Happy New Year! For my first topic of 2018 I am going to return to an ‘old’ question, but one that has nevertheless come into sharp focus recently, with three different examples to illustrate the point.
My first is drawn from the entertainment industry, which is currently engulfed in a sexual harassment scandal that has revealed decades of an abusive and sexist culture against women. At the time of writing this post, the 2018 Golden Globes have just been held in Hollywood and in act of solidarity and support, there was only one colour on display by all of the attendees - black. Why black as a colour choice? Because it is associated with power, strength, authority and prestige, and also because it’s a colour that symbolises grief and things that are negative. Every actor, director, producer and creative artist in attendance wanted to be seen as showing solidarity for the ‘Time’s Up’ movement. No-one deviated from the colour because to do so would have sent the wrong message about what they believed and where their sympathies and loyalties lay.
My second example comes from a UK retailer who has sparked criticism for the labelling of a line of womenswear called ‘modest clothing’. The original intent of this line was to offer fashionable yet ‘conservative’ clothing for women who wanted to keep most of their bodies covered for religious, personal or practical reasons. However, the criticism is because of the inference towards women who chose not to wear such garments. The problem with the labelling is that it can imply that those women who don’t wish to wear these clothes are therefore not modest. I call this an example of the law of unintended consequences. Whilst attempting to offer respectful and fashionable clothing choices, the retailer got it wrong in the values they wanted to convey to their global market, and have upset some of their customers as a result.
My final example is another global retailer who got an advertising campaign hideously wrong with their choice of a child model to wear a sweatshirt with the logo ‘cheekiest little monkey in the jungle’. It betrayed a profound unconscious racial bias which was so staggering that it is extraordinary the picture successfully made it on to their print and online media campaign. Never mind the fact that it was even taken in the first place. What on earth were they trying to say?
Since all of these examples have had massive media in the past few days, I am prompted once again to reflect on the following question: as leaders, why does what we wear matter?
My view is that in 2018, the reason why our choice of clothing is so important is because now more than ever it reflects our values - what we believe, what’s important to us, what we stand for. As far back as 2010, the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled ‘Twenty First Century Leadership: It’s All About Values’, indicating that “as global interdependence deepens in the decades ahead, the forces that compel humanity to work together will become even stronger.”
For the purpose of clarity, I’m not saying that conveying our values is ONLY about what we wear. Of course not. If what we say and what we do doesn’t align with our values as well, then our messages are confused and our audience doesn’t ‘get it’. As a result, we will fail to build trust. What I am saying is that leadership is a relationship business and a communication business, and what we wear is part of the toolkit we need to use to convey our values to the rest of the world. Trust me, now more than ever, the world is paying close attention.
Until next time.......