“Looks the part”: the kiss of (career) death?

I read the news with two sets of eyes. First, the obvious search for what’s up. The other, assessing what current events mean for women. This past week, I read a phrase that hurled me back decades in my own career–“Looks the part”– a set of words that may seem like a compliment…or be used as a reason to hold women back. But when the language is associated with decisions regarding the highest offices in our land, I just had to write.

 

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/the-ugly-truth-about-trump-s-fixation-with-looks-1.2886560

The ugly truth about Trump’s fixation with looks

US president-elect’s cabinet choices appear to be more about style than substance

 Another week begins with the US president-elect hosting his ultimate episode of Celebrity Apprentice: D.C. – otherwise known as the selection of his cabinet.

Each day, a parade of contenders arrives on the set of his shiny Trump Tower where an attractive hostess greets them at the revolving door, before rising to the upper floors for the casting session.

Trump’s choices to date suggest a preference for billionaires and military leaders aligned with his wallet and world view.

But now that secretary of state spot is up for grabs, the criterion is even more refined.

Asked why former governor Mitt Romney was up for secretary of state, a top aide quotes Trump as saying Romney “looks the part”.

Looks the part?

True, Romney’s chiseled jaw, perfect posture and tailored suits telegraph suave confidence but is that why Trump might choose him to represent the US around the globe?

Unlike Trump’s unconventional resume, Romney governed Massachusetts, was a powerful businessman who led Bain Capital, and managed the successful Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Trigger-happy Twitter finger

On a personal note, he seems more even-tempered than his new commander-in-chief with the trigger-happy Twitter finger.

But hey, Mitt’s got that handsome, ageing model thing going – so, he’s a shoo-in.

In fact, he’s made the callback list with a dinner appointment Tuesday night. Are table manners under review?

“Looks the part” (or worse, not looking the part) is language women know well, especially in the jobs market.

I recall, as a young public relations director, my boss introduced me at a board meeting: “Sure, she’s a dynamo but she’s the prettiest PR director in the city.”

I was floored. I felt like a doll.

Fast forward 10 years, as I left my Fortune 500 advertising director job, my EVP (executive vice president) bid me farewell: “Don’t worry, I’ll remember you as more than just a pretty face.”

Was that the sum of all that hard work?

Crushes careers

Looks cut both ways. Women deemed too attractive risk being taken as a distraction or as unserious.

Too old, too large or too “something” and we’re just not the right “fit” to represent a brand or a boss (no matter how portly or oddly-coifed he or she might be.)

Statistics show that job candidates who are deemed unattractive, or obese, are less likely to be hired, male or female, though women fare worse.

Unfair?

Yes, but sadly more true than not. And it crushes blossoming careers, human potential and our very souls.

Back to the cabinet: the focus on appearance makes me rethink about the rationale behind the other contenders.

If Trump chooses Rudy Giuliani as secretary of state, is he leaning toward an ornery Rottweiler vibe?

Or if he picks yet another General, do the uniform, crewcut and gold stars shout we may be on the warpath?

Trump has had a bit of a looks fixation throughout his campaign.

He mocked Marco Rubio’s height and tweeted that Chris Christie ought “to take it easy on the cheeseburgers”.

Trump goes full throttle on females. He insulted opponent Carly Fiorina’s face, compared Ted Cruz’s wife unfavourably to his model spouse Melania and, among his many Hillary blows, said: “She doesn’t look presidential”.

Perhaps it’s time for a look in the mirror?

When Trump’s cast is vetted by the US Congress, the committee will assess experience, judgment, and records, not hairdos.

Time to get looks off the table and face what truly matters.

Mary Lou Quinlan is a New York-based author, actor and advocate for women. Her latest play Work – about women’s careers – launches in 2017. Visit justaskawoman.com

 

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Now what? Don’t move on. Move forward.

With the contentious 2016 Presidential election finally over, many women are still shell-shocked. Dumb-founded. Lots of hyphenated feelings. The temptation is to commiserate with cohorts and for the victors to demand that everyone else “Move on!” Not so fast. This two year slog deserves a moment to assess and absorb. Lots of segments of the population are conflicted but I’ll focus on women because…that’s what I do. I listen to women all the time.

