Magazine article Personnel Journal

The Image Clash: Personal Style vs. Professional Appearance

Magazine article Personnel Journal

The Image Clash: Personal Style vs. Professional Appearance

Article excerpt

In today's complicated world, ethical decisions aren't always black or white; options often fall into gray areas. Readers responded to this situation posed by


The Dilemma:

* Does image matter? Carla, an accounting supervisor, is looking for a promotion to middle management. She's a 10-year employee and is competent as both a supervisor and as a number cruncher. There's one potential problem. Although her skills warrant her promotion, her personal style perhaps doesn't.

She wears cutesy barretts to hold back her waist-length hair, wears heavy makeup and generally wears youthful clothing (she's 40). Would you recommend her for management without reservation? If you do have reservations, what course of action would you take?

Readers Respond:

* Personal style, including interpersonal skills, appearance and demeanor, should be part of an employee's overall performance appraisal. Each organization/type of business has its own set of standards, including customer service, profitability, quality and quantity of work produced, and professionalism. Professionalism takes on its own definition from industry to industry, and this is the area in which company culture (including professional image) is defined.

This employee should have been receiving feedback throughout her career with this firm, which should have included appearance. During career-goals conversations with her manager, goals should have been mutually established between the employee and her manager. The manager should have been counseling the employee with regard to the importance of a polished, professional image in the organization and that she has good potential for promotion if she achieves the standards which are set.

Donna Bernardi Paul VP, Human Resources Trammell Crow Company Washington, D.C.

* Carla should be promoted without reservation as soon as an appropriate position arises. However, she should also be counseled on personal presentation skills. While it is an unfortunate fact, it is a fact nevertheless, that image does matter. To be taken seriously by senior management, it's usually necessary to present oneself in a polished, professional manner. I think that subordinates would also take more seriously a boss who's professional in all areas, including self presentation.

Carla should attend seminars on the subject and, as her human resources representative, I would also counsel her personally. However, the counseling must be done with great care, so that it's in no way sexist. We can't tell a woman to wear makeup or dresses-rather we can discuss with her what professional attire includes. And this has nothing to do with whether Carla is attractive, but rather whether she's presenting what she does have in the best light.

While it indeed would be unfair to expect everyone to be gorgeous, it isn't unfair to expect everyone who aspires to higher levels in an organization to be presentable and professional, at least in the context of the organization's culture.

Liz Bligan Manager, Employment, No. America The West Company Inc. Lionville, Pennsylvania

I would not have a problem recommending Carla for the promotion. In fact, given that she's in the accounting field typically dominated by males, I would be relieved that she doesn't dress in the stereotypical masculine businesstype suits. I also feel she has enough confidence in herself, and in her skills and abilities to dress to please herself.

Welcome to the '90s. I see many more women in management today dressing in more modern styles and colors, but still in good taste. However, "good taste" to me may not mean the same as to someone else. Although the proverbial glass ceiling still exists, women today are comfortable dressing in a more feminine style rather than the blue suits and white blouses of yesteryear.

Jeanie Gaines Human Resources Manager Brockway Standard Inc. Dallas, Texas

In the first place, this situation doesn't occur at all if dress code guidelines are specified in the employee handbook. …

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