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 ‚Äúblack.‚ÄĚ ¬†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‚Äôs 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, ‚ÄúHey Goldman Sachs, does your dress code allow thigh-high boots?‚ÄĚ the author, Buzz Bissinger, points out that a shift to casual attire may indicate a loosening of rules but doesn‚Äôt¬†demonstrate a broad acceptance of divergent looks and styles despite the company‚Äôs claims of diversity and inclusion. ¬†There‚Äôs still a big gap between allowing chinos in the office and being tolerant of¬†all styles.¬† He continues to write: ‚Äú… (A) shift to more ‚Äúcasual‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄĒ unlike, for example, subprime mortgages. ‚Äú

Bissinger‚Äôs passion is palpable. ¬†How we look isn‚Äôt something to take lightly. ¬†It‚Äôs fraught with anxiety, judgement, and insecurity. As Bissinger writes: ‚Äú… 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‚Äôs 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.‚ÄĚ

What Bissinger doesn‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt just impact ourselves. ¬†It signals to our colleagues, our friends and families that we don‚Äôt 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:

Damned if You Do, Damned If You Don’t: In 2019, Let’s Be Done With With The Beauty Prejudice Already

 

 

Elizabeth I‘s make-up killed her.¬†At least according to some historians.¬†In her attempt to look youthful and blemish-free, the queen used a toxic white powder, Ceruse, containing high doses of lead.¬†As you can imagine, lead isn‚Äôt something you want to put on your face every single day for years. No wonder the prosthetics and cosmetics to turn Margot Robbie into Queen Elizabeth I in the much-anticipated film, Mary Queen of Scots, gets so much attention.¬†There’s an almost macabre fascination with it.¬†¬†Margot looks freaky and that “look” actually ends up killing her.

But my fascination with her appearance is for a different reason.¬†The queen went to great lengths to look like this (and suffer for it in multiple ways) for much of the same reasons we “kill” ourselves to look beautiful.¬†According to Rebecca Onion‘s detailed story in Slate, The Real Story Behind Margot Robbie‚Äôs Wild Queen Elizabeth Makeup, Elizabeth was stuck.¬†She was expected to look youthful and beautiful, as Onion explains: ‘People perceived a queen‚Äôs beauty as a sign of her divine right to rule.”¬†In other words, she had to look good for her job. Sound familiar? Being the Queen, and a virgin at that, she became a worshipped, a cult-like figure that MUST remain youthful.¬†Her appearance was one key aspect of that worship. “Living inside it all, Elizabeth clearly seemed to realize her presentation of a mask that didn‚Äôt slip was critical to her survival.” writes Onion.

At the same time, however,¬†there was a strong anti-face-painting movement brewing.¬†It’s questionable how much her subjects actually criticized her for it, but historians point to jokes made about her and published criticisms of the use of cosmetics in general stating that painted women are foolish, foul and abominable.¬†Elizabeth just couldn’t win this game. Either she loses for looking old and ugly or she loses for masking her changing skin. And no question, she loses to her make-up‚Äôs poisonous effects.

Times have changed.¬†Make-up won’t kill you (though some plastic surgery, like botched butt enhancements for example, can).¬†Women can lead without having to be worshipped. And adorning ourselves with cosmetics is second nature.¬†But we, women, aren’t fully immune from the high, and often complex, beauty expectations demanded of us in society.¬†We have to look youthful, so as not to be deemed as frumpy and, thus, old-fashioned or not on the cutting edge of our fields.¬†¬†And, at the same time, we can’t look too beautiful, so as not to appear too provocative or frivolous, and therefore, not smart or competent. Let’s be honest, how many of you — women and men — comment on what your¬†female corporate or political leaders wear vs your male leaders wear?¬†I remember these very discussions when my division was led by a woman.¬†¬†I willingly took part in these conversations too! I’m not blameless. We didn‚Äôt want our female leaders to appear unstylish. Now that it‚Äôs being led by a man, not a word is raised. I‚Äôm not saying male leaders aren‚Äôt expected appear a certain way.¬†It‚Äôs that it doesn’t become water cooler conversation, ever.

