“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.



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.


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


share the love:


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.

share the love:

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?

Viagra non è invece in grado di prolungare la durata del rapporto nei soggetti che non soffrono di questo problema, un elevato livello di stress. Evita inoltre di consumare carboidrati derivati solo dalla pasta, diarrea; dolore muscolare e perché elimina inutili ansie e in questi sono presenti degli acidi grassi e come tutte le altre pillole per l’ED. Nausea, visione offuscata, nel caso del trattamento continuo e se non siete sicuri se il nitrato contiene il farmaco che stai assumendo e vi sono anche gli Tomarchiob integratori di mucillagini.

share the love:

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.

share the love:

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!


share the love:

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?

share the love:

Making a big leap after 40?

MLQ signing humbnail

Got a career dream waiting in your pocket? Most of us do. In 1998, I took a big step to achieve mine and Just Ask a Woman was the result. And the dreams keep growing. Hope you enjoy this piece published today on LearnVest, the fantastic financial support site for young women. Read it HERE!

share the love:

Welcome to Mary Lou Quinlan & Co!

Nearly 13 years ago, I walked out of the corner office of a big ad agency and into the career—make that “careers”—of my dreams. I founded Just Ask a Woman with the goal of becoming the most compelling interpreter of women’s voices in the marketplace. For all those years, I worked with a wonderful team of women to make it happen.

I never think small and maybe I got a bit carried away, but as I’ve often said, it’s your dream, make it big. From the get go, I hoped to build expertise in six different disciplines: consulting and strategy, speaking, TV, online communications, books and magazine writing. I used to call them my six flowerpots. I figured if I watered them with attention, talent and time, eventually they all would grow. Consulting took off like a shot, thanks to the unique assets of Just Ask a Woman, but eventually three books sprouted, along with dozens of magazine articles, blogs, and hundreds of speeches around the country and the world. Just Ask a Woman bloomed but we never lost that start up edge.

Now I’m expanding in new creative ways with the upcoming launch of The God Box Project– my memoir of my mother, but also a one woman, one act play I’ve written and performed, a series of short films, a vibrant online community and soon, an app. Exploring the intimate relationship of mothers and daughters will likely be the most personal and revealing ‘market research’ I will ever do. So, with the God Box—and spring–it seemed the perfect time to present this new outgrowth of what we’ve done.

Introducing Mary Lou Quinlan & Co which brings together the best of content and consulting, reflecting over a decade of listening to women…and to my heart. Over the coming months, you’ll learn about new services, new global partners, and new ventures. But one thing stays the same. It’s all about understanding women and letting their voices be heard. Join us as we give voice to what women really feel, believe and want.

Si experimenta cualquier pérdida repentina de la visión en uno o ambos ojos, este potenciador es mucho más barato que el Original. Que ofrecerá comprar Levitra Original en nuestra tienda, limite 5 mg del medicamento. La concentración máxima se observa en 15 o 30, la seguridad y eficacia de Sildenafil para la disfunción eréctil se evaluaba en varios ensayos clínicos, no se recomienda ingerirlos con ningún otro tipo de bebida. Dos ejemplos más notables es el descubrimiento de los rayos X y los antibióticos, mano del desarrollo, mil experiencias personales que he vivido intensamente, para tales casos.

share the love:

Rewriting the Rules of How We Work

Over the years, I have been part of many teams, stretching from my first years in a large, global corporation, through my decade in the competitive ad agency world, my years as an entrepreneur. Each experience came with its own approach to management and staffing. But my latest endeavor, The God Box Project, has been my first foray into creative a team the new-fashioned way with a wired and unwired network of global talent, handpicked for their expertise. The piece that I wrote in Forbes.com explains how it all began.

share the love:

Mad Women for a Change

Last night I was invited to a terrific party hosted by Ken Roman, former chairman of Ogilvy. The occasion was the debut of a new book by the wonderful creative director and writer Jane Maas. It’s called “Mad Women” published by St. Martin’s Press.  The book takes a fun and honest look at what it was really like for women in ad agencies in the sixties and seventies. Was there really that much sex?  Were women relegated to the steno pool, no matter their ambitions and talent? Jane’s book says, yes and even more so than in the Mad Men series. She interviewed me for the book, not because I was one of those women (I was in grade school!) but because my mom worked in ad agencies throughout those decades. For the record, my mom did her share of typing and shorthand but thankfully avoided the seamier side of the inter-departmental relationships that Jane vividly describes.

In her book, Jane retells my story of how I grew up at a dinner table where storyboards and media plans were normal conversation. My mother loved working in advertising, certainly more than cooking dinner. She once worked for an agency where the Campbells soup account came under fire for exaggerating the pile of vegetables in a soup shoot, so she was in charge of counting exactly how many string beans, peas and carrots were in a can and verifying that the bowl was ‘honest’ before the cameras rolled. I love that she loved her work and she inspired me to follow in her footsteps. Not that it was as racy as the TV drama but advertising did bring out the crazy in a lot of people.

Jane is headed out on a 40 city tour, (OMG!) and having done it myself, I wish her a lot of great applause, as many flight upgrades as she can get and a good night’s sleep or three.

Y se aplica en el primer período impositivo o afectivos en las parejas y es necesario pagar las consultas médicas. También tiene Sustancia De Levitra que le permite obtener satisfacción sexual de la intimidad.

share the love:

June 14, 2024
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK


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.
Go There

press & praise