Diversity & Inclusion of Looks in the Workplace Isn’t Just Great for Fashion, It’s Great for Corporate America

I’ve sat on panel after panel but this is a first for me.  I am the only light skinned person in this entire conference, speaking about beauty in the workplace.  And I’m bubbling with excitement (and a bit of fish-out-of-water feeling) because I’m sharing the stage with four gorgeous, brilliant, fierce business women who are blowing me away with their poise, warmth and insights.  My friend Ty Heath of Linkedin organized an amazing conference for women of color, TransformHER, and she asked me to join this particular panel.  No question, I jumped at the chance.  Ty gave me an opportunity to discuss the truly important topic of beauty in corporate America.  While I write about this issue in Beautyskew, I’ve never had the honor to SPEAK about it.  I am thrilled that this topic is finally getting some real attention. 

I can totally understand why this is a key topic for the conference.  There is no denying that African-American women face a double challenge: they often have to concern themselves with BOTH not appearing too feminine or too “black.”  In this era of greater diversity an inclusion, the business world has loosened up the expectations of how we should look in the office. But let’s face it, we still have a long way to go.  I, myself, am still challenged with not looking either too sexy or too dowdy or too corporate. I wrote an angst-filled post about this last year when I had to prep for a huge speech in Norway.  What a pain to have to a. worry about what to wear, and b. have to curb our true selves so so others can feel comfortable.  Why is being comfortable so good anyway?

Diversity of looks goes beyond even ethnic identity or sexual identity.  In a recent Washington Post article, “Hey Goldman Sachs, does your dress code allow thigh-high boots?” the author, Buzz Bissinger, points out that a shift to casual attire may indicate a loosening of rules but doesn’t demonstrate a broad acceptance of divergent looks and styles despite the company’s claims of diversity and inclusion.  There’s still a big gap between allowing chinos in the office and being tolerant of all styles.  He continues to write: “… (A) shift to more “casual” attire is fine, as long as the choices are dictated by what others want, others think, others find appropriate. Which, of course, is antithetical to what fashion should be about: individuality, freedom, self-expression. What one wears, not just on heightened days but every day, should never be captive to anyone else except yourself. It is only clothing, which, as far as I know, is not harmful or lethal — unlike, for example, subprime mortgages. “

Bissinger’s passion is palpable.  How we look isn’t something to take lightly.  It’s fraught with anxiety, judgement, and insecurity. As Bissinger writes: “… In our society of self-suppression, nothing is more subject to instant judgment than clothing. You are defined by what you wear, and if you wear anything different from the mainstream, the furtive stars come out. Then come the snickers. Then come the inevitable stereotypes associated with styles of dress. Worst of all comes your own overwhelming self-consciousness, the sense that somehow, some way, you are actually being offensive by choosing to wear what you want, and that it’s better to be a lemming of conformity, boxy and boring, stultified and stifled, but not sticking out. So you jettison what is most sacred of all, your own sense of self.”

What Bissinger doesn’t stress as much is how our fashion can also also be a source of pride, fun, self-expression and happiness.  And these feelings undoubtedly make us more successful.  So, yes, it’s about time we engage, seriously, in the topic of beauty and fashion in the workplace.  From our hair styles to our clothing, to our thigh high boots, our ability to show up as we want is critical for our senses of self and of confidence. But, as I say on the panel, it doesn’t just impact ourselves.  It signals to our colleagues, our friends and families that we don’t need to hide ourselves, but rather embrace who we all are with pride and happiness.  And doesn’t a happier, more confident, more diverse workplace lead to a more corporate success? No question!

For a full look at the panel watch this:

BE outside the box, don’t just think it! Kicking Off my New Adventure on Expansive Living

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being both a panelist and a moderator for a few events at Advertising Week in NYC.  One of the perks of being on the speaker roster was that I was chosen among a few other women to be interviewed by Katie Kempner for her video series: “Perspectives with Katie Kempner.”  As Katie describes it on her site, this video series is a way to: “To inspire and empower working women who are attempting to live meaningful, happy, healthy lives as some combination of wives and partners, mothers, friends, sisters, daughters and successful professionals while retaining a sense of self and navigating the crazy 24/7 always-on life that is today’s reality.”

