A fascinating piece on a point of debate and disagreement between the genders.
Jim Holt doesn't see himself as a "Neanderthal Man," but that's one of the nicer names he's been called since he expressed his view publicly, in this column, that panty hose are more professional than bare legs for working women. To be fair, Mr. Holt rescinded the firm's hose requirement, making them optional though firmly encouraged. But after receiving a torrent of hate mail, Mr. Holt has learned one lesson: It's dangerous for men to weigh in on women's professional dress. "That may be an understatement," Mr. Holt says. Dozens of women have written me in staunch favor of panty hose – the very same view expressed by Mr. Holt.
But when it comes to setting and enforcing dress codes in the workplace, it isn't the message but the messenger. What might sound like a mentor's advice coming from a woman can feel like oppression coming from a man. This is because what we are really dealing with here is power the power of executives, who are often men, to inflict attitudes toward dress, professionalism and sexuality on female subordinates.
On the upper, or just managerial, levels it does seem true; yet, in a more general sense, it isn't.
Latent anger over men's continued dominance in executive suites can boil over when women feel that men are prescribing skirt lengths, hose, footwear and other details of appropriate office attire. "We often respond badly because we figure men don't know what they are talking about – or that what they are really talking about is sex," says former television newscaster Mary Civiello, author of the recently published book, "Communication Counts: Business Presentations for Busy People." When a man acknowledges any awareness of a woman's body as implicitly occurs when he raises the topic of, say, a low-necked dress – his comments can be misinterpreted.
How can a man tell a woman that cleavage is inappropriate in a professional setting?
Yet learning the dress codes of a workplace is a normal part of professional growth – whether one works in an art gallery, an insurance office or the White House. It's the job of executives to guide and inform their subordinates, particularly those with promise.
When male managers avoid communicating with women employees, women are left unaware of unwritten rules – information that their male colleagues may get via frank discussions or the time-tested male method of imparting rules: teasing. "You wearing lunch?" a man might gently chastise a colleague in a stained tie, for instance.
A ot to lose. I remember Bill Brockington teaching such things.