Business Makeovers: Start with Your Looks

By Tracy Olmstead Williams
Olmstead Williams Communications

Broads Circle (“Driving Revenue and Growing Capital for Women”) brought more than 100 senior-level executives together July 22 for an event titled “When Your Looks Can Make You a Million.”  The focus was appearance and its effect on success in business.  According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, “thin slicing” – that all-important first impression of a person based on clothing, attitude and confidence – can take seven more meetings to undo if the initial presentation is unfavorable.

Broads Circle Summer SoireeTo examine the elements of a successful “look” in the business environment, Broads Circle convened experts in dermatology, hair, makeup and fashion at the UCLA Faculty Center.  Among the findings was that so-called power dressing is more than a great suit and tie – skin care is essential, hair makes an important difference and the ability to efficiently transition between breakfast, luncheon and evening events requires a focused investment in wardrobe.

The event was timed to the July 19 release of the Newsweek poll “How Much Is Beauty Worth at Work?” which surveyed hiring managers about the role of appearance in the workplace.  According to Newsweek, 57 percent of managers said a qualified job candidate will face an obstacle to employment if considered “unattractive”; 68 percent reported that, once hired, looks continue to affect the way they rate job performance.  Of nine character attributes in the survey, the value of looks placed third in importance – after experience and confidence, but more significant than a candidate’s education or sense of humor.

According to the Broads Circle expert panel, whatever women think they are spending on their physical appearance in business, it’s probably not enough. We think our designer suits and trips to the hair salon add up, but given the importance of the impression we make, we should be spending more.  Men are perceived as confident and competent by the initial assessment of many fewer variables than women, who traditionally are expected to dress with invention and self-knowledge.  Women also typically fulfill more roles than men, and must transition confidently between personas.  The panelists analyzed strategies and budgets toward Newsweek’s implication that women in the marketplace are well advised to rate appearance equally with a perfected resume.

The savvy professionals of Broads Circle no doubt all have their own opinions on that, but they sat in rapt attention in search of tips and insights, agreeing and disagreeing with the changes wrought on three members chosen for demonstration makeovers.

Ok, I admit I was one of the “makeovers.”  In the course of two weeks I learned a great deal about new techniques of dermatology, how to cleverly change your look from the Boardroom to today’s 2010 black tie affair (hint: ball gowns are not required for business leaders), why the curve of the neck is critical to the art of hair cutting and just what a makeup expert can do with a palette and a brush.

It was educational and fun.  But if Newsweek calls, I’m still me.

Tracy Olmstead Williams is president and CEO of Olmstead Williams Communications, a full service business-to-business public relations agency located in Los Angeles, California.


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