(Or as Barney Stinson might say, “Suit Up!”)
Over the past week there has been a flurry of activity on the topic of appropriate attire at work for Higher Education professionals. I have some strong feelings on this simply because I fear that we are disseminating untrue and potentially career-damaging information for new professionals regarding creating a professional image that helps them gain credibility and positions for career mobility.
These views represent my own personal feelings and I welcome others to share their own thoughts and myths on this topic.
Myth #1: It doesn’t matter what you wear in Higher Education because we work with students:
False—While the logic behind this is that dressing more formally creates a barrier between practitioners and students, appropriate attire clearly demonstrates that you hold a position of authority at the institution and can assist them in getting the resources and support they need.
Students are but one constituency that we work with on a daily basis. Parents, alumni and community partners are important stakeholders on college campuses.
What does your professional image say to these partners?
Myth #2: Encouraging professionals to “dress for the position that they want” is classist and is not socially just.
False—Jeans and sneakers can cost as much (or more!) than dress clothes. Dressing for success isn’t about wearing Chanel, it’s about looking neat, polished and put-together. Professional attire can be found at every price point.
How do you create a look that is comfortable, reflects your personality and demonstrates your role as a professional at your institution?
Myth #3: If I dress up at work then I am not being my “authentic self.”
False—there is no cookie-cutter mold for appropriate work attire—believe me, I would not necessarily fit into this category, either! Be yourself, but showcase the best possible version of your professional self. Every day you represent your institution, your department, your supervisor and those you supervise. This is a responsibility that is not to be taken lightly.
It isn’t about “you” in this respect. You are receiving a paycheck to do good work and support students. You are also an ambassador for your university in every setting and with every constituency you work with.
Especially for our new professionals, many of you have the (good?!) fortune of looking young. When working with older faculty and/or staff, don’t give them any reason to question your place in a meeting. Don’t let your image distract them from your message.
How can we prepare new professionals to understand the culture of your institution and the importance of professional image?
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