Hint: Power dressing can help, but there is much more you can do to be taken seriously at work.
Srijata Bhatnagar, Founder of bespoke women’s workwear brand Ridhani, spoke to HerStory about ‘Unstoppable Me’, a seminar organised earlier this month to help working women become more confident versions of themselves and perform better at their workplaces. The session was conducted by Srijata along with Greshma Dhanarajan, Creator-Fashion Design at Ridhani.
Some of the common issues faced by working women are:
The discussion covered two aspects of the problem—how one’s dressing can be consciously improved to boost one’s morale and how one can perform better at work by cultivating one’s inner strength and confidence.
The very term 'Unstoppable Me' evokes a sense of confidence that is not cowed by adversity and criticism. Srijata says,
Many women don’t speak up; they hesitate to take initiative. If you don’t hold the reins of your life, no one will listen to you. For instance, at a meeting or event, many women don’t sit in the front row. There has to be a conscious effort at pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Expressing opinions are important. This must be learnt through constant practice. Women tend to feel fearful of taking charge. This is primarily a personality issue that stems from childhood experiences or other negative experiences in life, which erodes one’s confidence. One must actively take efforts to overcome this fear.
Srijata explains, “A 30-year-old working mother might hesitate to take up a challenging project because she feels constrained by the number of hours she can spend on the project every day vis-à-vis a 23-year-old single person who could work late. But what she should realise is that spending six hours efficiently on work might as be as effective as spending 10 inefficient hours on the same. So, don’t discount yourself.”
Srijata and Greshma use their expertise in corporate dressing to help women clients gain more control of their work lives. Srijata says,
Your outfits have to be chosen by you. First you need to understand your own fashion persona, along with factors like your body type and work environment; you can then create your perfect work wardrobe.
The Ridhani team hand-holds women to figure out their fashion style, for a price of course, since it involves a lot of time and effort, but women can mindfully work it out on their own as well.
Most work places are flexible when it comes to women’s dressing, except certain sectors like banking and hospitality which tend to have dress codes. However, this flexibility in itself can create a lot of ambiguity. For men, there is a clear-cut demarcation of formal and informal workwear—formal wear constitutes tucked in shirt and trousers with or without a blazer and tie, while t-shirt/semi-formal shirts with jeans are the usual casual work wear.
However, Indian women are not very comfortable with western formals and neither do such outfits fit the Indian body types well. Sarees might be a beautiful option for work but it is not easy to wear them for work on a daily basis. Many ethnic outfits also look tacky and inappropriate at work. So well-fitting, ethnic styles, which incorporate western elements, in sober colours work very well in a work ambiance. Srijata says, “Try visualising a situation in your mind where you are the centre of attention and you feel in control and powerful. Then visualise what you are wearing in the situation. You can take that outfit as a base to work out your fashion persona.”
Dressing up for work has to factor in comfort as well and breathable fabrics that are well-suited to the typical humid weather in our country are always a good option. We have to look beyond inspirational celebrities like Indra Nooyi or Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. There are several regular people around us who can inspire us.
Srijata mentions one of Ridhani’s clients, Zeeba Ghatak, who was Mrs India second runners-up and will be representing India in the Asian pageant. Srijata says, “Zeeba has such clarity on what she wants in life. When you are aware of what you want, it makes your personality even more attractive.”
Srijata says the best tip she could give a woman is to decide what she wants to do. When you think how you would achieve it, whether you are capable, if you have the resources, etc., you lose your confidence. Instead tell yourself, “I will do this, I don’t know how, but I will surely achieve it.” Then things will automatically fall in place.
Srijata signs off with these words:
Networking is important. Create your own circle where you can have conversations that empowers you. Create a tribe of strong women. Women tend to get caught up with the daily routine of work, husband, and children. So consciously work on creating time for yourself where you can challenge yourself intellectually. Constant learning and inner growth will let you overcome all impediments in life.