Does what you wear affect equality in the workplace?

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a great excuse to celebrate some totally rad women, but also a chance to pause and think about how we’re doing with this whole 'mission towards a more equal society' thing. With equal pay not due to become a reality until 2041 in the UK and 43 per cent of large firms reporting no women at board level at all, there’s clearly still a way to go.

As Head of Campaigns at Virgin, I was glad to see a female, Lisa Thomas, selected as our Managing Director last year and you can read her interview here. With the 2017 IWD theme being #BeBold ForChange, we took the opportunity to chat with her and several other fascinating women about how they evoke their own boldness, who they are inspired by and which gender equality issues are most pertinent to them, right now. It’s been a privilege to work on the project and I was particularly interested to see that what we wear is consistently mentioned as a source of confidence, albeit at times a conflicted one.

Alongside working at Virgin, I am co-founder of Milk Tooth LDN - a jewellery brand dedicated to statement earrings and with a mission to unleash creativity, confidence and colour in women's lives. I set up the business not only because I love shiny things (which I really, really do BTW) but also because I personally feel that embracing my own style is an important part of owning my environment and both reflects and reinforces my confidence. Everyone’s different, but it works for me and I’d love to see more women get on board - or rather more importantly, reject the concept that to be taken seriously you need to evoke the image of a man in a suit.

So much of what we think of as 'corporate culture' conjures up expectations of conforming to norms defined by outdated male dominated environments, which makes me wonder whether that’s one of the reasons females don’t always thrive - or even want to. I’m thinking grey suits, hidden pay scales, fixed working practices that haven’t really changed in decades... Blah! What we wear is only one route towards defining your work culture, but it’s a pretty easy (and fun) one to get onboard with - and an important tactic because it’s so visual and creates a clear signal about what’s acceptable, and even valued, within a company.

For me it is consistently annoying that 'feminine' style choices or even an interest in fashion is associated with weakness or frivolity. Frankly, screw that! I am proud to be a woman and fashion is a form of personal expression. It can also be a powerful tool for challenging perceptions and influencing change. Think Mary Quant smashing the connection between showing some leg and being frightfully uncouth, Vivienne Westwood pioneering the punk movement, and Beyoncé inspiring a whole generation, and black girls in particular, to feel proud and empowered by their awesome thighs!

Back to the reality of our slightly less radical daily lives... Bringing your personality to work and not feeling like we all have to fit into the same mould has got to be a good thing if we want to appeal to a broad range of customers and create a workplace that all staff thrive in, right? So let’s not just focus on gender either - self-expression for all! I loved hearing what our IWD contributor Munroe Bergdorf, a transgender women and successful DJ, had to say about Intersectional feminism and also found Broadcaster and Author Gemma Cairney’ s views on sometimes finding feminism too narrow of a concept  particularly thought provoking.

For most people (including men) it’s a total no-brainer that increasing the amount of women in senior roles is a good thing - but there’s a tonne of evidence just in case you’re not convinced. For a start, we know that gender diversity increases innovation, creativity and collaboration within a company, which in turn improves financial performance and reduces negative culture and reputation risks.   

So, there you have it - evidence that wearing a pair of fancy earrings is a way to pioneer change! (kind of…)

Read more about our views on fashion and feminism (or just browse some cool earrings) at www.MilkToothLDN.com

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