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Why can’t a woman look feminine and be successful in business?

Article by Ceri Wheeldon

women in business, stilettos. 50plus careers, authentic, feminine in business

With all the challenges we face as a country you would think the media would have better things to comment on than Theresa May’s shoes…which I love by the way and applaud her for maintaining her own style while doing the toughest job in the country. It has made me realise that we haven’t come as far as I thought in the last 30 years or so.
I  worked for over 25 years  in a very male dominated industry as a headhunter. I had more clients than my male colleagues, placed more candidates and billed higher revenues.  So you can imagine my surprise to be called into my bosses office to discuss an ‘issue’. My job performance was not in question…I was asked if it was possible for me to look ‘less like a woman’!!!! I always dressed professionally and used to spend a fortune on smart suits or shift dresses with jackets. He agreed that I always dressed extremely professionally ‘ but you still look like a woman. When you walk into a client meeting they still see a woman…and a blonde one at that. Is there something you can do? Do you have to wear heels?’!!!   You might be our top performer but you aren’t very masculine! ”
So times have not changed…perhaps I should have set my sights on being Prime Minister!
Needless to say I decided to take my skills and kitten heels and stiletos elsewhere.   Of course only after pointing out that hopefully my clients saw me as somebody who understood their business and could deliver the results they needed  to build successful teams.   And when I left my clients followed me.

Being authentic to be successful

I’m a true believer that to be successful in all areas of life and business you need to be authentic..and although I was a woman in a predominantly male profession I felt more confident walking into my office smartly dressed, long hair blow dried, make up on wearing heels. It was me being me..and not being embarrassed looking like a woman. Why try to be a watered down version of a man in the workplace – which would only create more pressures and ultimately lead to failure.

For me being well put together at work gave me confidence…and a confident me helped me to be successful.  I was not about to apologise for being female and good at what I did..and hope other women in the workplace do not feel the pressure or the criticism for being professional and feminine. Hopefully having a female prime minister with an unapologetic  passion for shoes will help.


Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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