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Could Sheryl Sandberg Dress Like Mark Zuckerberg and Succeed?

Recently, a London receptionist made headlines when she challenged her temp company, which demanded that she wear two- to four-inch heels as part of a "formal dress code." If you're reading this in the U.S., and think something like that could never happen to you, think again: generally speaking, in most states it's legal for employers to impose one dress code on women and another on men, as long as it doesn't require more formal attire from one gender. Dress codes are one thing, but even those of us who are lucky enough to work in places where the policy is something along the lines of, "Please don't come to work naked," can't escape the added pressure professional women face to look "groomed" – in other words, to wear makeup, to blow-dry their hair, and in many cases, yes, to wear high heels. In a recent column in The Huffington Post, Emily Peck invites us to consider, for example, the difference between the day-to-day attire of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Recently, a London receptionist made headlines when she challenged her temp company, which demanded that she wear two- to four-inch heels as part of a “formal dress code.” If you’re reading this in the U.S., and think something like that could never happen to you, think again: generally speaking, in most states it’s legal for employers to impose one dress code on women and another on men, as long as it doesn’t require more formal attire from one gender.

Dress codes are one thing, but even those of us who are lucky enough to work in places where the policy is something along the lines of, “Please don’t come to work naked,” can’t escape the added pressure professional women face to look “groomed” – in other words, to wear makeup, to blow-dry their hair, and in many cases, yes, to wear high heels. In a recent column in The Huffington Post, Emily Peck invites us to consider, for example, the difference between the day-to-day attire of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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(Photo Credit: stokpic.com/Pexels)

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“The rules for dressing for the office are completely different for men and women,” Peck writes. “Perhaps no two people better exemplify the double standard than the most well-known executives working at Facebook: cofounder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, known for wearing the same grey T-shirt and jeans every day, and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who is typically seen perched atop towering high heels.”

Facebook doesn’t seem to have a dress code, so one could argue that Sandberg’s attire is personal choice, and as such, not worth discussing – except for the fact that it’s nearly impossible to think of a successful female businessperson who dresses with Zuckerberg’s casual approach to fashion.

Wear Heels, Get Promoted?

Last month, Peck wrote about Meya Laraqui, a young professional whose career took off after she received some unusual advice from a colleague: “Wear high heels.”

Laraqui keeps her stilettos under her desk, and hauls them out for meetings, but takes the advice seriously.

“I’m bound to a career in heels,” she told Peck. “I don’t mind it.”

From a career perspective, she might be making a smart decision: a recent study from sociologists at the University of Chicago and the University of California – Irvine found that while more attractive people have a higher income, women’s attractiveness premium was entirely due to grooming, while men’s was only half. In other words, it’s less about how women look naturally, and more about how unnatural they make themselves look.

The Problem With the Grooming Gap

Other than the obvious health issues related to wearing heels, the pressure to look professional in a distinctly female fashion harms women in other ways. For instance, it costs time and money. One report estimates that the average woman spends $15,000 on beauty products during her lifetime, and that’s not even taking into account the value of the time she spends using those products.

Ana Swanson, a reporter for Wonkblog, describes applying seven products to her face before 8 a.m.: “In a highly unscientific poll, 27 of my female colleagues at The Washington Post reported putting an average of five products on their face that morning, and keeping two additional pairs of shoes at their desk. The two male colleagues I asked averaged half a product and one extra shoe each.”

It’s hard to imagine a woman boiling all that down to some female version of the Zuckerberg uniform and getting away with it. Sheryl Sandberg’s shoes might make the more comfort-focused among us cringe, but she and other successful women like her will probably have to keep wearing them – for now.

To learn more about how unconscious bias affects women in the workplace, read PayScale’s report, The Gender Pay Gap Is Real.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you feel pressure to dress for success? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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10 Comments on "Could Sheryl Sandberg Dress Like Mark Zuckerberg and Succeed?"

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Anonymous
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Nick, that’s a pretty old-fashioned mindset for business that is going by the wayside at many companies. People would rather be comfortable at work than required to wear stuffy clothes they can’t move in and serve no purpose other than “looking professional” in a traditional sense. Why care about how people look if they are performing well and their skills are in no way related to their appearance? Maybe if you’re running a company focused on in-person sales, or a modeling agency. Otherwise, studies have shown that people do better work and are happier in their jobs when they’re wearing… Read more »
Nick Spiliotis
Guest
I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, there is right way and a wrong way to dress for business. Take a look at pictures and films pre-1960. Men wearing at least a jacket and tie if not an actual suit; and ladies wearing dresses or skirts and blouses. Then take a look at the way people dress for work today – It’s disgusting. So called ‘hipsters’ with their shirts un-tucked; women showing way too much skin for the work place. How do you ever expect to be taken seriously? Don’t show up for an interview at my… Read more »
Milly
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I had a position where a new manager was brought in – he was a buddy from the director’s prior place of employment. He did not understand the business processes. He did not understand how to manage staff. When I worked to engage him in different issues I and my team were working on he generally gazed at my legs if we were nor in a conference room stated at a table. This annoyed me and rather than address it directly I simply chose to never wear skirts in the office – trousers from then on. He ended up pushing… Read more »
ardavan
Guest

One is the company’s founding ceo, a “geek”. The other is a company employee. Not sure whether this example illustrates the gender issue all that well?

Lindus
Guest
In today’s time and age it is expected to see people in upper management to differentiate themselves from the rest of the workforce in one way or other. Sheryl is a COO and is thusly expected to represent the stuffy upper management office where they have to see more conservative clients on a regular basis. Zuckerberg’s t-shirt is seemingly always monochrome, always “ironed” and always well-fitting. He also cleans up nicely in a suit if/when need be. Could Sheryl go to work in a t-shirt and jeans? Probably, but it wouldn’t garner her the same level of respect from her… Read more »
Hrmph...
Guest

Yeah Milly, that person sounds creepy. You did the right thing. I personally..ain’t doin’ it no more…Very tasteful shirt, carry a jacket, where Jeans or yoga pants and gym shoes. NO ONE IS PAYING FOR A THIRD SURGERY ON MY FEET…except me. So…I stay VTC ready and comfortable. I have to deal with my body when I get old. I’m not making much…85k, but I’m comfy and respected…and STILL moving up. Screw the space cadets.

Sue Biddle
Guest
Dress for success people male or female. For woman keep your make up simple but tasteful, apply the KISS principle. Having problems with office dress suitability call or email me and I will dress you for next to nothing. Clean, well ironed/pressed key pieces of office clothing is where it’s at. Great quality office wear can be found at clothing sales, thrift stores (second hand stores) for as I said next to nothing. As for the requirement to wear heels at meetings or at work, keep them under your desk for those important meetings while wearing a more sensible and… Read more »
Diane Lu-Hovasse
Guest

Unless there’s a big turnaround in how women are perceived, they probably won’t go ultra-casual, even if they own a company. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg could get away with it because they own big companies. Being in business, doesn’t mean you can be showing up to a presentation with a weekend look, will win more clients. Sorry, we do judge people 90% visually.

All_Man
Guest

I’m pretty sure this is the dumbest thing I’ve read in 2016.

Patricia Gonzales
Guest

The example I feel is poor one. Mark Zuckerberg would fall into the category of an innovator or creative mind role, not a business role.

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