Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Looking Like a Leader

On July 15th 2014, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, completed one of the most radical Cabinet reshuffles in recent years.  Putting aside our personal views on the politics of it all – let me talk about something which yes, is deliberately gender biased.  Bear with me if you’re a gentleman reading this – it is important and it is relevant to you.

One of Cameron’s strategies has been to dramatically increase the number of women holding a Cabinet brief.  So a host of women have been promoted with a deliberate intent to remove the ‘pale, stale and male’ brand of politicians who have been kicking around the Westminster village for a very long time.

So, the scenario is as follows.  These women are about to be photographed as they walk into the very highest echelons of political power – Number 10 Downing Street, London.  My question is simply this: have they been successful in looking like a leader?  Does the look they have chosen for their ‘visual signature’ convey authority, credibility and yes – power? Remember, this is, after all, one of the most important moments (if not the most) in their career.  So, let’s not kid ourselves – what they wear matters.  See the images here.

So, the question is: how did they do?  Well, to be honest – not great.  I see ill-fitting garments, too big, too small, too sexy, too ‘old’, too much like I’m going to an engagement party, wedding, retirement lunch or drinks reception.

Why aren’t women better at consistently getting it right?  Perhaps because they don’t know some critical principles for consistently dressing to look like a leader:
·       Appropriate – for the occasion, time of day, climate, culture of the working environment, objectives in terms of the impression that you want to convey.
·       Fit – because folds in garments, be they vertical or horizontal, mean the clothes don’t fit properly.
·       Colour – too much bright colour or pattern are a distraction.  Where is the eye drawn when it’s so bright or vivid that it can be seen from the International Space Station?
·       Accessories and Details – they need to be business appropriate.  You’re going to work – not a disco (clutch bags for work? I think not).  In addition beware ‘old lady’ shoes; too high a heel; a good bra (one lady bounced in to Number 10), too short a split on a skirt or dress……and so it goes on.
·       Immaculate grooming – always, always, always, always.

Some women did get it right; many didn’t.

Remember, for men and women, looking like a leader means simply this: when you get it right, we notice you.  When you get it wrong, we notice the clothes.