My read? While some are disappointed in the loss of a woman for the top office ( I tossed my white ‘suffragette’ jacket on the floor and crawled to sleep that night myself, ) more are concerned with the “normalization” of the winning campaign’s misogynist rhetoric. There can be no joy in Mudville when someone wins while demeaning women’s bodies and brains and constituents give a pass to boasts of assault. This election showed me that too many men–and women–have decided that derogatory sexist behavior is an acceptable part of life in the fast lane. Like most women, I’ve experienced my share of nasty remarks and gritted my teeth through borderline (and actual) harassment. Naively, I thought we were better than that in 2016. I had hoped that we had all grown up and grown fuller as human beings. Seems not.

But back to the headline, Now What? I believe that we have a duty to be sure little girls can grow up with the biggest dreams, unshackled by a rating of 1-10. That young women take on careers with the confidence that they count equally with men and not wonder if they are bait for a late night meeting. And that women, as they evolve through motherhood, aging and life changes, will find a welcome place to work with fairness and dignity, without fear of being marginalized. The political pendulum can swing but we can’t tolerate prejudice from those at the top of our organizations, communities or our country.

I’ve heard from my husband’s male friends that they are surprised that the women in their lives are still down and frustrated after the election. I really don’t feel that “Hillary funk” is the problem. It’s that this entire campaign revealed that things haven’t changed and resurrected nightmares of years ago. The election shone a light on the reality that there are too many who will never support a woman for a senior leadership job, no matter how qualified. It’s easy to say that Hillary wasn’t the right one. But what of the next? Will she be too shrill? Too unseasoned? Too…what?

To those cheering the result of the election, I offer this: supporting your candidate based on policies is your right as a voter. But please, as a human being, speak out clearly against any patterns of sexist behavior. Show your pride by holding the new president to the highest standard. And as women, let’s sit down with others of every generation, especially those with whom we disagree. Instead of “getting over it”, let’s get it out on the table.
Let’s not simply move on; let’s move forward. Together. Out loud.

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Backdraft


Last week as I was about to step out onto a narrow one-way Manhattan street, a 20something guy whizzed by on a skateboard. He was so fast and so close that his backdraft tousled my hair. He was going the wrong way and if I’d taken the natural (legal) step, I would have hit the sidewalk and broken God knows what because HE made the decision that he was in control of my safety. I resented that even more than his wrong way, juvenile behavior.

Women don’t expect that every step will come easy. But we are justifiably angry when someone takes the choice or chance away from us—in our lives, our families and our careers.

This week’s ouster of yet another Madison Avenue chieftain points to the embedded pattern of top ad guys who are as confidently misguided as that guy on the skateboard. Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts joins the lineup of expelled leaders who’ve perpetuated the anachronistic old boys club in the ad business. The article quotes Jane Maas, an Ogilvy copywriter from the 60s and 70s and author of a great book called “Mad Women” https://www.amazon.com/Mad-Women-Madison-Avenue-Hardcover/dp/B00HTDXAF8/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470676197&sr=1-7&keywords=Mad+Women+Jane+Maas

laying out the generations of misogyny in the industry. I would have thought that my mother’s experiences as a secretary in the real Mad Men 50s and mine as one of a handful of female agency CEO in the 90s were history by now. But not.

When I was a VP at one agency, a client noticed my red suit. In front of his team, he asked, “Is your lingerie red too?” When I was interviewed for a Senior VP role at a large global agency, the COO asked, “How do I know you won’t get pregnant?” I managed to make it to the top while holding on to my woman-ness, getting along with the guys through results, persistence and a good sense of humor. Some women chose to keep a low profile or become one of guys.  And some just left the business, as I eventually did.

This article https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/aug/07/mad-women-advertising-top-jobs?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other tells the tale well but also reveals the problem. Only three women were quoted.  Absent were current female CEO’s or creative directors. Why? Maybe the Guardian was on deadline. Or maybe the senior women would rather not risk seeming too much in the bag for “the cause” or break ranks with the status quo over somebody else’s problem. Most likely, they were too busy to talk which may be reason number one.

What I found most unsettling was Roberts’ chummy contention that women opted out of the top jobs because they wanted a life. That’s actually true for some women and for many men. Fair enough. The travel, the hours, the punishing pressure would threaten anyone’s sanity. But Roberts glibly presented this as a closed case, true for all women and therefore the gender success inequity was inevitable. I would instead call it a ‘cold case’ that has been brewing in the bellies of agencies for decades, ignored as long as the leadership can get away with it.

