Imagine yourself at BIO, the largest biotech convention in the world and 7,500 penguins walk in. That would be the effect if the women attending the event in San Diego followed the advice of Forbes fashion columnist, Kristina Moore.
She suggests wearing combinations of a white dress or blouse with a black blazer and black skirt and flats or sandals with three-inch heels for evening.
We know that New Yorkers are teased about wearing so much black, but even we like to wear a bright blazer with our black pants. We attended a social media presentation last week at NYU’s Center for Publishing and were pleased to see that 90% of the women attendees were in bright colored dresses with sweaters. They were poised professionals and there was not a penguin in the group!
Wear Your Own Brand
People attend BIO to learn what’s new, but they also are networking, job hunting and seeking opportunities to meet VIPs. How can you make an impression if you look like everybody else? While it doesn’t take any time or effort to default to black, why fade into the crowd?
It’s summer, for goodness sake. Why not show some pizzazz by wearing coral, pink, green or yellow? The stores are full of brightly colored jackets, many in fun patterns.
Ms. Moore’s advice is so “retro.” The loosening of dress codes in business attire has given women – and men – the freedom to make personal fashion statements. Hillary Clinton, the keynote speaker at the conference, is famous for wearing pants with colorful blazers. She doesn’t intend to fade into the background.
Madeline Albright, another former Secretary of State, wore a different decorative pin every day and her pin collection was exhibited at the Museum of Art and Design.
These days men are expressing themselves with fun socks, as ties are no longer a fashion must. How fun is that!
A number of women we spoke to found the article as offensive as we did. Lisa Adler, Vice President, Corporate Communications, Millenium: The Takeda Oncology Company, said: “Perhaps the author watched too many episodes of Mad Men. Women are not just coming out of the typing pool and into the biotech community. I’d like to see her take on menswear for the meeting too. It would likely be just as offensive.”
Another colleague complained, “Not only is her advice off base, but even her writing is awkward.
She claims that ‘wearing black suiting seems to be favored.’ Who ever uses the term black suiting?”
Here’s the Real Scoop
The Forbes article is reinforcing old-fashioned stereotypes. While Forbes.com may not be responsible for the views of their columnists, they should have known better and not published the article or asked the author for a rewrite.
We’ve worked in biotech for many years, coaching presenters at conventions, including this year’s meeting in San Diego. One of the speakers intends to wear a stylish sweater set and pants with comfortable shoes. If she followed Forbes’ advice, she’d “feel free to swap the flats for heels as preferred.”
We can’t imagine any woman traipsing around the convention center exhibit hall in high heels. She would look silly and her feet would be killing her before the end of the first day.
Visualizing a parade of penguins at the biotech conference reminded us of the famous Bowler Hat scene in the movie the Thomas Crown Affair, when police track wealthy financier Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Crown is suspected of stealing a priceless painting. The lead detective thinks they’ve “got him” until Crown and his partners in crime all wear the same bowler hats, making it impossible to spot which one is Crown.
The ruse worked as they all faded into the crowd.
You don’t want to fade into the background when you’re a presenter or attending a conference. Be brave and wear bright colors. If you feel wedded to your basic black suit, then add a bright print scarf.
What’s the point of making an appearance if you don’t make an impression? So our advice is to leave the black and white penguin outfits at home.