Pop Culture

How men perceive women’s work behavior

Is there a difference between how men and women perceive the same situation? Shaunti Feldhahn, author of “The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace,” examines female habits to see if they can stifle their growth due to the way men perceive them. An excerpt:

The visual trap
As I’m writing these words, I’m sitting at a café in a bustling business area, watching an interesting dynamic unfold at a table nearby. A stylish thirty-something woman is eating with three men, arguing a passionate point that has something to do with risk management. But I’m betting that the men are missing a substantial amount of what she’s saying.

Why? Because her stylish professional outfit includes a low neckline and cleavage. And among the thousands of men and women I have interviewed and surveyed over the years, I have found no subject more universally misunderstood than what a man thinks when he sees a women overtly showing a good figure.

Women tend to think, I want to feel good about myself … look stylish … make a good impression. When we hear someone caution us that we should watch what we wear around men, we have the indignant thought, It’s none of his business what I’m wearing. He shouldn’t be looking.

But the man thinks, She wants me to look at her body. No, look at her face. Is she flirting with me? Shoot, what did she just say about the loan failure rate? I missed it.

‘Men are visual’
The subject of a man’s visual nature can be awkward and sensitive to discuss. It may engender strong reactions. Some women just shrug and say “What’s the big deal?” while others find it offensive.

Regardless of where each woman lands on that spectrum, the data here is designed solely to bring women up to speed on a reality that men think we already know but that, in fact, is often misunderstood. This is one of the starkest examples of an arena where women may or may not be in agreement with commonly held male perceptions, yet realize it is definitely in our best interest not to be in the dark about them.

We are frequently told “men are visual” — but I’ve realized that many women don’t know what that actually means. According to brain scientists and researchers such as Michael Gurian, some percent of women — perhaps as high as 25 percent — are visual in a similar way to men. If you’re in that category you are more likely to instinctively understand men’s reactions. But the other 75 percent of women who aren’t that “visual” have very little concept, literally, of how men see them.

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    Daniel Schorr on ''Meet the Press''

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    What retirement? Here are a dozen notables who let 65 just fly by.

  • Daniel Schorr on ''Meet the Press''

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Daniel Schorr, journalist, 93 -

    Schorr began his career as a foreign correspondent in 1946, after serving in U.S. Army intelligence during World War II.

    In 1953, he joined CBS News, where his accomplishments included opening a bureau in Moscow, interviewing Fidel Castro, covering the building of the Berlin Wall and reporting on domestic issues such as civil rights. In the early 1970s, he became part of the Watergate scandal he was covering when it was revealed that he was on President Nixon’s “enemies list.”

    He served as CNN’s senior correspondent from 1979 until 1985. Since then, he has worked primarily as a news analyst for National Public Radio.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz addresses an a

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Bob Lutz, former General Motors executive, 78 -

    Lutz announced plans to retire at least twice in recent years, but instead ended up back in the executive suite. This time, however, it seems to have stuck. Lutz officially stepped down in May, saying in a statement, "I can confidently say that the job I came here to do more than nine years ago is now complete."

    In July of 2009, Lutz canceled plans to quit and instead said he would continue at General Motors following the ailing Detroit automaker’s trip through bankruptcy court.

    Lutz had previously retired from Chrysler Corp. in 1998, soon after the Daimler-Chrysler merger. Over his nearly 50-year career, the Swiss-born Lutz also has worked at BMW and Ford.

    AFP/Getty Images / AFP/Getty Images
  • Billionaire financier and Berkshire Hathaway Chief Executive Warren Buffett attends the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders meeting in Omaha

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, 79 -

    Legendary investor Warren Buffett is known for his wildly successful investment strategy, which has made him one of the world’s wealthiest men and also minted many millionaires out of his investors.

    Buffett is perhaps as well-known for his wealth as for his modest lifestyle and philanthropy.

    In his 2007 letter to shareholders, Buffett made clear that there is a plan for others to take over: “I’ve reluctantly discarded the notion of my continuing to manage the portfolio after my death -- abandoning my hope to give new meaning to the term ‘thinking outside the box.'"

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Soros: Chinas influence to grow faster than most expect

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    George Soros, investor, 79 -

    Born in Budapest in 1930, George Soros survived the Nazi occupation and ended up in England, where he attended the London School of Economics before starting an investment advisory firm in the United States.

    Soros is the author of 11 books, including “The Crash of 2008 and What it Means to You,” and has been a frequent commentator on the current financial crisis.

    Imaginechina / Imaginechina
  • Queen Elizabeth II Visits Scottish Seabird Centre

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Queen Elizabeth II, British monarch, 84 -

    Queen Elizabeth II took the throne at age 25, following the death of her father, King George VI, and has continued to perform royal duties in Britain for more than five decades.

    Her tenure has been marked by periods of intense public scrutiny, especially during the very public divorce of her son, Prince Charles, from the late Princess Diana. The queen has continued to maintain a full schedule and recently turned out for a public celebration of her birthday in London.