I love beauty.¬†I love to play with make-up, wear fun outfits and get my hair blown out.¬†I undoubtedly feel more confident and energized. And, yes, I want to be admired for it too.¬†But why does it need to go beyond that? Why do women have to be caught between all of these tensions?¬†Why can’t we look frumpy or dolled up without any of the negative associations? Why can’t we look beautiful without being accused of being flirty and flighty?¬†My only hope is that as men invest in their beauty more (according to the American Association of Plastic Surgery, in 2017, nearly 100,000 men had filler injections, a 99 percent increase since 2000), we will level the playing field, and the conversations will turn from what women and men look like to whether they have something worthy to say and give to society.

 

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‚Äôs 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‚Äôt necessarily celebrate or push those sides to their fullest, and certainly don‚Äôt always weave them together.¬† For years, I‚Äôve 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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.

A Female Perspective: Fashion. How to show up post #metoo: Another Video Conversation

I just¬†returned from a whirlwind¬†—¬†but amazing¬†–trip to Norway where I was privileged to speak to the Norwegian business community at the¬†Oslo Business Forum.¬† As I prepped for the speech, I definitely had a stressful moment or two.¬†¬†Was¬†I¬†concerned¬†about the two-thousand-plus¬†audience?¬†¬†Nah.¬† Was¬†I in a fluster that the¬†flight¬†was cancelled at the last minute and screwed up our plans?¬† A tinsy bit.¬†¬†What¬†really¬†challenged me¬†was¬†deciding¬†what to wear!¬†¬† And I know I’m not alone in having such angst, especially among many of my female friends and colleagues.¬† Am and I just a superficial gal?¬† Well, I do love¬†a nice pair of heels.¬†¬†But¬†the issue runs deeper than¬†that.¬† What we wear speaks volumes.¬†¬†It needs to be on point.¬†¬†And¬†I have definitely¬†experienced the¬†downside of¬†when it wasn’t.¬† And it wasn’t good.

This¬†topic¬†is the focus of¬†the¬†second¬†video conversation with my friends and brilliant women:¬†Rachael McCrary, CEO of Jewel Toned, and¬†Marci Weisler,¬†CEO¬†& Co-founder of Smart Women, Smart Ideas (and edited by the great¬†Suzette Cabildo, also from SWSI).¬† For us, women, especially in this new era of #metoo, we want to be super careful about how we “show up.”¬† As Rachael and I discuss on the video, there are many nuances to consider — many more, we believe, than those that men have to¬†ponder.¬† First, we have to¬†think about¬†the audience — is it male or female?¬† American or Foreign?¬† Young or old?¬† Then we have think about whether the event is a business or a more casual one.¬† Even the state or region of the country in which we are conducting the engagement matters!¬† Rachael speaks about how she dresses differently in L.A. vs. SF vs NYC.¬† Of course we have to make sure we communicate a sense of seriousness while not appearing TOO serious.¬† We want to seem sophisticated BUT still fun.¬†¬†And we¬†can’t seem to old or too young.¬† Phew! No wonder it takes us about four times as long to “suit up” than it takes for men.¬† Think of the opportunity cost of dressing:¬†hours we could spend making money, being with our kids, sleeping, whatever!

Yet, I also appreciate much of the considering,¬†adorning¬†and pampering that goes into this process.¬† It¬†prepares me; it gives me the added assurances that I can rock it, no matter the situation.¬† And it allows me to express myself in more ways than just through the words I speak.¬† I just wish how we appear wasn’t¬†so complicated.¬† Wouldn’t it be great to be able share our full selves without¬†fearing¬†some kind of backlash … from¬†either¬†gender.

Take a look at our latest conversation and please weigh in with your thoughts.

