Why does it take so long to dry everything? I can wash my hair with little effort, but the time it takes to dry it—correctly?! Left to nature, my hair would gladly be beach hair 24/7. That’s too many uncontrolled waves, even for Lake Norman.

And nails: The time it takes for a manicure to dry is the only reason I don’t have regularly polished nails. I don’t like how the manicurist leaves the space where my nail meets the cuticle undone; I feel like I’m watching my fingernails grow as I walk out of the salon. And I’m not a bad polisher, but to be still long enough to have blemish-free fingertips isn’t within my ability.

Where did this come from? I’m preparing for a Young Elites Leadership Summit, and one of the potential panel questions is: In what way do you have to focus on your appearance more than your male counterparts in order to be successful in the workplace?

The day-to-day answer, thankfully, really is I don’t. I do a lot of work from home. But if I were to show up at a networking event without some foundation, mascara, and at least some cute shoes, the greetings would be more like “Are you ok?” rather than “How are you?” Boy, I’m glad I thought about this before the panel may ask because this may not go well. 🙂

Some may defensively say that’s not so, but it is. Also, women’s haircuts (without even discussing color or highlights) and fashion are clearly on the higher end of maintenance. Men can wear the same suits year after year, even with a little weight fluctuation, and maybe only have to change out a tie, but women don’t have the same luxury.

Looking back at my teaching career, I realized that I followed suit with many of the veteran teachers; and I was frumpy, I’m sad to say. If you’re not careful, you could have a closet of solid-color knit pants, tops, and rompers. Yikes!

When I started teaching at a private school another teacher named Amy and I found ourselves among the “oldest” teachers there, though she was about 10 years younger than I. Surprisingly, no one necessarily discouraged flip-flops and sloppy jeans; but Amy and I decided to lead the charge to dress professionally. Not only did we set the pace, it really did affect how we were perceived and treated.

I’m not saying to wear a suit every day (I certainly didn’t)—in fact, a suit can be too harsh in many situations. Besides, women’s suits, like much of women’s fashion, aren’t meant to be decade-long staples, as some men’s suits can be. If you don’t have a knack for putting together outfits, get some help. Check out YouTube—at least reruns of “What Not To Wear.” If possible, consider hiring someone to show you how to dress your body and for your career. Stacy and Clinton influenced me more than I can express.

Even as I write this, I know that some will think this is an exaggerated topic: men vs. women in the workplace.  And some will say I don’t take this seriously enough. Fortunately, I work for a women’s magazine that is created “for women, by women.” We don’t try to one-up the men. In fact, it never comes up. I never think, “OK, I have a meeting today with a male. I sure do wish it were a woman instead.” Never. At the same time, I wouldn’t dress any slouchier if I were meeting with a woman. It’s important to remember not to think in generalities. Once you start treating all men—or all women—the same, then you are the one with the problem. No matter my audience, I dress appropriately for the event. And for the record, I think all that fluffing is just part of who I am—or who I’m not if it’s an uneventful Tuesday morning.

There very well may be some men who work on their appearances more than I do. Cool. Certainly, some women do. But honestly, I believe that if you—male or female—are neat, prepared, confident, and your fashion happens to be within the last 10 years, you’ll be just fine.

Please weigh in on how you’d answer the panel question (here or on Facebook): In what way do you have to focus on your appearance more than your male counterparts in order to be successful in the workplace?