Dress for success, i.e. dress like a man September 14, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, teaching, work.
Tags: clothes, professional dress, teaching, women in engineering
This week, I had a speaker from the career center come and talk to my classes in preparation for a career fair. He spent some time talking about appropriate dress, and showed examples of potential outfits for both sexes. I found this quite interesting, especially given a previous discussion on the topic of women’s dress on EngineerBlogs.
The first thing that caught my attention was that he said that women should wear their hair up if they want to be perceived as more professional. As a woman who has long hair, I can totally see this. I’m also not terribly happy about it because when my hair gets to a certain length, I start getting headaches if I wear it up. Beyond that, though, I think it’s interesting because of potential social implications. The speaker said that a woman who is willing to expose her neck comes across as more confident and competent. But that does make me wonder why…and the only thing I’ve been able to come up with is that women who wear ponytails look a lot more like men. Men who are considered ‘professional’ tend to wear their hair short. A woman who puts her hair up and exposes her neck looks more like a man with a short haircut, and men, in general, are going to be perceived as more professional. I may be wrong about that, but I couldn’t help but wonder.
Women’s clothing choices seemed more limited, IMO. It seemed like men could wear a lot of different things and still look ‘professional’. (I do have to note, however, that men don’t have extremely wide wardrobe choices to begin with.) By contrast, women’s clothing varied so much more in style, and most of them were not professional. Make sure you wear sleeves, be careful of color, watch the jewelry, etc. Beyond that, one of the outfits was one that I think a lot of other women would find professional or stylish but apparently weren’t perceived that way by potential employers. I’ve seen women criticize other women’s clothing, but apparently some of the choices that were being criticized as ‘unfashionable’ were being judged differently by employers. This makes me wonder if it’s not a good idea to get ideas of professional dress from other women, particularly if the field is much more male-oriented.
Beyond that, I had to wonder if presentations like this are ultimately harmful. On the one hand, I think it’s good to make sure the students understand the implications of their dress choices. Still, I have to wonder if these presentations reinforce ideas about what is professional and not, leading students to eventually make evaluations of others based on what they were told. I sort of feel like this is perpetuating a system where people are evaluated based on their clothing choices, especially on how feminine they look, rather than their technical ability. This is particularly frustrating because my observation is that someone who is quick to catch on to what constitutes professionalism may not necessarily be the best engineer.