Savvy, Sexy, Smart? Not on LinkedIn!

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Recently my 18-year-old daughter poked her head in the door of my office to let me know that she was headed out to spend time with her girlfriends. Distractedly, I looked up to say goodbye.

I almost gave myself whiplash from the double take when I saw her.

In place of my little girl stood a sexy, provocative, gorgeous, tiny ‘object’ dressed in skin-tight Lycra, over-the-knee heeled boots and make-up of the Kardashian kind.

Talk time.

“Sweetheart, you truly look fabulous. But I have to tell you, I believe you need to re-think what you’re wearing.”

“Mom, I’m 18. I should be able to wear what I want.”

Here’s the deal. You look fabulous for someone appearing on YouTube but, in reality, you’re about to take a bus into the city and you’re wearing a Lycra bodysuit that’s opened almost to your belly button. I can see all of your cleavage, from the front, from the side—from every which way. I want you to be safe and this outfit is too revealing for the bus.

Gave me “The Look”.

“Let me be straight. I’m afraid that your dress is an invitation for a man to rape you. Yes, yes, I know…. and I agree…. you ‘should’ be able to wear whatever you want, even be naked, without worrying that someone is going to rape you. And as much as I agree that this is the way it ‘should’ be, it’s not yet the way it is.”

“I just wrote a social post about this the other day. It’s so annoying! I should be able to wear whatever I want.  I shouldn’t have to worry.

“I absolutely agree. But we’re not there yet. Not as a society and not as individuals. Your outfit screams, “Look at me, I’m hot.” I admit it– I want to protect you. I want to keep you safe.”

“Don’t worry, mom. I’ll be safe.”

Do I put my foot down and threaten to ground her if she leaves the house ‘that way’? Or…. do I let go?

I let her go, telling her to have a great time and to be safe.

In doing so, I also let go.

My stomach tightened with the realization that came with knowing, with certainty, that how I’ve taught her is not necessarily how she will learn.

Yes, I made the right choice. Knowing that didn’t make it easier.

I had to trust this woman-child of mine. I have taught her everything I can. She has been shown how to find her strength, to be powerful, to live on purpose, to express her voice and to honor herself.

Which does not mean that this is how she will live—it only means that I taught her.

It is now up to her to learn on her own terms. Which makes me squirm, not just a little.

A few minutes later she texted me.

I’m sorry. I’ll be safe. I know why you would be concerned for me because this is reality and the world we live in, and men are creepy.

Here’s a question you might ask yourself: Is the possible danger worth it to make the point that you’re entitled to wear whatever you want? While I agree with you, in theory, the reality is far different. Are you exchanging sexy for safety? Only you can answer that. xoxoxoxox

Did I really think she’d get raped? No. I just want her to be accountable for her impact on others. Women who dress provocatively are not ‘asking for it’ in the parlance of harassment; but they are dressing in a way that invites attention, some of which may be unwanted.

Fast forward a few weeks…..

One morning, as I was perusing LinkedIn, a post popped up regarding the provocative pictures some women are using on their profiles.

The post invited its readers to comment on what we thought about it.

My expectation was that the group would be split- half commenting that women should dress professionally if they want to be taken seriously, and the other half commenting that women should be able to wear whatever they want.


Which brings me to the dilemma for women…

There is what women ‘should’ be able to do, and then there is what women ‘can’ actually do.
They are not the same. Not even close.

That said, if you’re on LinkedIn, if you’re looking to make a name for yourself as a subject matter expert in your field, or if you’re looking for employment at any level, then you are playing the Job Market Game.

The Job Market Game has Job Market Rules regarding your résumé, references, picture, profile, posts and participation in groups, among other things.

Job Market Rules are not voted on, not individualistic and not especially agreeable. But they are the Rules of this game.

The Job Market Rules are particularly finicky when it comes to said picture of potential candidates or clients (that would be YOU).

It says, “Dress as you would for the job.

Now, the Nancy D. Solomon rule for job candidates is, “Dress one step up from how you would dress for the job.” In other words, put your best foot forward. Always. No matter what.

True. You are Savvy, Sexy and Smart.

True. You ‘should’ be able to wear whatever you want.

But you can’t and here’s why:
If you want to be taken seriously as a competent and impact-full member of an organization, then you need to show up looking and feeling that way. When you walk into a meeting with your cleavage leading the way you will, no doubt, get  noticed. People will think to themselves, “She is one sexy woman.”

They will not think, “She is one savvy, smart woman!”

Thinking that you are sexy will, inevitably, bleed over into how they treat you. Voila, next thing you know you may be discriminated against. Your sexiness will eclipse your savvy-ness and smartness.

You will then be treated as an object instead of as a leader. You will tell yourself it’s because you’re a woman. You’ll be half right.

People do not have bifocal vision- there is one complete you, and all the elements combine into an impression, an impact.

As I proceed, please keep in mind that irksome little data point called “Unconscious Bias”. Most of the time we don’t even realize how we’re processing incoming information, we just do.

Spoiler: The ‘Sexy Side of You’ needs to be saved for before and after hours. Why?

First let me say that I am a feminist, through and through. Always have been, always will be. I’m an active and outspoken voice advocating social, political, legal and economic rights for women—rights equal to men.

I make no apologies for that. Ever.