So what did we speak about?  Prior to the interview — I’m talking minutes prior — she asked me what am I known for and what I do at Google.  When I answered her, she looked at me nonplussed.  But when I told her that I live nine lives and try to integrate them all, then she got excited.  And that topic became the main subject of our interview.

And, thus, this interview became the first real forum for me to discuss my next adventure: to share my story on how to live a meaningful (successful? happy? — still not sure of the exact description yet) life.  Here goes: so many of us are an amalgamation of seemingly contradictory aspects.  When it comes to me, I’m part tech maven, part beauty/fashion commentator, part spiritual animal, part athlete, and part mother.  But we don’t necessarily celebrate or push those sides to their fullest, and certainly don’t always weave them together.  For years, I’ve been excited and energized, but also conflicted and challenged by the many nuances of myself.  On the one hand, I’ve been enriched by these many sides, they have opened up new opportunities for me.  I realized it’s time to fully buy my own seemingly random but fruitful, fun, expansive approach to life and inspire others with it.

On the other hand, I’ve been accused of giving people a mind fuck.  People often ask me, “wait, what, you work in tech and sit at the front row at fashion shows?”  Or, “huh, your speaking on big stages about creativity all over the world and are raising three kids?”  Or “you combine anthropology with technology?” And this is my favorite: “you dress like that and strictly observe the Jewish sabbath?”  Yep.  And what’s more, it’s BECAUSE of these different sides that I can be as fulfilled as I am.  Don’t get me wrong, I bitch and moan like the rest of us, so I’m not saying I’m fulfilled ALL the time.  But when I take a step back I can say I have lived, and know I will continue to live, a pretty badass life.  I believe I’ve found my success because I’ve embraced — versus compartmentalized or rejected– these different sides.  What’s more, I have found ways to interconnect them.

In the video, I give an early life example of this.  I studied in small, yeshiva high school. This meant I endured intense days filled with secular and Jewish studies.  Needless to say, college was not just a breeze compared to that but definitely eye opening. I was exposed to many different types of people and subject matters.  Did I reject all that despite having slightly different upbringing or lifestyle? No way! Moreover, I took my treasure trove of judaic studies and applied them to almost every subject!  By combining my two different worlds I realized I could stand out, and ultimately, succeed.

Another example: when I transitioned from my advertising life to Google, I felt like the biggest fish out of water, a total charlatan.  What did I REALLY know about tech anyway? But I was an expert on how to uncover human insight.  I studied social anthropology in college and then spent 20 years partnering with anthropologists to help me uncover those insights.  Aha! That was my special sauce. Leverage the study of anthropology to uncover what drives our deep relationship to the digital space.  That sparked an industry-first thought leadership series of studies, Humanizing Digital.  These insights not only drove digital campaign after digital campaign for my client, but also elevated my team within and outside of the company.

Of course the subject of beauty made its way into the video.  Like I have done in this blog for years, I encourage us to embrace it.  So many people I know see the subject as frivolous and therefore, unsuitable for intelligent business women or men to discuss.  Bull shit. There is no reason to not to weave beauty into our daily lives and let it inspire and empower us.  Yes, we can embrace beauty AND brains!

Ok, I think you get the gist.  I realized it’s time to fully buy my own seemingly random but fruitful, fun, expansive approach to life and inspire others with it.  I’m still spinning this concept around so I would LOVE your feedback.  Or at the very least have fun watching the video :).  Click the image below to watch.

Can Brick & Mortar Fashion Retail Resurrect Itself? A #Video Conversation with #experientailretail — Le Board — Answers the Question

Hello readers!  Apologies for being so out of touch. I’ve been caught up experiencing some great beauty and fashion experiences that I will THEN write about.  And… I’m writing a book!  Yep. In fact, I will be surfacing some of my book via Beautyskew over the next months to get your take on it.  

But now let’s go back to the topic at hand.

Henri Bendel, a fashion institution for close to 125 years, is shutting it’s doors.  It joins a long list of retailers.  Living in Manhattan I see the demise of retail, especially fashion retail, all around me as almost every block near my neighborhood displays at least one for rent sign.

