If you think about the world around us, there’s a continual desire and pressure to hold back time and look younger.
The shelves in Boots are full of lotions and potions claiming ‘anti-ageing’. Glossy magazines cite ‘to do’ lists to stop the effect of the ticking clock on our skin, hair and physique.
Yet, interestingly, I have had several women recently tell me that looking younger at work is an issue for them. It’s not just self-perception, these women have actually had colleagues tell them they look younger or assume they are at the start or their careers and in junior roles. To be clear, these comments have come from male and female colleagues. (Read my article on women being judged more readily).
So, for women who are a few years into their career, often managing people, looking younger is certainly not a benefit. They are not being recognised for their experience and insight, they are not seen as credible for their role and are made to feel like the junior at meetings. People are associating youthful looks with lack of experience and credibility.
This is very important to address, as not only is the external perception important but the internal too. One woman told me she used to have a normal level of self-confidence but that is rapidly fading. When confidence is lacking, that affects the external to an even greater degree. We perform at our best when we feel confident and others respond well to us.
Whilst the ideal would be for others to stop making these rash judgements, this is a tough job. Even if we educate people not to verbalise their perception, changing it is hard and will take time (it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try) as it’s human instinct that we all have ideas about things and these come from deep seated beliefs, experiences and to be blunt, biases.
What we can do as individuals is to think about our external image. Not that I am saying it’s about changing yourself purely to suit others (you can’t please everybody anyway and nor should you try!).
An important starting point is spending time thinking about where you lack confidence and how that can be addressed. When you know you look good and feel good, you will project yourself far better which will improve how others respond to you.
In case this is an issue for you or someone you know, here are some thoughts on communicating yourself to do your experience and expertise justice:
- Wear clothing and accessories that you know flatter you and importantly you feel good in
- If you are a shorter woman, avoid larger patterns and accessories, as they will make you look smaller
- Wear make-up, it doesn’t have to take ages each day but a good foundation and some eye and lip make-up will give you a more professional look
- If you have long hair, wear it in a style that means you won’t fiddle it as this can communicate youth
- Be definite and open with your body language. Lack of purpose and appearing ‘closed’ will communicate lack of confidence and youth
- Avoid wearing a uniform. Even if you work in a formal environment, wearing very plain clothes and no accessories can communicate youth and inexperience – you just went for the safe option!
Tweaks can make a big difference but what makes the biggest difference is your confidence and knowing you are communicating yourself positively and appropriately. There are steps you can take but on the positive side, whilst looking younger at work may be a professional handicap now; it will be a bonus in 20 years’ time!