It’s a fact that women are judged on more appearance factors than men, when it comes to executive presence. When a woman is judged for competency, trustworthiness and likeability, evaluators (male and female) are influenced by how much makeup she wears! Fair or unfair, good grooming is a key factor in creating executive presence for leadership positions, and even more so for women.

Appearance is not just a matter of making good first impressions. It’s about signaling that you’re in total control. Experts tell us that it’s a matter of minimizing distractions from your skill sets and performance. Your appearance contributes to how well your message is transmitted and received. It shouldn’t distract from what you stand for and what you want to say.

“Avoiding appearance blunders (which oftentimes involves circumventing prejudice) is big – almost as important as nailing those five top appearance picks.” ~ Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success

Here are Hewlett’s top five appearance blunders for women, according to CTI surveys of senior leaders:

  1. Bottle blond
  2. Clunky jewelry
  3. Too much makeup
  4. Plunging neckline, short skirts, tight clothes
  5. Bitten or broken nails

I would have to add too much strong perfume to this list, but that’s not really “appearances.” But you get my point. All of these blunders distract from a woman’s credibility and presence.

This isn’t only a female problem, as men also have appearance blunders:

  1. Unkempt appearances
  2. Crooked or discolored tie
  3. Dandruff on shoulders
  4. Obese
  5. Visible piercings, tattoos
  6. Obvious hair piece

Of course, these blunders can apply to both genders. The point is that stained blouses and shirts and other signs are interpreted across the board: If you’re sloppy in your appearances, you could lack discipline in your work. There are more unspoken rules for women than for men, and some of this is gender bias. A woman can be passed over for promotion when she’s overweight, but a man has to be obese before that affects his presence. It’s not fair, but it’s the way things are in most workplaces.

In the work I do coaching individuals who want to increase their chances of promotion to leadership positions, I’ve seen people make changes to their looks with great results. Image isn’t something you’re born with. Every leader I know has worked to refine and maintain his or her appearance. Leaders avoid blunders that might destroy their executive presence.

What do you think about the importance of looks where you work? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here or on LinkedIn.