Looks don't matter.
At least, that's the gigantic lie we tell our kids, and perhaps ourselves, in an effort to seem just and fair. It's one of those sentiments that should be true but, despite our best intentions, simply is not.
A range of studies speculates that it takes anywhere between three and seven seconds to make an impression, clearly not enough time to discuss anything of value. The alternative is to dazzle them with your looks and the research tells us that good-lookers not only make good impressions but they also make more money and get ahead at work.
Some of this is to be expected and I've always been a firm believer in the idea that if you want a job, you need to look the part. You wouldn't trust a doctor with egg on his tie and glasses falling off his head, so why trust a lawyer with a shapeless suit, and badly bitten nails? Politicians especially fall prey to quick judgements when it comes to appearances, whether they are fat or thin, sporting Dior or Members Only jackets. If you are woman, that goes double. Just ask Hillary Clinton about the regular pillorying she took on her hair, her make up, her pantsuits, and her wrinkles.
So asking the question if appearances remain more important to women than men when it comes to career advancement takes some guts because no one really wants to confront this particular elephant in the room. However one brave research company recently stepped up to the plate and asked that very question. While you could anticipate the general response, the perception of a double standard between women and men was nothing short of astonishing.
A whopping 90 per cent of the 501 female business leaders polled by Ipsos-Reid on behalf of Randstad Canada felt that overall image impacts a women's career progression, while only 37 per cent believe it has the same impact on men.
"The reality is, if you have the skills, and are willing to fight, you can push through these vain boundaries, but it is a fight -- don't kid yourselves," said Ms. Gina Ibghy, Chief People Officer at Randstad Canada.
"Judgment regarding a woman's appearance is a societal issue. It is a difficult subject to address directly but by telling women to value the work they do, over how other people perceive their appearance is a good start," suggested Ibghy.
How do we balance the disproportionate impact that appearance has on women? One option is to even the score. If we can't get society to give women a break, let's raise the bar for businessmen and place them squarely in the same cosmetic and sartorial hot seat. Forget blah shades of blue, grey and navy. It's time for them to take out their copy of GQ and make a statement about who they are and what they are capable of.
It's not only the suit, but the hair, the nails, and naturally shoes. And don't forget the make-up. I've known men who were lured into this clandestine world with just the slightest dash of foundation and powder during a TV appearance. Once initiated, they were hooked and never looked back.
And think of the greater societal good. If we can make men as insecure and dependent on the shallow perceptions of good looks, there may be no end to the spin off industries catering to the neo-dandy, which would positively serve our economy.
Fashion designers could start creating ready-to-wear men's suits that each season radically alters the lapel widths, button configurations and fabric patterns, so that men feel constant pressure to up-the-ante. Cosmetic companies could come out with lines for the professional man. There could be clandestine meetings at the office where men learn how to apply make up and decide which designer makes them look more powerful, commanding and competent.
And don't forget the trend piece, that "must have" item that changes faster than the weather forecast. Each season, there needs to be one item -- a man-scarf, tie pin or ascot -- that must be worn so it can then become obsolete in three months, at which point it must languish in the back of the closet until you decide it's truly out of style and donate it to charity.
A casual glance of male business leaders and politicians tells us that there is a lot of low hanging fruit that can be gathered for this particular harvest. Perhaps that will excuse my initial thought after learning that Angela Ardehnt, former Burberry CEO was to move over to Apple that maybe she'll bring some style to the fashionably challenged leadership at Apple.
So, if we as a society could decide that appearances were equally important to men as to women, that would be an important step in levelling the playing field at work. Trust me guys you won't regret the move. Consider it progress.