352: Adrift for a Bit

 25 June 2016

The purpose of this blog was to educate on how to dress for the C-suite in the conservative workplace. However, I was recently adrift with that idea, recognizing that the conservative workplace is a dying breed.

I knew this was a shrinking breed as evidenced by the lack of suits for women and the disappearance of many of the brands that produced them. However, the Wall Street Journal informed the world earlier this month that the core, the heart, the belly-of-the-beast bastion of suit-wearing power dressing—Goldman Sachs—has eliminated their requirement that all employees wear suits at all times.

Although sweatpants and flip-flops are still prohibited, sweaters, polo shirts, and capri pants are allowed. PricewaterhouseCoopers beat Goldman to the punch by a few weeks and did them one better, permitting jeans as long as there are no client meetings.

According to the WSJ of June 4-5, “It also reflects the ever-changing world of banking, in which big financial institutions are constantly evolving to stay relevant as financial technology firms attempt to take away business and as many bank clients, including in Silicon Valley, continue to shun formal wear.”

This is why I didn’t post last week… I wasn’t sure what the purpose was anymore. So I sat with it. And in the meantime I returned to reading What Works: Gender Equality by Design, by Iris Bohnet. Normally I finish a book in a day or two, but this is one I’ve been reading off and on for a month or two. The problem is that every few pages I read something that makes me really angry. I put the book down and stomp away.

For example:

“A fascinating experiment entitled “The Emergence of Male Leadership in Competitive Environments” supports the notion that stereotyping of the self and others interact in intricate ways. A group of researches showed that female MBA students at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business* were selected as leaders much less often than their established skills warranted—because women as well as men conformed to what we expect of their genders. Male MBA students behaved in a more overconfident manner than their female classmates and were thus more likely to be chosen as leaders. In the experiment, before having to select a leader, everyone participated in a math task, learned about how well he or she did, and was paid based on his or her individual performance. Fifteen months later, the students were randomly assigned to groups, and each group selected a leader who would perform another math task on the group’s behalf. His or her performance would determine every group member’s earnings.

Group members had five minutes to consult each other and decide who would be the representative to compete with other group leaders on their behalf. People could talk freely but had to state and record on a piece of paper how well each of them thought they would perform in the upcoming math task. It turns out that the men were more optimistic about their future performance than their female counterparts because they misremembered how well they had done in the past by a larger extent than women. Men had an inflated recollection of their past performance, overestimating it by about 30 percent; women also remembered their past performance as higher than it actually was, but by only about 14 percent. Based on these self-assessments, men were more likely to be chosen by their groups. Choosing the wrong leader had consequences. As you might expect, actual past performance was a much better predictor of future performance than the students’ memories, most especially the male students’ inflated recollection.”

While my initial reaction was anger, that anger has metamorphosed into fuel.

This blog is going to take a slightly different tack, no different than what a good navigator does when the winds around her boat change. Forget the C-suite of the conservative workplace. Or rather, keep it and include much more. Make it about power, and expressing power through how you dress.

The rules are the same—two things on top, focus on the face, equal power—but the rules are expressed differently in different environments. It’s like houses. If you live in the southwest you have a flat thick roof because you are more concerned with temperature control than shedding rain or snow. In the north, you have a pitched roof, unless you’re into modernism and think you can, over the long haul, beat Mother Nature. In that case I wish you well but I digress. The point of the roofs is that the principle is the same—you want a roof over your head that will protect you from the elements, whatever your local elements happen to be. In the workplace you want clothes on your body that support your efforts, whatever your local dress code happens to be.

You want everything, right down to the clothes on your back, to serve your purposes. You want everything, especially the clothes on your back, to serve your purposes.

*The average GMAT score of a Booth student is 726; students at Harvard’s B-school average 725. So we know they’re smart, no matter what their gender.

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