June 14, 2010
Expecting women to dial down the sexy at the office
By now you've probably heard about Debrahlee Lorenzana, who's suing Citigroup for firing her from her banking job because she's too sexy.
[Photo by MattC.]
No matter what you think about the merit of Lorenzana's suit, the professionalism of her business wardrobe, or the appropriateness of Lorenzana's bosses reportedly saying her looks were "too distracting" for the workplace, one thing is undeniable: as a society, we may never come to a universal agreement on what constitutes appropriate office attire for women.
For the past couple of weeks, the internet's been ablaze with coverage and commentary on whether Lorenzana was treated unfairly not just by her male colleagues but by her female ones, whether she has a legal leg to stand on, and whether she is just another reality-show-seeking fame whore. (You can see photos of Lorenzana here.)
Online reader comments about the case have ranged from the "I see nothing wrong with her workplace apparel -- she just wears it better than most" variety to those of the "Hello? Put the girls away and get a pair of looser pants!" nature to "I was blessed/cursed with similar physical assets. I could go to work in a burlap sack and still get harassed."
Some commentators have wanted to hang the discussion on what constitutes professional dress these days. In fact, a publicist I know suggested I write about the need to further revise office dress codes, now that so many of us blend life with work and grow up thinking that DAs and CSIs actually do show up to work in short skirts and plunging necklines.
But I think this misses the point. No matter how many flip-flop Fridays employers institute, there will always be some business sectors that demand a more buttoned-up look. Contrary to what we see on TV, can you imagine a courtroom attorney standing before the judge in her Seattle fleece and Tevas or her best nightclub duds? Me neither.
Besides, this case has more to do with a handful of male employees not knowing how to respond to a beautiful woman who can rock the heck out of a tailored suit than it does with office dress codes. As Jezebel writer Anna North put it, Lorenzana's story is "... a reminder that holding women responsible for the way men react to their bodies is just as common in the West as it is in the Middle East."
Sure, companies have every right to ask their employees to dress professionally and save the cleavage for the weekend. But when two female employees show up to work wearing the same type of outfit and the one with the supermodel-like figure gets grief about it from her colleagues -- male or female -- it's clear we still have a long way to go, baby.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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