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What Not to Wear

What Not to Wear

. . . at work
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My friend and fellow executive looked slightly sheepish as he came into my office and closed the door. As soon as I saw him, I knew what was coming.

"Diane," he said with a pained expression, "I have to ask you to talk to one of my people."

I nodded, "Okay. Who is it, and what is she wearing?"

As one of few female executives in what is still a male-dominated industry, I've been called on countless times by male colleagues to speak to female employees about appropriate work attire. I've had awkward talks with women about casual clothes, tight clothes, rumpled clothes, short skirts, too much makeup, too much cleavage, overdone hair, over-dyed hair, and much more.

Uncomfortable conversations

Despite what some of my male counterparts seem to think, the fact that I'm a woman doesn't necessarily make it easy to talk to another women about her appearance at work. But if someone has taken the trouble to come to me on her behalf, I know it's important that she hear this feedback, so I push past the awkwardness and endeavor to deliver my message in the most positive and encouraging way I can.

These kinds of talks are hard and they don't always go well. The best experiences I've had come when I'm able to establish a level of connection and trust with the person so that they feel safe and supported rather than judged. So I always arrange to meet in person and privately, outside of work. If I don't already know the woman personally, I make an effort to get to know her and to share some of myself as well.

Then I start with the facts. I note the incredible power of first impressions and how they are based mostly on visual cues like your appearance and body language. I share with the person that someone has come to me with an issue related to her appearance, and, as kindly as possible, I get very specific and direct about what that issue is. I try to offer clear, practical guidance about what she can do differently and I make clear that this feedback is coming from senior-level colleagues who care about her and her career. Invariably, the woman asks who that colleague is, but I never tell. It's uncomfortable.

More than anything, I try to leave the person feeling like I'm in her corner. I've learned to expect the person to be sensitive at first—I certainly would be! But I know I've been successful when I see the person make positive changes and when she returns my smile, sometimes even with a twinkle in her eye.

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Diane Paddison

Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.

Sign up for TCW's free e-newsletter, Lifework with Diane Paddison, for biweekly updates and encouragement for women who desire to pursue God through their calling and career.
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Displaying 1–3 of 7 comments

Sandy

June 20, 2014  2:52pm

Ha! I agree. If you are wondering why this article was written in 2014, then you are not the target market. Great article to send to younger employees that are just starting out and need a little advice. Thanks for shooting straight.

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J. Jackson

June 04, 2014  9:16pm

I so impressed with your artical on proper dress in the work place. I see this everyday in the work place where I am employed, women coming in wearing subjective attire. Pants, shirts and dresses that too tight, too short and blouses that are cut too low. I work in a hospital and I am a Christian I am so tire of trying to communicate with some one whose blouse is so low until I can see all the way down into their blouse. When I am talking to someone I like to look a person in the eye but when I am talking to them I have to be looking sometime a way from them. You are absolutely right, it is distracting. It does say a lot about them. I think some women think that it make them more attrative or appealing but it doesn't. What kind of message are they sending. I like dressing professional and looking like a lady. I am not a lawyer or a doctor but I do work in the proffessional world, I am a Health Care Coorniator. You don't have to show it for someone to know you have it!

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Cee Cee

June 03, 2014  7:55am

I found this article very helpful. If you did not, or did not understand why this was written, then it was most likely not for you! Most HR departments have to record every complaint. As a young woman navigating through the corporate world, I would appreciate a colleague coming to me (if it was in a sensitive way) instead of male colleagues going to HR.

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