being too high!
So, where does this leave us?
......With a seriously big problem.
Whilst we are busy blaming our history of male-domination in industry and the corporate world for our pay-gap, our lack of female leaders, we are also not taking responsiblity for our own mindset and emotive choices when it comes to image which is the instant form of expression, the immediate way we communicate who we are.
By highlighting the issue and encouraging more women to dress as they truly want we are not too far away from changing - our clothes, our image and our mindset. And it's up to us women to take the plunge.
But until we lose our fears and recognise ourselves as strong and determined women who can embrace our femininity we will continue to create confusion for many men who we work with. Yes, there needs to be better support and structures in place for women when they have suffered sexual harassment but we have muddied our own waters with our visual expression in the workplace. It is time to embrace our gender, to show off and be fearless; to love ourselves as women first and then CEO's, managers, assistants. We need to allow our true colours to shine - to be divine and powerful; strong and sensitive; bold and beautiful; valuable and vulnerable. We need to dress as women who embrace exactly who we are.
'With the spread of conformity and image-driven superficiality, the allure of an individuated woman in full possession of herself and her powers will prove irresistible. We were born for plenitude and inner fulfillment'. Elizabeth Prioleau.
Women can dress powerfully and still look feminine. Women can wear fitting clothes, wear colour, and wear what we wish. Do we think Michelle Obama is a joke? Do we ridicule Oprah Winfrey and her message for a better mindset?
And this is what will lead to true equality. But we have to lose the FEAR TO EXPRESS first. Can you?
It has taken me many years to recognise the importance of our own mindset and the power of how we attract what we think and feel. As I begin the path of sharing my own story in my book 'And then there was green' I am expressing the clarity I now have for the 'victim' label which I carried with me from childhood into adult life. Having been bullied and abused as a child, as an adult I attracted the same which happened during my time travelling, in various roles in business and then finally as a police officer where I was bullied and suffered harassment from male and female colleagues. Harrassment or abuse is never acceptable but I recognise now that I was used to being a victim and the law of attraction governs our experience. Changing from within creates the change we need and desire around us.