While gray hair for men in the office often brands you as the wise sage who brings gravitas and experience to a meeting, gray hair (and age) is rarely an asset for women.
In her Washington Post opinion piece, “Thank You, Miss Clairol, columnist Ruth Marcus tells the story of Lisa LaFlamme, 58, the anchor of Canada’s most-watched nightly news show. LaFlamme was sacked after 35 years with the CTV network and replaced by a 39-year-old man. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/08/23/lisa-laflamme-gray-hair-workplace-sexism/
According to reports, La Flamme, like many women, decided to go gray during the pandemic. Her new boss reportedly asked, “who approved the decision to let Lisa’s hair go gray?”
Really? Does an adult woman need permission to go natural?
Fair or not, the reality in study after study is that women are under more scrutiny in terms of how they look. Appearance counts more for women and age hurts women more than men in how they are viewed. That’s why Ruth Marcos colors her hair (as do I).
It reminds me of a remark by Dee Dee Myers, the first female presidential press secretary: “People can’t hear a word that a woman says until they decide if they like her hairstyle or not.”
During the pandemic and the rise of remote and virtual working, I started talking to clients, colleagues, and friends about how all of these changes would affect us in the long term. In many ways, the pandemic accelerated trends already happening – the shift to a more remote, digital and virtual workplace, a less hierarchical organizational structure, and a realignment of industries fueled by new technologies.
As I talked to more people, I started working on a book, The New Brand You: How to Wow in the New World of Work that will come out in the fall. You can preorder here.
So far the office wars are continuing over remote vs hybrid vs in-office. Many workers are digging in their heels about remote working and they have the upper hand due to the job shortage. Many corporate bosses are hoping the old way of working together in an office comes back in full force in the fall.
Wall Street Journal columnist, Peggy Noonan, makes a compelling argument about the importance of working together for both organizational and national culture. “I don’t want America to look like an Edward Hopper painting,” in an article titled, “The Lonely Office is Bad for America”
No one knows for sure how the office wars will end. But one thing, I believe is certain, you will have to be an adept marketer of Brand You in the new world of work.
During Covid, you were forced to work from home.
Now, if you choose to work from home, you’re choosing to not be in the office. And that doesn’t sit well with many bosses.
Bosses often assume you’re doing less when you opt for hybrid or remote work.
The reality is the opposite.
A January Gartner survey of 4,258 employees found that 43% of remote workers and 49% of hybrid workers were highly engaged, compared with 35% of on-site workers.
Bosses favoring office workers could stall career growth for working-from-home employees, particularly parents and especially mothers, who choose to work from home as the better choice to juggle their workload. https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-uneven-odds-for-promotions-with-hybrid-work-11626062462?page=1
I’ll be looking at every candidate’s branding over the next months leading to the Democratic primary. Politicians tend to be good at branding, so there are lessons and tips that can be useful in our own careers. I might as well start with Elizabeth Warren who has been so quick out of the gate with her ideas and proposals.
Elizabeth Warren: The Can-Do, Policy-Heavy Brand
Usually, presidential candidates take a safe approach and are very vague about proposals, at least in the beginning. Not Warren. She’s hit the ground running with her ideas and how to implement them. Here are the key ones so far:
- Universal Child Care
- Wealth Tax
- Student Debt Cancellation
- Break Up Big Tech
Presidential candidates wrap their brand in red, white and blue. In her banners and website, she stands out with her range of colors including a cool mint blue as her primary color. Visual identity is important, look how far Trump got with his red MAGA hats!
While Warren can project as smart and wonky, she also makes herself relatable with her news bits on Game of Thrones.
Self-Branding tip:Be known for your bold ideas that deal with problems in your company/department/industry.
I have always found it hard to find clothes that are professional and stylish. Finally, there is a group of fashion startups launched by women focused on clothes you can actually wear to the office. Bloomberg Business Week features four of them: MM. LaFleur, Senza Tempo, Argent and Les Lunes in its Fall Style Special.
It’s important, especially for women, to look the part at work because of the connection people make between how you look and how people perceive you and your abilities on the job. You’ll never make it to the C-suite if you look like a secretary.
Dressing for work has always been easier for men. Men tend to wear a uniform to work: a dark suit and tie in a formal office setting and khakis and a button down shirt for casual offices.
Women have more choices but also more opportunities to blow it. As the Argent website puts it, “Women face a sartorial double bind, too original or forgettable, too feminine or not enough, too uptight or casual. It’s time to change the conversation – and your clothes.”
How you dress is even more important than serving as a means to create positive perceptions about your abilities.
Studies have found that what we wear at work even affects how we perform. You truly can dress for success.
One woman I’ll call “Rachel” came up for a private speed branding session after a talk recently. Rachel’s boss had asked her if she could take on a new project, and Rachel gave her a truthful response. She said, “Honestly, I’m swamped. I can’t take on anything more.”
In the course of the conversation, Rachel’s boss told her that she wasn’t as productive as other members of the department – something that took Rachel completely by surprise. In fact, Rachel felt that she was one of the most productive members of the team!
It’s a common problem. Two people – a boss and a direct report – with vastly different perceptions of a situation.
The business world, like most places, operates on perceptions. As brand managers know, it often doesn’t matter which product wins in objective performance tests, what really matters is which product people perceive to be best. Likewise, you have to be perceived to be a top performer for it to count, too.
You have to care about other people’s perceptions about you, especially your boss’s perceptions about you. While it’s true that you have the most control over your self-brand, if you work in a company, your boss is probably your number one target market for Brand You.
Rachel realized that she had a serious problem. She was branded in a way that she didn’t want to be branded by her boss – someone important to her career success at her company.
What can Rachel do to change perceptions?