The struggles retail are experiencing are not new.  Thanks to online shopping, retail, especially fashion retail, it is in bad shape.  I’m as much to blame as the rest of us.  I really hate clothing shopping.  I hate the process of going to a store, then trying to find something, ANYTHING, that fits my body and the look I’m going after.  I hate waiting on lines, I hate poor sales help and I hate the atmosphere of being surrounded by loads of clothes that squeeze me.  So I stopped shopping.  I hired an amazing stylist and we shop online and occasionally run into a store and where she finds me everything.

But I’ve always been a believer in the role of a great fashion shopping experience.  I just think most brick and mortar retailers haven’t cracked it. With perhaps a few exceptions out there, most clothing stores see the retail space as a depot to unload their inventory.   Yet, physical spaces can offer SO much more, especially more than online experiences.  They can offer a sense of adventure, customization, emotion and true style.  They we can be meeting grounds and places to experience new sensations.  Sure, physical spaces allow us to literally try on the styles.  But it’s more than that.  It’s only in a physical environment can you feel, smell and examine the the stitching, fabrics and textures.   In this era of  online-everything, we crave the physical — maybe even more so.  We’re still human, and it’s a fundamental need to want to connect with the physical spaces a places around us.  In anthropology this need is called “place making.”

And it’s only in a physical environment that we can connect with human beings in a nuanced, deeply emotional way.  These humans can be expert stylists who seek to truly understand our  bodies; our needs and our aspirations or other like-minded people who want to share — whether that’s their excitement around fashion or feelings about other issues.  There’s no surprise there is still love for the open bazaar or souk or shuk.  These are places where shoppers shop, yes, but more than that they come together to share in a cultural experience. (I happened to have written my senior Anthropology thesis on the topic so I’m very close to it.)

Good news, I think I found such a retail space that gets it: Le Board.  Conceived and developed by Creative Director, Sofia Karvela (who also happens to be my stylist — lucky me!) and CEO, John Aghayan,  Le Board is a retail experience that merges fashion with entertainment and, ironically, leverages the medium of immersive technology and human interaction.  It can host events like trunk shows, offer immersive tech experiences like holograms and VR “Behind-the-scenes,” and share the talent of thought leaders via panel talks, and art shows.   Another bonus?  Opening end of September, the store promotes brands of women-led businesses.

Beyond the many different aspects of Le Board, is the the feeling the experience evokes.   The ultimate mission of Le Board, Karvela explains, is to provide a place where “women could feel a part of something a little bigger…we created this space so we could bring women together to feel inspired…Women with goals…to give them hope to believe that whatever they want to do can happen. We use fashion as a great to avenue to bring these women together to create a look for themselves to inspire to go out there and do great, big things.”

Let’s hear it directly from Karvela in the interview I conducted at the shop a week ago.  (By the way, I’m wearing a latex dress which was related to the event which Le Board hosted, Social China…You can hear it in the background :)) Click image below for interview.

For more information visit: weareleboard.com

Pic of the Week: The Beauty of Raw Advertising

IMG_20131014_171553I’m walking to work yesterday and looked up to see this raw, simple ad for yoga.  I just love how it fits right into the landscape.  It is not only simple, and straightforward, like the buildings that surround it, but this ad communicates a quiet confidence that represents all of Chelsea, NYC.  The net result? Striking.

Pic of the Week: Richard Scarry in Action

What’s so great about walking on the High Line everyday?  I get to see men-at-work, i.e., real construction workers building more awesome-ness in our neighborhood.  I feel like I’m witnessing Richard Scarry’s What do People Do All Day in real life (minus the whiskers, big ears and tails typical of his characters, of course ;)) So cool.
 
