Have you ever watched one of those films from the 1980s like Working Girl or Baby Boom and really looked at the corporate style of the main female characters? You wouldn’t be wrong for noticing how much the style was influenced by menswear. All boxy, broad shoulders, pantsuits and pinstriped.
Nowadays, the corporate dress code at many workplaces is a lot more relaxed. Women feel more free to express themselves through what they wear. And that masculine aesthetic has much less of an influence on our corporate wardrobe.
I’ve decided to take this further. To eschew the boxy and boring aesthetic of traditional corporate wear, I’m totally embracing pink in my work lewks. But this rose-hued display stands for so much more than a gorgeous pink, sparkly sweater with pink stripes crossing through my trousers. It comes from a full embrace of female strength and recognition of its value in a work context.
Like women’s corporate wear of the 1980s, the corporate world has traditionally favoured the masculine perspective. The reason for that is simple: it (corporate culture) was designed by men. And I succumbed to this mindset when I started out in my career as a lawyer in the 2000s. I had an extensive collection of boring pantsuits in various shades of grey, black and navy. I thought they made me look so professional, but looking back, I was denying my true desire to turn up in something brightly coloured, with strategic draping and a feminine silhouette (picture what Amal Clooney is often seen in as she dashes from high powered summit to court room).
Emotion had no place in the boardroom. And I would mentally beat myself up if I showed any emotion in the workplace. It was considered a weakness, and showing vulnerability in the workplace was to be avoided at any cost.
Over the years, women have dropped out of the leadership track for many, many reasons. But one of them is undeniably down to the fact that to succeed in a man’s world you had to deny those traits that women tend to embody more than men do. And that denial of ones true self, that inauthenticity, comes at a psychological cost. It’s just not worth it if it makes you miserable to deny your true sense of self.
What is so encouraging, however, is that this is changing. Studies show that diverse workplaces and teams yield far better results whichever way you measure them. And traits that have stereotypically been identified as feminine traits are now recognised as strengths that are vital for effective leadership and management.
Intuition, empathy, collaboration, conversational turn-taking, networked thinking, nurturing and long term and global perspective taking. They are all human traits. But culturally (and stereotypically), women embody these traits more naturally than men.
This kind of emotional intelligence is essential for solving the most pressing problems that arise in business, politics, education and socially. And organisations are slowly waking up to this, even if we still have a long way to go before this is the norm.
So what has all this got to do with something as seemingly trivial as wearing pink? I’ve always argued that, whether we like it or not, what we wear to work is important. It says a lot about who we are and the regard we have for those we work with. Pink has traditionally been associated with little girls, the overtly feminine and trivial. Many men are still reluctant to wear pink for fear of having their masculininity questioned.
Of course this is changing and I always respect a man for rocking a pink shirt or sweater. And as for me, I want to wear pink as a way to show that there’s strength in the feminine. There’s confidence to be found in being true to yourself. But this is not just limited to a colour alone. I’ve also taken to wearing floral dresses to work (specifically, this one here). And I’m partial to doing a little “power clashing” with prints in my outfits.
So as you’re planning your work wardrobe this season, have a think about what colours, styles and prints you want to wear to express your true self.