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Do Women Need Grooming Advice from Employers?

Women on the executive ladder face impossible choices when it comes to dressing for success. Here's some conflicting advice I bet many of my female readers have received at one point or another:

Dress conservatively, nothing too tight, plunging, or short. But don't dress too manly. A little makeup, but not too much. By the way, if you want to advance, stand out from the crowd!

So where is a get-ahead gal to turn to for sensible fashion advice when it comes to work? Sylvia Ann Hewlett, a blogger on gender issues for HBR.org, makes the controversial case for companies to write up fairly detailed do's and don'ts for up-and-coming employees.

"Since leaders shrink from suggesting that subordinates don flesh-colored underwear, a 43-page handbook on dress, decorum, and grooming is precisely what thousands of would-be professionals need to negotiate treacherous fashion fads," she writes in her post, Dress for the Job You Wan't?
Companies should couple sensible dress codes with courses such as executive presence, she suggests.

Sure, many women would be turned off by being told what to wear and how to act -- you've dressed yourself and held a job for years! But many others -- especially younger women at the beginning of their careers -- might be grateful for the advice, especially given the fact that women much more than men are judged on appearance.

"Until more up-and-comers -- predominantly women -- get the constructive feedback they need to succeed, the executive suite will remain the domain of those whose social privilege makes 'obvious' what patently isn't to the majority of the workforce," Hewlett writes.

Certainly the employer has a right to demand a certain level of professional grooming, but how detailed should that go? It's a slippery slope for managers -- just ask Swiss banker UBS AG. A few weeks ago it rescinded its dress code after being ridiculed around the world for advising employees on everything from proper lunch ingredients (no onions) to underwear color (no red).

How about you? Would you welcome a little grooming advice -- maybe even a dress code -- from your company?

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(Photo by Flickr user gcoldironjr2003, CC 2.0)
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