I believe there are thousands of women who would take the heat and discomfort of the top jobs on a dime in order to grow in their profession. It’s not a spot for the faint of heart but if you love what you do and can manage to find a life, as in any top job, you ought to be able to make the choice to do it. But skateboarding through the gender divide… cutting off their chance to decide?  That’s not up to you, bro. It’s just not.

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“Can’t means Won’t”

As a drama queen teen, whenever I’d whine “I can’t clean my room before I go out!” my Mom would say “Can’t means won’t.” Mom knew that language directed behavior. And lately while writing my new play “WORK”, I’ve been thinking about our speaking tics that sabotage results.

Take my fitness routine for example. I had none. I dance twice a week but waltz isn’t always aerobic and I was dipping into too many breakfast sandwiches. Then I noticed the FB posts of a fellow dancer, dietician and fitness trainer Christine Coen. She’d share her breakfast of yogurt with fruit and acai (however you pronounce it) and demonstrate lifting weights. Very large weights. After four months as voyeur, I wrote and she suggested I follow a meal plan and meet her for multiple 10 minute weight sessions lifting till my muscles failed.”FAILED?” But 10 minutes sounded appealing. “Where’s your gym?” A 12 minute walk from my apartment. “Oh, I can’t do that.” The “can’t” reflex. “I already go to Soho to dance and to Noho to rehearse and doctors are uptown and our house is in PA. I don’t want more geography.” Pathetic. Three weeks ago, I got over myself and now admit that the walk is the best warm up for Christine time and it takes, what? A half hour total to take care of myself? (Here’s Christine and happy, if makeup-free-Christineme at her gym.)

Language is an energy driver or crusher. And it carries into life and work, especially among women: “Maybe this isn’t a good idea but…” “Sorry, I didn’t mean to push for too much money…” “I’m not an expert at this but…” In the spirit of making everybody feel good or unthreatened, we undermine ourselves. Our natural talent for creating common ground and avoiding conflict is an asset but sometimes, we’ve got to get our true voice heard. Strong. Certain. Active. “I can.” I can hear the hackles go up as we resist the idea that women need more coaching on this while men seem to stride from cradle to cubicle with confidence. But it’s too prevalent not to mention and I want all of us, men and women, to know our worth. Speak your voice. Oh, and if you are looking to step it up, you can find Christine at Christine.Coen.com I’ll share results when I hit my goal. I can, I can, I can.

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Working girl. Still.

Is it just me or does this 1994 picture…Working girl piclook like a Melanie Griffiths wannabe in the “Working Girl” movie? Puffy, overhighlighted hair. Requisite black suit. All that’s missing is the white socks and sneakers. I smile when I look at this, not because I see the unlined face and the hopeful eyes but because it makes me appreciate what so many women go through, working in their own way year after year. So much has changed; so much hasn’t.

That’s why I decided to partner with my wonderful director, acting coach and co-writer @MarthaWollner to create a new one-woman play called “Work.” It’s my chance to untangle four career decades (yikes!), unpack dozens of  “Are you kidding me?” stories and answer today’s “Can I pick your brain?” queries. We are previewing the show for small groups to get it stage ready but what excites me most is how much the story reflects what I see happening now. A woman running for president up against a man who seems to be the one with the PMS! The amazing Sheryl Sandberg of “Lean In”fame who’s looking for ways to cope when life hands you Option B. And young women I meet who aren’t afraid to demand a life AND a career. As it should be.

So I thought it might be time to write about this journey, just as “Work” will talk about it. As I say in the play, “When people say, ‘Oh, it’s just work, it’s not personal’, they’re wrong.” It IS personal to me. And maybe to you. Life. Work. Women. An eyes-wide-open look at our daily world of making a life, making a living, making a difference and hey, having a laugh. You in?

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Dancing with all of my Heart

When I received the email inviting me to participate in a one-night “Dancing with the Stars” style competition to raise money for the Catholic Schools of my hometown Philadelphia, I said yes faster than my fingers could hit the keys. They say “you can take the girl out of Philly, but you can’t take the Philly out of the girl” and that is so true in my case. I have always been loyal to those who ‘brought’ me and even though I have never waltzed, cha-cha-ed or tango’d onstage, nothing can stop me now.

I’ve begun four months of training with a fabulous dancer/choreographer/teacher here in NYC and on March 21st, we will hit the dance floor at the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia. Scared? Not yet. Excited? Over the moon. Please check out www.dancingforourfuturestars.com for details and vote for me anytime if you have the heart! 4700 kids will thank you. (Me, too!)shoese too!)

