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Female leaders have little issue defining the rules that lead to success in their various industries. But ask them about the rules dictating how professional women should present themselves to optimize their career goals and there’s a good chance your question will be met with hesitation.


Why? For women in the workplace, the whole appearance topic is nothing short of a contradiction-riddled minefield.


They’ve been told attractive people are better off. Thanks to an innate human bias that’s become known as the “what is beautiful is good” effect, beautiful employees are seen as more intelligent, more competent, more everything-that’s-good. Attractiveness has been found to lead to more job interviews, more job offers, higher income and greater overall success.


But wait! That’s not the whole story.

“Women are in an impossible catch-22 when it comes to advice on appearance, ” says Selena Rezvani, author of Pushback and a speaker and consultant on women and leadership. “Most modern advice on appearance suggests you find a perfect balance between acknowledging your femininity but not overemphasizing it. This increasingly thin line is hard to locate for the average woman, let alone translate and personalize. The short message to women is: your femininity is an asset and liability.”



From makeup to hair color, metrics measuring attractiveness and success are all over the map.Studies in both the U.S. and the U.K. (both sponsored by cosmetics companies, it must be noted) have concluded that the stuff can help you appear more competent on the job. But again, watch out! Wear too much — or not in quite the right way — or just generally look like you’ve spent a lot of time on your grooming, and you might find that you earn less or appear less trustworthy. Going gray has long been considered more of a challenge for women than for men (does it signify experience and wisdom, or just old age?), but even other colors have unspoken connotations. During tough economic times, blonde women have been reported todye their hair darker so as to be taken more seriously.


“Whether it’s about our appearance or whether or not to assert ourselves, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, ” says Bonnie Marcus, president and CEO of Women’s Success Coaching. “It’s a balancing act that ambitious women need to be aware of.”

女性职业咨询网站Women’s Success Coaching的总裁兼首席执行官邦妮•马库斯表示:“无论我们的外表是否得体,无论我们是否坚持自我,我们怎么做都会遭到非难。有追求的女性需要了解这种平衡之道。”

There’s not an easy solution. “I believe the only general statement you can make about this is that women need to be savvy about the culture of their organization, ” Marcus says. As the old saying goes, “dress for the job you want, ” she adds.