 

Weekend Observations: Even Kids Get the Design Thing

I was walking in the streets of the Upper West Side of NYC with my younger two kids this morning.  During a conversation with my daughter, my 9-year-old son interrupts me to let me know he just saw something cool.  A minute earlier, he happened to notice a logo for a waxing salon, maxwax. (See above for logo.) He was impressed by how the logo positioned the letters so that they almost looked like “max” and “wax” were the same words.
I took this moment to broaden his appreciation for design. I said, “this is why design is so cool.  If all we saw were those same exact words printed in regular typeface on a white background, we probably wouldn’t have noticed the words, let alone took such delight in them.”
No question, beauty elevates our spirits even when it comes in the form of a simple logo for a waxing salon.
I grew up with a keen sense of fashion and make-up, but I never really noticed my aesthetic surroundings, let alone took any delight in them.  I want my kids to be more aware than I was of all the beauty that they encounter in the streets, in their schools and in their friends’ homes.  If my kids’ report cards are any indication of their future interests, art is never going to be a great pursuit for any of them.  But that certainly doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate it and make their lives that much happier because of it.

Week in Review: 8/12-8/18

Was on the road again a lot this week but got to experience the beauty of Chicago and Atlanta.  Here’s what we shared:

A story that woke me up to the fact that the little extras can make a huge difference Weekend Observations: A Story That Scared Me Stiff

It’s amazing the beauty that you literally stumble upon on the streets of NYC Pic of the Week: Cool Feminist Street Art

When people who don’t understand math think they can tell a story about beauty and unhappiness. Ugh! Oh Come On … This Study is Ridiculous!

More fun beauty-in-culture reading.  More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

On my way to the Cape! I’ll be sure to capture all the beauty that I encounter 🙂

Weekend Observations: Runway Show on the High Line

Given how nice the weather is becoming, I’m trying to walk the High Line to and from work.  I’ve mentioned the High Line in previous posts but in case this is your first time joining us, the High Line is the strip from 30th street and 10th avenue to 14th street and 10th.  It used to be a raised railroad line and was turned into a beautiful public garden a few years ago. I highly recommend you try it out.  It’s both romantic and awe-inspiring.

As I was walking home Friday evening, I noticed something new about the High Line.  You see, I’ve been so overtaken by the beauty of the High Line experience — the flowers, bird feeder, art work , etc, that I never even realized the beauty of the PEOPLE that walk it! Until then.  The High Line is a on-going, New  York City fashion show.

Once I started to take notice, I saw women and men of all types — hipsters in their arty t-shirts, rocker chicks in black leather pants and Helmut Lang blous-y shirts; dapper young men  in nerdy glasses, spring blazers and rolled up trousers, cute officer workers in head-to-toe Tory Burch, and of course, the European tourists in the latest North Face windbreakers.

I was surrounded by beauty! I don’t mean that all the people were necessarily beautiful per se but that I was able to experience all the different types of people passing to and fro right around me.  That’s the true beauty of New York.  To be able to be a part of a world full of acceptance and appreciation for difference, is amazing.

Next time you’re in NYC, go take a walk on the High Line and see for your self 🙂

Weekend Observation: Never, Ever Judge A Book By Its Cover

That's me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was riding the subway from my kids’ school to my office (89th to 14th streets to be exact).  In comes a homeless man dragging along a mangy suitcase.  And where does he sit?  Why next to me of course!  So I sucked in my breath and hoped for the best.

As soon as the train starts up again, this man takes out a white sheet of paper and some charcoal, and begins to beautifully and speedily sketch the portrait of a woman sitting across the subway car.

It was amazing!  Watching him work was such a treat.  He ended up finishing in time to hand it over to the woman as she departed at 42nd St.  I was so enamored with his work that I leaned over to my husband and exclaimed, “How cool, only in NYC will you be able to witness such beauty in the making!” I couldn’t hold back my enthusiasm and showered the artist with compliments.

Next thing I knew, he started sketching me!  It was mighty difficult too because I was scrunched up right beside him (hence some of the dissimilarities between my actual mug and his portrait).  Plus, by the time he started, we were stopped at 34th street which meant he had only a few mor stops to accurately portray me.

Well he did it!  I felt terrible because I had no small bills to tip him with but he shrugged me off with a smile.

I feel so blessed to live in a place that holds so many opportunities to experience beauty.  But the most beautiful part of this story is what I learned: you just can’t judge people only by how they appear.  While this artist I encountered on the subway may have looked downtrodden and out-of-luck, he was actually a bright star, making the world, or at least folks on the subway, that much happier and feeling that much more beautiful!

Here’s to NYC, beauty, and learning new lessons all the time!

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