Have you ever watched a movie and wanted to shout at the person on the screen and tell them not to go into the basement because you can see who's hiding there? Did the female lead ever dismiss the good guy early in the movie in favor of the bad boy whose faults are revealed to the viewer but not to her? Don't you want to yell, “Don't fall for him. He's lying."?
Well, that's kind of how I sometimes feel when I talk with my much younger friends. As a woman in my 60's, I've become a sort of elder spokesperson to these fledglings. While life is not a movie, hindsight can imitate it. But just as I did in my 20's and 30's, they listen to well-meant advice with a little “you really don't know what it's like nowadays" echoing in their heads. But some important basics don't change and will help make life a little better in the future. Here goes:
THE most important thing to remember is your future just doesn't happen to you, at least if you take part in its shaping. Sounds simple, right? Somehow, it's always easier to say, “I'm too young to think about that now."
Try incorporating some of these key points in both your personal and professional lives and you'll have your hands on the wheel:
1.The media are the message—social media that is.
Keep yourself up to date on all sites, both professional and personal. Know the difference and make sure you don't over share on the personal ones. This is something I've never been guilty of, but I often wonder why some of you post so much on your sites. Prospective employers don't need to know how you look in a bikini or how fast you can chug a beer. Nor do new boyfriends need to see a history of you and your ex.
2.Have a go-to interview outfit, and invest heavily in it.
If there's anything I've learned, it's that you are what you wear. If you walk into an interview and the first thing your potential boss sees is the 50 wrinkles in your cheap white blouse, they're already too distracted to listen to what you have to say. Buy a good blouse and a power outfit. Spend the money. You will feel better, more comfortable and at ease, and you won't be worried about your clothes while delivering your best interview version of yourself.
3.Keep your LinkedIn and other professional sites current.
Your resume should be updated whenever there are any status changes. I wish someone had warned me about this. Trying to piece together 14 years of job history with my firm when another company bought it was a monumental task. I wish I had kept a “job diary."
4.Don't be pressured to find a mate/husband.
You've time for that. Get to know yourself. Speaking as a single woman, let me clue you in: there are a lot of perks to the unmarried status. While singlehood isn't for everyone, neither is marriage. Going solo can be fun too.
Don't settle for the wrong guy just to have a guy. Don't sell yourself short--you deserve someone you're thrilled to be with, not someone who'll just be "better than nothing." (That's what my friend's father named the husband she quickly divorced.)
5.Don't envy anyone because they look so perfect online.
It's easy to portray a false image for the public. I remember having dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in years. On her Facebook page she looked happy and popular. She told quite a different tale; those “friends" were co-workers she was forced to socialize with for business. She currently was looking for a new job because she was miserable.
6.Be careful not to get involved in office drama.
I had a boss who was always telling me all the details of her marital problems and when she and her husband smoothed things over, I was resented for knowing their secrets. I had to transfer to another department. Also, don't get involved in office gossip. You can't anticipate who will hold what position in the future.
7.Don't box yourself in - be open to possibilities.
You never know where your current career might lead you. This is an area where I definitely could have been more open. I was once offered a job as an assistant manager of a famous antiques shop and turned it down without considering it because I felt I didn't have the knowledge. The owner was willing to train me, and it might have been interesting and certainly fun, but I was too timid to try it.
8.Don't take yourself so seriously that you burden yourself with critical timelines!
Dip your toes in different waters. Remember Gaugin was a stockbroker before he became well known for his painting. Now I'm not suggesting you dump your current endeavors and hightail it to Tahiti, but hey, you never know!
9.Financial health is important no matter your age.
Save the maximum. Bank your raises. Sure you can and should splurge now and then. Just be aware the future is closer than you believe. I wish someone had twisted my arm to get me to follow this crucial advice. I felt the future was so far away that I should enjoy now and save later. Unfortunately, I'm now retired and still paying a mortgage.
10.Pay attention to politics.
Maybe you needn't get into a dispute over your candidate while at work, but stay informed and be active on issues that speak to you. Now is the time to begin to make statements through your actions. Being involved in current events can help shape the future of this country.
11.Take care of yourself both physically and mentally is another investment in the future.
Careful eating and exercising can go a long way to making you a happier, healthier person both now and in the future. I was always interested in nutrition and took courses on the subject in college, but now there is so much information just a click away. Also, don't be afraid to seek emotional support when you need it.
12.Don't be afraid to rock it. You've got youth on your side.
While age no longer makes a difference in fashion, the really wild outfits usually benefit from a bit of young blood. No, you won't see me in dowdy clothes, and my blue toenail polish is anything but dowdy, but I think I'll leave the short jumpsuits to you.
13.Be sure you know the difference between a friend with a problem and a problem friend.
People that are always negative can drag you down with them. I was once in a situation where a friend of mine would have problem after problem, many of them of her own making and would talk about nothing else. She never wanted any advice and would just continue to dwell in misery. After a time, I had to minimize my contact with her. The relief I felt was amazing.
14.Never compare yourself with anyone.
I believe that has been one of the most important principles I have followed. As long as I'm doing the best I can, I only judge myself on my own merits—not in comparison with anyone. That has given me an amazing sense of peace and acceptance.
15.Live your passion.
There's a saying that if you work at what you love, you'll never work a day in your life. When you can combine your work with your passion, you are indeed fortunate. While I can't say that I had a passion for my work, I can say I have always enjoyed it. I could never understand people that complain about their jobs and how they hate them. I have never worked at a job for any length of time unless I truly enjoyed it.
16.Be sure to embrace your talents.
Don't be so critical of yourself that you don't see your own assets. Trust me, you'll encounter lots of people who will be more than happy to lend a hand in pointing out your shortcomings. A little self love is a good thing, although too much is definitely not!
17.Your success can breed success for others.
Share your knowledge, networks and experience with others. I love keeping a file of information if my head and linking people I believe can be of benefit to one another.
18.Invest in social capital.
Friends and acquaintances should be positive additions to your life. Friends can be part of a network, both professionally and personally. Housecleaning friendships can be liberating, and nurturing good friendships can add to your well-being. At this stage in my life, I realize the friends I have had the longest are those with common interests and values. Choosing friends as thoughtfully as you do jobs and mates should be the norm.
19.Don't be afraid to listen to your inner voice.
It may tell you something important. I once had an interview and had a bad vibe about the prospective boss, but I ignored it and took the job. It didn't take too long to find out he was difficult and condescending, and in a one on one situation, it was impossible. I quit within a month.
20.Listen to the voices of experience.
This might be the most important one. Listen to those who are older and wiser. They might actually know something!
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."