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A Dream Realized

Edinburgh Fringe Festival #godboxproject

Losing my parents was the heartbreak of my life. But I feel that they left me a gift, first in my mother’s God Boxes of notes but also in the grit and hope they instilled in me as a girl. I had always dreamed of a career in theater but instead poured my years into a business career. But after losing Mom and Dad, I decided I wanted to share their story, not only in my book but onstage.  I started from scratch, at the bottom, at a sad point in my life. But their belief in me gave me courage. And my partnership with the amazing actor/playwright/director Martha Wollner gave me the skills. After many U.S. performances raising nearly $250,000 for charities, now the show is stepping up to a world stage. From July 31 to August 25, I will be performing ‘The God Box, A Daughter’s Story’ at the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It was an honor to be accepted by the famous Assembly Theater there. A new journey is beginning. But I’ll pack my bags with Mom and Dad’s love inside.  Come along with me as I share the next few months of the dream of a lifetime.

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How Not to Sell a Car

I thought I was beyond bored bemoaning women’s annoyances about buying cars. SO 1999. Or 2005. But I just bought a new car and what I observed wasn’t about how car dealers fail when selling to women, but how the in-person experience has degenerated for humans. It’s a meltdown of magic.

Let me back up. My father loved buying and selling cars. He wasn’t a car salesman but he loved the romance, the engineering, the finish. He studied passing cars on the road and bought his fair share of new and used ones with the relish of a smitten teenager. He LOVED bringing them home for the first time. I remember our family gathering on the sidewalk to ‘ooh.’  And he loved selling them too. Dad helped me buy a used red, 1968 Volkswagen Beetle for $750 to drive to college. He sold it five years later for $750 because he curated that car to its prettiest. He sold it as he bought it—with pride and integrity and flourish.

Fast forward to 2013. My husband and I walked in to a favored brand dealership, with confidence in the nameplate of the car we were about to buy. We had done the research and felt this model would be just right for us. We didn’t showroom shop and leave for cheaper pastures. We didn’t haggle. We were super friendly and easy. And what did we get? Paperwork and a handshake without a moment of eye contact. Though I called him his name a couple of times, I don’t ever remember hearing mine or Joe’s.

When we picked up the car, we brought our little dog. It’s true that Rocky is darn cute, but the staff seemed to think that complimenting him would replace…yes, again…eye contact. (They asked his name at least four times.) As we approached our new vehicle, there was no “Wow! Here’s what you just wrote a big check for! Great choice!” No smile, no cheer, no…romance. I guess car sales are picking up. Maybe that’s why the sales guy was in such a hurry, barely explaining the complicated computer system, ignoring our questions with that ‘I’ll get to that in a minute” mumble. I suppose his Labor Day plans were burning a hole in his iPhone since it kept going off and he bolted the second we left as our check was popped on the pile on the almost last day of sales. But let me say, that he sucked the excitement out of what used to be a moment of magic in my house.

So, my road rules for any car company who is wondering why sales aren’t where they should be:

Look in our eyes. Money is harder to come by. Appreciate us, the people who pay your salary.

Celebrate the sale. The sale isn’t over when we say yes. The pick-up should be staged like a prom. Elevate the emotional energy. Make it memorable.

Explain what we bought. If your sales guys aren’t great at details, get yourself someone who loves the art of describing how a car works. Hearing “it’s in the manual” after handing over many tens of thousands of dollars doesn’t cut it.

And finally, some female perspective. We take it personally when you don’t try to connect. It’s rude. Don’t call the women who work in your back office “girls” and how about hiring even one woman on the dealership floor? And say thanks, with a smile. We say it all the time. We were brought up that way.

PS: Got a “form thank you” note emailed the next day. Dry as dust. Makes buying online look warm by comparison.

 

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Texting 9 to 5: A Generational Throwdown

Lately, I have noticed that my Gen Y colleagues have been spending more and more time pecking away at their mobile phones during the work day, (a boomer pet peeve that I have learned to live with). I assumed my millennial partners were exchanging one-liners or plotting cool parties with friends but in today’s Wall St. Journal, I learned that the person most often on the other end of the text is a mom.

Seems that twentysomething’s are g-chatting parents, mostly moms, as often as 20 times a day, just to dish on the sly or to share an indignity of office life. The article didn’t question whether daylong cubicle texting is a career-enhancing move but instead, asked whether the younger generation ought to be dumping work issues in mom’s lap rather than building independent problem-solving skills. After my initial eye-roll’s, I realized that I have actually embraced this digital reality and can even see the good in this changed office etiquette.

