It is truly unfortunate that quality work does not move a person forward in a career. The advice being given in Ms. Hewett’s article (and soon to be published book) are effectively an admission that the academic and business worlds are made up of a ‘cronyism’ network – it’s not the quality of your performance (what you know), it’s the amount of power held by the people in your professional network (who you know). This is not ideal. Yet it’s both a reality and a topic the author has covered before in multiple publications, including Find a Sponsor (pictured here).
Yet, idealism aside, an interesting reaction can be found in the comments, which focus a lot of time and attention on a) the importance of professional appearance and b) the definition of professional appearance.
The comments that jumped out at me were those focused on how women must dress the part by locating designer clothes and bags, including heartfelt advice to shop at discount stores in wealthy neighborhoods. Mind you, I’ve done this many times over many decades – and I can spend loads of time talking about both the shopping techniques of non-wealthy women and the frustrations of being plus-size and/or curvy. To be more clear: when I am overweight it’s practically impossible to find appropriate new clothes. When I am not overweight I still do not have a fashion industry approved body. I can make it work but I rarely, if ever, manage to find clothes that actually fit correctly (new or used).
All of which sends me into a knee-jerk frustration-fueled reaction of: why…WHY….is it so important for women (not men, just women) to wear not only professional looking attire, but labels?
“…I made the classic mistake of assuming that success was all about doing my job extraordinarily well. If I put my head down and worked as hard as I knew how, my value to the organization would be self-evident, and, of course, I would be recognized and promoted. Right? I couldn’t have been more wrong.”
“In addition to my not understanding the importance of dressing the part, I didn’t understand that at these beginning stages of a serious and super-competitive career, I needed a sponsor – someone with power who believed in me and was prepared to propel and protect me as I set about climbing the ladder. Don’t get me wrong: I did acquire a ton of supporters and developed mentors among several close female colleagues. But they had little clout where it counted: when I came up for tenure.”
“‘m sorry – but I don’t see how your appearance was the problem here. It sounds more like not having made those crucial connections all the way up the chain of command is what damaged your chances at success. If it were your appearance – wouldn’t your own department have issues with you? You are selling yourself (and all women) short by suggesting you need to “look” a certain way in order to be considered for promotion.”
“Last but not least, dress the way that best emphasis’ you and project the image you want the world to see. Sorry jeans and a t-shirt are never appropriate except at home or after work. [Name], you got it right. Goodwill and Thrift stores in “upscale” or good neighborhood have designer brands that people donate. That was my secret years ago and still is when I need a good designer bag. Look the part without the price tag.”
“It’s sad but true, people judge you by your appearance first. As a minority woman, I know this truth first hand. It’s amazing the difference in response you get simply by your style of dress or hair style. You must look the part if you want to play the game. It pains me to admit it, but it’s true…Albeit, I agree we definitely have to make the right connections. Your appearance and connections can get you through the door, but it’s your knowledge and abilities that keep you there”