The Job Market Game is NOT based on rules of equity, fairness, or justice and it certainly doesn’t adhere to feminist dictates. There is no equality regardless of what the fine print claims; not gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, none of it.

The Job Market Game doesn’t care about those things. You should.

Under the category of ‘that’s not fair,’ you’re right, it’s not. But that’s the way it is.

Here is what this has taught me.

  • Just because you can do something, doesn’t me you should.
  • Just because something isn’t fair, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
  • Just because you deserved that promotion, doesn’t mean you’ll get it.
  • Just because you should get equal pay for equal work, doesn’t mean you’ll get it.
  • Just because you ‘should’ be able to wear whatever you want as an expression of who you are, doesn’t mean you should.

Professional women fall into two categories. That’s it.
We are either judged to be competent or we are judged to be likable.
Rarely both.

Likable is great. On it’s own, it won’t get you the job.

Competent is better; It is more likely to get you the job.

Using a photo on your LinkedIn profile with a come-hither look, dressed in a strapless gown, or glancing seductively over your shoulder in front of a sunset is going to get you noticed, but it’s not going to get you the respect you deserve.

Not even if you’re an evening gown manufacturer or a photographer.

YES, I too am sorry we have to choose. But that doesn’t change the facts.

I have suffered many losses fighting this point. Now I compulsively recite the Serenity Prayer (Only half-kidding).

Once your picture comes up on your profile, the hiring manager or recruiter will be thinking to him/herself, “If she’s using that kind of bad judgment when she’s looking for a job, what the heck is she going to do once she has it?”

Should your photo represent YOU? Of course, but let Savvy lead and Smart show up at the interview.

The Litmus Test:
If you ask yourself, “I wonder if this is the best outfit to wear for my profile” then it’s not.

Be on purpose. Go with your gut. Get the job. Change the world.

Want to know if your LinkedIn photo expresses your likability or competence? Photofeeler is a free app that will help you with that.

I know this blog is going to stir up some strong feelings, so bring it on. Leave your comments and opinions in the section below. And we’d love it if you ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ this blog too!

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8 thoughts on “Savvy, Sexy, Smart? Not on LinkedIn!

  1. This is a terrific conversation between a daughter and her mom, my friend Nancy. I wish every young woman would read this and that every mom would take the time to have this conversation with her daughter. It needs to be said and more important – it needs to be heard. Well done Nancy and job well done.

  2. I agree with you 100%, and that’s exactly what I tell young women going into the job market. Heterosexual men are hot-wired to react in certain ways when they see women they find attractive. So it can be an uphill battle for a woman to be taken seriously even under the most modest of clothing, Want freedom? Knock yourself out: show your cleavage and lots of leg (with no hosiery or tights). Let the guys imagine copulating with you while you talk about work-related subjects. Just don’t come cryin’ to me or anyone else when you discover that those guys don’t take you seriously. There is a time and a place for everything. Be wise and know the difference.

  3. Nancy, those were some very good and strong thoughts put together beautifully by you.
    I totally agree with you that As much as we like to stand up for feminism and say we should be allowed to wear what we want, every place demands a certain decorum . If you’re on a professional network people should just judge you by your skills but sadly that’s not the case. An Appearance does make a lot of difference infact it makes the first impression. Also, i don’t think it’s the case just for females. I am not sure how many recruiters would take a man in a hawaiian shirt lying on a hammock serious enough to be the face of the company in front of clients 😀 !

  4. Garima, Thank you so much for your both thoughtful comments, and your acknowledgment. I’d like to add something to your observation re: Hawaiian shirts. I agree that in certain professions a Hawaiian shirt might not be appropriate but it a dress code is often industry specific: Case in point, in the tech industry shorts and t-shirts are common place attire.

    The difference is that a Hawaiian shirt would not offend, while cleavage very well could. Furthermore, the research repeatedly reports that women are held to a much higher and more rigorous standard than women. If you haven’t already, may I suggest you read Deborah Tannen’s Talking 9-to-5. Her research is eye-opening, and as relevant as it was 20 years ago.

  5. Michele, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I try my best not to make generalizations about groups of people, nor to assume that I know what they’re thinking or feeling.

    That said, there are many people of every imaginable gender identity that wouldn’t think sexual thoughts, necessarily. However they might very well think, “She mustn’t have very good judgement if she deems that micro-mini to be appropriate for work.” Then, Voila, no matter how brilliant that woman’s contribution might be, she will passed over and ignored. That would be a shame, and a high price to pay for wardrobe freedom.

  6. Hi Nancy,
    Great post! My friends and I have been having a similar conversation regarding a young woman who was “edgy” and if someone should speak with her about it. (I fell into the “yes tell her there is no Santa Claus, camp” because the reality is that she will be judged on her looks and how she dresses.)

    Question for you: you state that you should seek to be competent, rather than “likable”. However, there is research to indicate that being likable actually gets you farther in life: people are threatened by competence which could be used against them. While someone who is likable is an ally even if they are less competent. How do women balance this natural human tendency to categorize and work in groups? (Example of this research:

  7. Pingback: RULE #1 KEEP YOUR KNEES TOGETHER: What Women Who Lead Can Learn About Executive Presence from Kellyanne Conway | Nancy D. Solomon

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