Trust Your Inner Compass

How does a person’s dress attire reflect on how people perceive them? I remember the day well. I was just starting out in my career. I was young, ambitious, and wanted to succeed. I thought I had a good sense of style, but I was wrong. My supervisor advised me that there had been a complaint about my attire. My dress was too short. I was asked to go home, change, and return to work. I was embarrassed, then humbled, but I learned a valuable lesson. Since then, I’ve been passionate about helping other women understand the impact that things like appearance can have on their personal brand.

There are three principles I share often:

  1. You are not here to dress to impress; you are here to do a job.
  2. If someone is overly focused on what you’re wearing, they are not listening to what you are saying.
  3. Moderation—if you are questioning whether your attire is professional, don’t wear it.

Call me old-fashioned, but the workplace is not designed as a runway. As women, we want to be respected as professionals and therefore must recognize it is not a fashion show or popularity contest. I’ve worked with a number of women who, when they walked on stage, the audience was distracted by what they were wearing rather than focused on what was being said. You can lose your voice when this happens. Every day, we have a choice about what we wear and often question ourselves in the process. That “doubt” simply means “don’t.” Trust your inner compass—you already have the answer.

Of course, women are held to a different standard. We can all relate to that, but if you are preoccupied with whether it is fair, you are doing yourselves and others a disservice. Leadership is influence, not a title. And your professional reputation is hard enough to build. So, let’s get people to focus on our substance and the rest will fall into place.

Fortunately, I work for a company that values and prioritizes women in leadership. Aflac has given me many mentorship and leadership opportunities over my 28-year career—one that rewards getting the right results … the right way. This has helped me maintain perspective, and not lose sight of the role and responsibility I hold as part of the senior executive team.

In fact, I’ve been asked a number of times: can a woman wear flats and find success at work? Without a doubt! But it is not about the shoes you wear, but the person wearing them.