Getting dressed should be a painless, more than that, it should be a positive experience.  And certainly it should be the least of my worries when it comes to speaking around the world on very big stages or meeting with clients.  Maybe by spreading the word and sharing our feelings, we can learn to applaud, not judge, one another for what we wear.  Imagine how we can channel all that left over stress for new ventures!

And now some pics from the event!

Masculinity, Beauty & Peace: How a Light Make-Over Show Can Be the Key to Tolerance

Queer Eye’s Fab Five

While it’s the month to officially celebrate women, I’m actually going to turn our attention to men today.

In my quest to find a binge-able show on Netflix, I was scrolling through its latest releases and happened upon¬† “Queer Eye,” the remake of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”¬† While the make-over premise is still the same,¬†this version has a new team or “Fab Five” and differentiates itself¬†by evolving some of the least likely types — from religious Christians to self-described red necks.¬† ¬†Out of desperation for something — anything — to watch, I gave it a whirl.¬†¬†¬†Within days I had watched all eight episodes and¬†cried at the¬†close of¬† EVERY SINGLE ONE.¬†¬†Needless to say I was moved.¬† And I’m not the sentimental type.

Every one of the¬†male “subjects” featured goes through a major transformation.¬† Sure, each gets a better haircut and wardrobe in the end.¬† But that’s not what I’m talking about.¬† They all¬†become more open-minded, more understanding and more self-loving.¬† And like me, each of them cries at the end of¬†his metamorphosis.¬† But don’t discount the physical changes.¬† It’s because they have elevated¬†their personal beauty, and the beauty of their surroundings, that¬†this tremendous change happens.

I was so excited with the show that I immediately called my long-time friend and partner-in-crime on all my professional anthropological studies: cultural anthropologist, Thomas Maschio.  Because his insights never cease to amaze me, I basically forced him to watch this show and share his thoughts.  Like me, he was moved.  And like me he saw how it was the beautification process in particular that brought these men to a higher plane.

Would these men have evolved if they learned other things, like playing a sport or learning to appreciate poetry?¬† To some extent yes, but it was their exposure to beauty¬†rituals and¬†their new found knowledge of beautiful things that stretched them as far as they did.¬† ¬†Tom phrased it like this:¬†“beauty opens up inner space or emotional life for the subjects/objects of the Fab Fives‚Äô attentions.¬† It frees them up from their constricted ways of feeling and their constricted ways of moving about their own lives.”¬† In other words, beauty opened them up, and as a result, each has¬†his own “coming out” experience.

What’s really going on here?¬† As the consummate anthropologist, Tom points out that each episode has a ritual of sorts that leads to the transformation:

  1. Setting out¬† —¬† the team gets an overview of the subjects and his particular areas of development
  2. Encounter and initial assessment —¬† the Fab Five meets the subject and sees all of his issues …often this can be the most hilarious part of the show
  3. Discarding of material objects¬† —¬† as it sounds, an in-your-face act of throwing the old life away, from stained easy-chairs¬†to clothes that are 5 sizes too big.
  4. Sharing of truths (mutual empathy) — these¬†are often the most profound moments.¬† While the individual team members¬†are very different from each subject, there’s always something they bond over.¬† This could be a fear of coming out to one’s family, an intolerance of the “other,” or the¬†sad truth that neglect of one’s appearance shows¬†a lack of concern for his partner.
  5. ¬†Teaching and convincing¬†— life coaching through scotch tasting or shopping or a trip to the salon.
  6. Connection¬†— emotional recognition by the subject for his need to evolve and his gratitude to the team for his reinvention
  7. Reintroduction to the social realm — this is when the men reveal themselves to their families or loved ones and take the leap they didn’t have the courage to do prior to the experience.¬† They all gain greater confidence in themselves which opens themselves up for more love and kindness towards others, e.g., their wives, parents, children and friends.

