Women in corporate America are expected to wear suits, but successful women CEOs can just as easily be found in jeans.
I make a conscious effort to be as comfortable in my clothing as I can. I also LOVE fashion. I track in my RSS reader what fashionista is wearing the latest and greatest in Hollywood. I die for the red carpet, forget the awards. But fashion and work don't always go hand in hand.
Women in corporate America are expected to wear suit-like outfits, and women CEOs, especially, are expected to dress very business-like. Why? What would happen if Carly Fiorina had shown up to work in Rock & Republics and a t-shirt with a shrug? It would be ALL over the front page of every business publication out there.
The real key to success in dressing as a woman CEO is feeling like yourself -- comfort and confidence in your appearance ultimately will translate into great performance. You don't get paid because of what you wear, so when I started my company, I vowed I would wear what I wanted: comfortable, fashionable clothes. For me, that happens to be jeans. Even our job listings say:
"You will usually see us, including our CEO,
in our jeans and with our nose to the stone."
We sponsor tradeshows frequently with a booth and we have shirts with our logo and wear jeans. Invaribaly, I'll be asked the question: "So what do you do at the company?" I laugh because I think that if I were standing there amongst my team in a suit, that question would never come up. When I say "I'm the CEO," their eyes pop out of their heads and they say "Really? Wow!" It's happened a hundred times.
Taking a hard line on dress codes won't make you or your team a success. Decide what you should wear by considering the following:
Make sure you have your bases covered. If you do wear casual attire, make sure you outline what is acceptable and what isn't in your handbook or on your intranet. This avoids those weird times where you have to call someone out on inappropriate dress. (I had to send an e-mail about undergarments peaking out of pants, if you know what I mean.)
Make a name for yourself. We're known as a fun, hardworking company that celebrates employees for their individuality. Let your employees be who they are -- their productivity may go through the roof.
Be who you are. If you're not the jeans wearing type, don't try to be. But if you're stuck in the suit world and hate it, there are so many options for you to be yourself.
Will corporate America ever change? Probably not. But I'm sure going to work on breaking those people who judge others based on first impressions. Proof is in the pudding of your success, not in the back pocket of your Sevens.
JANINE POPICK is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and event marketing, online surveys, social media, and direct mail solutions. The company was ranked No. 2,802 on the 2012 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick