I've been in two minds about whether or not to publish this post. It is international Women's Day today, the day on which you look 'to help forge a better working world....a more inclusive, gender equal world.'
However, I don't want to sound pessimistic but after today's awareness of gender inequality in the work place, tomorrow things will go back to how they were yesterday. It is only through continued awareness, that little changes and attitudes start occurring, which can then overtime become meaningful change. For most women today looking to progress up the career ladder, they are still going to encounter a high level of gender inequality...indeed recent estimates have suggested that it will take to the year 2069 for women to be equal to their male counterparts in terms of pay. Yes it is good that gender inequality is starting to get more recognition, but how can women TODAY as individuals take more control over the gender inequalities they personally are encountering in the workplace.
My main suggestion is through appearance, and this is why I have been in two minds about whether to publish this post. Appearance is quite a well known and traditionalist view, but International Women's Day about breaking away from tradition by standing up to gender inequality. I know that we are in the 21st century and that appearances really shouldn't matter; with the accessibility to education and the internet, you would suppose that many of us would be more aware and sensitive to the world around us, educated, and in turn more open minded. But at the end of the day, we are also still human beings, who have deep rooted subconscious prejudices, many of which are formed from what we perceive from other people's appearances. As King. Margaret J. King, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis says 'Appearance is always a factor in primate hierarchy—how we approach others and think of them in our internal mind mapping of people and prestige.” Further to this research in the US has found that 'the human brain can judge the apparent trustworthiness of a face from a glimpse so fleeting, the person has no idea they have seen it.'
It is a result of the research and studies referenced above, that in my own personal opinion, women need to be aware of the image that they are projecting of themselves to the wider world. In the workplace, over the last 3 decades, the male uniform of suit, shirt and tie has stayed pretty constant, with maybe a few tweaks to the cut. However, conversely women's work place fashion has been extremely diverse. The 1980's was all about dressing for power, and fitting in with the men. In the late 90's and 00's there was more of a consensus for women to be confident and embrace their femininity, and in this decade we are now seeing a trend for gender neutral fashion, where neither gender is so obviously defined...I do seem to see more women buying into this trend than men however...are women reverting to trying to fit in with mens appearance again, but in a more subtle way?
Whichever trend you do/don't want to adhere to, there is one fashion accessory which I believe is essential for women in the work place - the square silk scarf. The silk scarf became an essential part of a women's wardrobe over half a century ago, and no longer serves just practical and/or adornment purposes. Wearing a silk scarf also suggests certain social connotations.
For the workplace, because appearances can conjour up all types of subconscious emotions and judgements, it is important for women to tailor their appearance, and present themselves, so people perceive them in the way they want to be perceived - strategic presentation. For the present day working woman, she has to learn to work with people's biases. She needs to gain the trust and respect of her colleagues, understand the system, and infiltrate the system before she can start looking to make little waves here and there towards gender equality. Its a question of playing the long game. As Maggie Jessup, author of Fame 101: Powerful Personal Branding and Publicity for Amazing Success, comments “A strategically presented woman has an immense advantage over their simply average or disheveled colleagues...If by manner, dress, and education...she conveys power and several other factors, she will be the one who catapults past her male competitors into a corner office and becomes unbeatable once there.”
A number of studies have suggested that the more presentable a person is in their appearance by how they dress, do their hair and makeup - the more attractive they are. (I know that sounds hideously controversial and not in keeping with the spirit of International Women's Day, but please bear with me!) The more attractive a person, the more likely they are to earn more and be more successful in their careers. Attractive people are also subconsciously seen as being more trustworthy, an important factor in the workplace.
For the work place, a silk scarf has the ability to make you more attractive. By wearing colour close to the face it will enhance and brighten facial features. Wearing a scarf also has the added benefit of framing and therefore drawing attention to the face. In a male dominated environment this is particularly important as men do not tend to look at the face of the people they interact with to the same extent as women. Therefore, as a woman it can be harder to engage with men, and get your voice heard.
Going back to what I touched on before, a silk scarf also has social connotations which can be helpful in the workplace. Traditionally, silk scarves have been a reserve of the wealthy, the Empress Josephine having an extensive collection of fine silk and cashmere shawls. By the mid twentieth century silk scarves had become associated with the notorious fashion houses, who would send exclusive silk scarves to loyal customers on special occasions. Limited edition scarves could also act as specific indicators for those in the know. Both then and now in the present day, by wearing a luxury silk scarf, it implies that the wearer is successful as they would not have been able to have the scarf otherwise. Appearing as successful, can again also signify that the wearer is trustworthy.
To make a silk scarf work for you in the work place, the trick is to choose one which uses contemporary colours and prints, and will work alongside your complexion and your modern day wardrobe. It is also about taking the time to learn how to style your scarf, (of which you will find that there are many tutorials to help you on youtube) and gaining confidence in wearing a silk scarf as an accessory to your work wear.
It is a testament to the powerful connotations of the silk scarf, that so many successful women today, are renowned for their scarf wearing. Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund Managing Director is always seen wearing an array of different styles of scarf - from silk, to wool and cashmere. Likewise, it has been highlighted in the past week how our own Prime Minster, Theresa May has a fondness for Hermes scarves, the latest one having been sported at Prime Ministers questions last Tuesday....was she or was she not trying to appease the French under the current circumstances, by wearing this luxury accessory from one their most celebrated fashion houses? Or maybe she was trying to the accentuate the colour of her eyes, and get the predominantly male House of Commons to look at her face and take note of what she was saying. Such is the power of the Silk Scarf.
I hope you have found my article to be an interesting insight to the silk scarf, and that it will help you on the way to workplace empowerment!
Let me know if you have any questions/comments!