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Your Wardrobe Has Been Zuckerburged

, , , , , , | Working | November 21, 2019

I am a woman. I had just finished my degree, and I got a job as a researcher, basically writing software to test concepts, being paid from a professor’s research budget. There were basically two types of staff in the department: the technical staff and the admin/support staff. The technical staff — teachers, researchers, and computer support — were mostly male, scruffily-dressed, varying from shorts and flip-flops to Oxford-Don-ish tweed suits with elbow patches. The female techies and teachers dressed similarly: jeans, hoodies, typical undergraduate kit. The support staff were four women who looked after student and enrolment issues, correspondence, assisting the department chair, etc. They all dressed well: hair, makeup, high heels, dresses – thoroughly well-presented.

One day, I decided to mix it up and dress how I would when I eventually got a job in industry — heels, skirt, a whisper of femininity. That day was a strange one. I will give two examples.

I went into the photocopy/print room where one of the male lecturers was making copies. Without looking up, he said, “Is the chairman in today?” “How would I know?” I replied. He looked up to face me for the first time and said, startled, “Oh, [My Name]! It’s you!”

Later that day, my boss was talking to the chairman in the corridor. I approached my boss to ask him a question, and the chairman — remember, I do not work for him or the department and he has four people who do — handed me a pile of papers and said, “Can you make me a copy of this, please?”

I just stared at him in shock and quickly mounting anger. My boss detected what was about to happen and snatched them and said, “I will do it.” It’s no more his job than mine, and he is the most senior person in the department under the chair, but there was no sexism in his doing it.

I learned my lesson: nice clothes are for the weekend, and jeans and T-shirts are the only way to be treated like a professional. That was the only time the chair treated me like I was part of his support team.

It’s still mostly true in IT: dressing down is a power move, e.g. Mark Zuckerberg. No tech billionaire ever dresses like they have infinite money.

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