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March 24, 2007

Stop Oppressing Me With Your Exuberant Floweriness!

Oh! The humanity!

Friday concluded a grueling work week, during which we got little sleep and our productivity quotient was defined by a rather disturbing ability to churn out a depressing number of PowerPoint slides just chock full of delightfully mindnumbing insights like this:

Variables x and y were correlated. Variable x was greatest on projects with more y and z:

- Type A projects experienced 3-16% higher average values for var. x than Type B projects.

- However, even for projects with 90% z, the avg. value of x was 12% for Type A projects and 8% for Type B projects!!!!

Unsurprisingly, the editorial staff spent Friday night in a state of shell shocked stupor. Not knowing any better, we succumbed to our baser instincts and spent the evening wallowing in the sybaritic delights of chick-flickdom with The Daughter in law, who'd given us a version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for Christmas. Even worse, we reverted to our longstanding weekend ritual of the home pedicure complete with hot, scented water and an assortment of to die for creams and scrubs that left our skin feeling velvety smooth and us purring with contentment.

All in all it was a most satisfactory evening. We finally got a chance to relax, the hot water was heavenly, and after a week spent neglecting our inner diva we positively luxuriated in lining up all our nice things and surveying the results; all while watching the dashing Mr. Darcy stride across the TV screen in his frock coat and a gratifyingly snug set of breeches. What fun to indulge our feminine side, we thought! We should do this more often.

If only we'd read the Wall Street Journal first:

In her corporate bio photo, Karen Firestone's dark blue Akris suit is trim but not snug. Her dark sweater displays her collar bones but no décolletage. She is the image of a successful woman in finance, whose clothes venture neither too far nor too near.

Ms. Firestone is one of the chief rainmakers for Aureus Asset Management, an independent Boston money manager that is responsible for investing $250 million of other people's cash. So when she steps out in public she knows that what she wears becomes the embodiment of her company. "I feel that I have a responsibility to project the right image," Ms. Firestone says.

In an age where the rules of professional dressing are constantly shifting, and women have much more freedom than in decades past, there is still one area where there are more unspoken rules than ever: finance. While their male counterparts may sport "business casual" khakis, many women on Wall Street feel they must toe a careful and conservative line. They often feel obliged to dress up in order to command authority. These women still struggle not to be defined by traditionally feminine pastimes, like dressing well.

The result: They don't talk about fashion openly, for fear of appearing frivolous.

Ms. Firestone, for instance, was nervous about discussing her wardrobe because it might distract attention from her firm's accomplishments. Several women in financial services flatly declined to discuss what they wear to work. (It's worth noting, though, that all of the men I approached spoke eagerly about their wardrobes.)

These women have leapt many hurdles, the least of which is getting dressed in the morning. But the old, scripted uniform of dark suits and high collars isn't quite sufficient for handling today's wide range of clients, in far-flung locales, on any given day of the week. It's tricky to adopt a varied wardrobe while still commanding the respect of hedge-fund managers and major investors. Just try shopping for a power evening gown.

Casual events often call for chinos and an Izod for men. But women who arrive in golf clothes are likely to strike the wrong note. This came home for Lisa Tames, a banker at Citigroup in New York who favors practical looks from Ellen Tracy and Ann Taylor, when she recently attended a conference. The dress code was casual, but a female colleague raised a few eyebrows by wearing slim green capri pants. "It wasn't projecting her ability in her field," recalls Ms. Tames, who says she rarely dresses down.

It isn't clear to me that a guy in khakis looks any more accomplished than a woman in capri pants. But I understand, as Ms. Tames did, the unspoken rule that a woman in finance should be more dressed up than the men she works with -- especially when those men report to her.

Suddenly, the corporate world slammed down on us like an Iron Curtain, stomping all over our inner mellow with the jackboots of patriarchal oppression. We stared down at our toes and they wiggled back at us, looking vaguely hoyden-ish in a sassy shade of Tuscan red nail polish.

4998-341071-d.jpg Sure, they looked cute. But could toes like that ever be taken seriously? Did they look authoritative? Feeling suitably chastened, we imagined them winking up at us out of a pair of flirty spring sandals...

Stern duty prompted us to firmly renounce the alluring wiles of the patriarchal hegemistic power structure. "Noooooooo! Stop oppressing me with your exuberant floweriness!" we shouted, compulsively clutching a boring but dependable pair of Aigner pumps to our heaving bosom.

This was no time for faintheartedness or equivocation, for shilly-shallying or indecisiveness. Only the woman who projected a serious image would grab the brass ring, could hope to succeed in a dog-eat-dog, man's world.

The nail polish would have to go. We'd show them. The editorial staff could be just as calm, rational, and decisive as any man.

You can see that, can't you?

But as we regretfully rubbed the last vestiges of Tuscan sun from our toes, we ruefully reflected that the Patriarchy had us coming and going. Even getting dressed in the morning was rife with sexual traps. Should we succumb to men's inner fantasies and dress like Marilyn Monroe? Or toe the corporate line and end up looking like Helen Thomas? It was all so unfair - no matter what we did, we ran the risk of unwittingly doing what THEY wanted while MEN had the glorious freedom to run about all day in silk cravats and pinstripe suits! They didn't have a care in the world!

Why were women always the victims?

Posted by Cassandra at March 24, 2007 11:33 AM

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Nothing personal Cassandra, but no matter how you dressed for the presentation, I'd still be more interested in your partial regression coefficients and would ask to see your residuals.

Posted by: Jeff at March 24, 2007 02:29 PM


Posted by: Cassandra at March 24, 2007 02:34 PM

Did you follow up the slide about correlation with a slide that reminded the viewer,

"Correlation does not always imply causation",

and a load of minutiae about the causative/non-causative correlation?

Posted by: karrde at March 24, 2007 04:00 PM

While you're at it, you really should have specified the Type I and Type II errors.

Personally, as an engineer amongst engineers, with chinos and a knit shirt I'm usually dressed better than the men are. And I don't wear heels - no more casts on *my* achilles tendons, in the summer, ever again!

Posted by: Annlee at March 24, 2007 09:33 PM

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