First things first. When I was climbing the corporate ladder (yes, and I walked barefoot to school in the snow), personal phone calls were NOT allowed. If Mom called, which she didn’t because she thought I would get in trouble, I would rush to hushed tones and hang up with promises of “I’ll call you tonight!” I’d been taught that the boss was paying for my attention to the job, not to my personal life.

But that was back when my workdays used to end at 6PM and when that same boss rarely, (make that never), called me at home at night. And there was no email. Can I say that again? There was no email. Today’s jobs aren’t 9 to 5 and haven’t been for years. Work summons us with the beep on the bedside table and haunts us with the last blink of night, while emails pile up on the pillow. So, with the workplace boundaries widened, the window for daytime personal duties opens. So I’ve decided I can get over my reflexive cringe at the sight of a clutched iPhone and admit that I like to text from my desk too–my husband, my friends, my to-do’s zip seamlessly in and out of my day. (Oh, how I would love to still have my Mom to text to!) Distracting? Yes. But helpful. And hard to kick. And I’m the boss, so why not? And if so, why not, others on the team?

And while at first, I felt annoyed reading about young-un’s running to mom with every office bruise, on second thought, maybe it’s not a bad idea. While it’s critical that we learn coping and negotiation skills early on, there’s nothing wrong with turning to “the source” for advice. I know I talked to Mom every night about every little nick and achievement. One friend said to me that her daughter texts her the moment her lunch break begins, her cue to lay out all her morning frustrations. And my friend’s responses are usually wise: “Give it some time.” “Think about why that might have happened.”  “Next time, try this approach.” Sound, thoughtful perspective or, one might say, skills training, which let’s face it, is rarely coming from the boss who can barely keep up with her/his own email avalanche. So, as long as the digital umbilical cord doesn’t extend into the performance appraisal session (“But she’s was so smart in fifth grade!!!”), I welcome the life line of Mom, AKA career coach. If the job gets done, I’m good with it. Ping away!

 

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Lean In, Lean Back or Stand Tall?

 

Yesterday I was surprised to see a feature about women’s ‘real’ feelings about work on the front page of The New York Times.

Surprised because the front page naturally favors breaking news or lately, daily worldwide unrest. And surprised because instead of the usual fawning over female Celeb CEO’s like Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, this story by Catherine Rampell followed Sara Uttech from Falls River, Wisconsin, who simply wanted to be successful enough so that she could be a wife, a mom, a professional communicator and a woman she was happy to meet in the mirror.

Turns out Sara had ‘made it’ but had made the choice to ask for a flexible schedule. By working every possible angle and hour, she managed not to miss any of the six ballgames her three kids play every week, no mean feat. Now, Sara is lucky. She has a supportive husband, a job that requires little travel, plus she has a responsive manager and her firm is run by a woman with an open mind. Having no kids myself, the boss’s story also touched me, since she acknowledged that despite being childless, her own personal life deserved flex time too. No matter how keenly felt by moms, flexibility isn’t only a mother’s issue, it’s a human one. But we can be our own worst enemies.

According to the Families and Work Institute, only 37% of women and 44% of men actually want a job with more responsibility and yet, we can’t stop leaning in till it kills us. As I travel to speak, I still find women resisting the idea of downshifting, not because of financial limitations but for ego.

Some of the linked-in women’s career groups frankly scare me. In a recent posted question, “Is it okay to be happy where you’re at?” (I still can’t get over the careerist dangling her “at”, but… ), most of the commenting women declared they will never be satisfied until they get the next bigger job. When did “happy” become a synonym for surrender? At a recent speech, I described my own reinvention of a more livable work/life, and one woman raised her hand and asked, “Wait…are you saying the only difference between your busy life then and now, is that now you’re happy?” Well, yeah. That would be the difference. Isn’t it time that we stop defining fulfillment only in the elusive corner office (been there, my friends…it isn’t that pretty) or flex-time as tantamount to opting out, and that we find that center place where we stand tall and seek ‘enough’ space to live happily ever after? Wouldn’t we love to be in that front-page story?

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December 9, 2016
by Mary Lou Quinlan

"Looks the part": the kiss of (career) death?

I read the news with two sets of eyes. First, the obvious search for what's up. The other, assessing what current events mean for women...

View the full post
The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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