A few months ago I attended a weeklong seminar for female media professionals. On the first day, each of these dozen women — who I would come to learn were each remarkable in their ambition, smarts and professional success — wandered into the conference room and participated in standard-issue female professional meeting etiquette: Each placed her shoulder-slash-computer bag at a spot at the table, poured herself a paper cup of coffee from the urn, then proceeded to introduce herself to the others in an open, friendly way that included a requisite compliment on the other’s physical appearance.
“Oh, I love how you pair the bright orange dress with the yellow shoes!”
“That lip color looks so good on you!”
“Love your haircut! Where do you get it done?”
“Your necklace is fabulous!”
Each one, that is, except me.
Now, I’m a girl just like you. I care about my appearance and fret about what to wear when the pressure is on to make a good impression or meet lots of new people. I am not immune to the female complex that equates self-worth with physical beauty. When entering the seminar on the first day, I had a mini-existential accessory crisis about my simple brushed-gold drop earrings upon sight of a glamorous California businesswoman. She was so perfectly turned out from her teased hair to her chunky jewelry to her polished nails and patent-leather stilettos that I felt the urge to crawl back into the subway like a filthy rat in my green and black silk Kenneth Cole zippered sheath and no-name black pumps.
But I stopped. I observed. And (just being honest here) I judged.
Here we were in an environment designed to educate and empower women in business. The very, verrrry first gesture of support we offered each other was to admire clothes, hair and makeup. I’ve certainly done the very thing I was judging. Even on this day I felt the urge to chime in and butter up my new colleague with an ask about her intoxicating fragrance. But I restrained myself.
Why? Because complimenting other women on their appearance on first introduction is wrong.
Women everywhere, I urge you: Do not attempt to bond with other women via compliments on their looks. Especially not new acquaintances. And, for the sake of the order and advancement of women everywhere, especially not in business.
I’ll tell you why not.