Through these steps the men change.¬† The outward changes lead directly to inward ones.¬† And beautification is the impetus.¬† As Tom explains it: “Beauty opens people up…the beautiful is disruptive; disrupts perception, enlarges it, halts the usual flow of thinking and feeling.¬† So when these guys are introduced to that in ways they can understand, their usual ways of going about things are disrupted.”¬† ¬†Because most of the¬†subjects live in a culture that embraces a conservative or hyper western sense of masculinity, e.g, lack of concern around attire and grooming¬†and a more constricted way of socializing, the Fab¬†Five¬†free these men to¬†explore new, more expansive aspects of male beauty, and maleness in general.

What’s more, these men¬†embody the changes.¬† They experience them¬†via their¬†physical selves, not just their intellectual or spiritual ones.¬† From new hairstyles to beard looks to eating different foods, these reformed men¬†literally see the transformations¬†on and around¬†themselves.¬† Finally, whether it’s via grooming, getting dressed or or consuming more sophisticated flavors, these men are literally touching their physical¬†selves.¬† They are performing acts of self care¬†which I believe help them¬† love and care for themselves more.

Why do I care so much about this?¬† As I’ve said in previous posts, I think men in our society can only benefit from getting in touch with their physical selves.¬† By opening themselves up to beauty, they will not only see the world in a new, elevated way, but they will get in touch with their bodies.¬† The result?¬† A greater appreciation of themselves, and in turn, more empathy and love for others.¬† Now, more than ever,¬†in this time of so¬†much hatred and¬†abuse in our society, don’t¬†we need this?¬† If more men actually loved themselves, not in narcissistic way but because of their new-found confidence, they would undoubtedly¬†embrace¬†others.¬† And if beauty is the key to unlock¬†this change then let’s harness it.¬† And oh yeah, who doesn’t love to see men in a well tailored suit?.¬† That’s something we should all celebrate!

A Video Conversation: Exploring How #metoo Can Be A New Way Forward, Not a Tidal Wave of Division

A few weeks back I shared my reactions to the #metoo movement.  And while I wrote about how wholeheartedly supportive of it I am, I also cautioned us not to inhibit our femininity or masculinity.  I urged us to embrace our bodies and celebrate our sensuality.

As promised in my last post, I am sharing the first of our video series of stimulating chats I had with my good friend and entrepreneur, Rachael McCrary, and host, Marci Weisler, CEO and Co-founder of SWSI (Smart Women. Smart Ideas.) Media.  Rachael is not only a brilliant and beautiful woman but also the founder and CEO of the lingerie company, Jewel Toned Inc.  Phew lots of heavy hitters, eh?

In the video we¬†address how people we know are responding to the movement, e.g., whether they are acting differently, dressing differently or speaking differently.¬† The discussion moves from business success to erotica.¬† We raise the questions we’re all facing around¬†whether we can give compliments anymore or whether we have to squelch our femininity or masculinity; whether having women with power lessens or raises levels of sexual harassment; whether the paranoia around sexual harassment can some how diminish our confidence and success; and how¬†owning our sexuality can actually¬†empower¬†us.

Please don’t get us wrong.¬† We are not challenging the movement in any way.¬† Nor are we necessarily taking the position of Morning Joe host, Mika Brzezinski, who is concerned for men who could be accused and fired without due process.¬† She was quoted in Newsweek saying:¬†“The problem is that any woman can say anything, and that‚Äôs it, it‚Äôs over.¬† Is that how we‚Äôre running businesses now?”¬† We certainly¬† are not dismissing Brezezinkski’s opinion, it’s more that we are speaking¬†about something different: our own, personal experiences, and more specifically how how to empower one another.

No matter where you stand on the issues, the only thing we truly urge for all of us is¬†to be open to the different¬†opinions and sides.¬† Listen to others’ points of view, concerns and ideas.¬† Don’t judge women or men until you hear what they have to say.¬† Get the conversation going amongst your community in work or outside of it.¬† We all are going to all have to navigate through these issues to find a better way.¬† Just don’t expect others to do it for us.¬† It’s up to us to make the change.

Have a listen and share your feedback.