    Pool - Getty Images / Pool - Getty Images
  • One&Only Cape Town: Grand Opening - Arrivals

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Clint Eastwood, actor and director, 80 -

    After getting his start as an actor in B movies and the television series “Rawhide,” multiple Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood broke out with movies in the 1970s including “Dirty Harry” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

    He also has served as a director for highly regarded movies including “Million Dollar Baby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Leters from Iwo Jima” and “Mystic River.”

    Eastwood also had a brief stint in politics as mayor of the small town of Carmel, Calif.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • 37th AFI Life Achievement Award - Audience And Backstage

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Hugh Hefner, Playboy, 84 -

    After an early start in the cartoon business, Hugh Hefner launched the first issue of the men’s magazine Playboy out of his Chicago apartment in 1953. By the 1960s, the magazine had spawned a syndicated television show, clubs, resorts, a casino and other entertainment.

    As the public face of the Playboy empire, Hefner became famous for living the lifestyle his magazine and other properties glorified, jetting around in the Big Bunny jet and spending his days at the Playboy Mansion.

    Hefner still holds the title of editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine.

    Getty Images for AFI / Getty Images for AFI
  • "Comedy Central Roast Of Bob Saget" - Show

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Cloris Leachman, entertainer, 84 -

    After getting her start in show business in the 1940s, Cloris Leachman went on to appear in television shows including the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Malcolm in the Middle.”

    Most recently, Leachman competed in the reality television show “Dancing With the Stars” and is slated to appear in a new Quentin Tarantino film, “Inglourious Basterds.”

    Leachman also recently released an autobiography and a clothing line, and showed off her bathing suit body in a recent issue of In Touch Weekly.

    Getty Images for Comedy Central / Getty Images for Comedy Central
  • 35th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards - Show

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Regis Philbin, entertainer, 78 -

    If it seems like you’ve been watching Regis Philbin your whole life, you aren’t alone: the TV personality has been appearing on television for decades, and was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records for logging the most hours on the tube.

    Philbin got his start as in 1958 as a San Diego news anchor. He is best known for his morning talk show, “Live with Regis and Kelly.” Although the show has changed names, iterations of it have been in syndication since 1988.

    He also has served as host for other shows, including “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and “America’s Got Talent,” has appeared in movies and has released several albums.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Carl Icahn

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Carl Icahn, activist investor, 74 -

    Carl Icahn began his investment career in 1961 after stints in medical school and the army.

    As an investor, he is known for taking major positions in companies and then pushing for the agenda he thinks will best serve shareholders, even if it is at odds with current management.

    Forbes estimates that his net worth is approximately $10.5 billion.

    Icahn has shown no signs of slowing. In addition to being chairman of Icahn Enterprises, he serves as chairman of auto parts supplier Federal-Mogul and biotech firm ImClone Systems. He is on the boards of his own philanthropic foundations.

    AP / AP
  • What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Kirk Kerkorian, investor, 93 -

    The head of investment firm Tracinda Corp., Kirk Kerkorian is known for his investments in Las Vegas casino operations and the auto industry.

    In 2008, Kerkorian took a significant stake in Ford Motor Co., but he ended up selling most of the stake by the end of the year.

    Kerkorian also made an unsuccessful bid for Chrysler and in 2006 sold much of his stake in carmaker GM after the company rejected his suggestion of an alliance with Nissan and Renault.

    Kerkorian also is a major investor in MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas gambling company.

    Getty Images / Getty Images

In 2001, when I was first interviewing a few trusted male friends for my novel, this is the subject that woke me up to how much I didn’t know about men. And, ironically, the scene that opened my eyes — that I was describing for the men — was a business situation. I had placed my male character, Doug, in a conference room listening to whiteboard presentations from a series of executives, one of whom was a woman. I described her as all business, but also as very attractive and wearing a suit or blouse that showed off her figure in some way — a low-cut shirt or a tight skirt. Then I asked each man I interviewed, “If you were in Doug’s place, what would be going through your mind as the female executive made her presentation?” I was stunned to hear the men’s responses:

“Great body … Stop it! What am I thinking?”

“I feel an instant tightening in my gut.”

“I’ll bet she’s using those curves to sell this deal.”

“Look at her face, look at her face, look at her face …”

“I wonder what’s under that nice suit? Stop it. Concentrate on the presentation.”

I was a bit unnerved to hear those comments — and others — especially from happily married men who were respectful of women.

Since that time, I’ve heard similar reactions from thousands of men — realized that when it comes to the ways that talented women may unknowingly undermine men’s perception of them, this one is near the top of this list. Why? Because of the disproportionate impact it has on a man’s thoughts, and how drastically it affects the way the woman is perceived. And yet, in most instances, the woman has no idea what is really going on inside the minds of the men around her.

The hardwired reality
Each of us — men or women — probably have individual quirks of our biological wiring that we’d rather not have: temptations, frustrations, impulses, desires. There are facets of our nature that we would love to be able to just turn off at times.

The visual wiring men have presents a similar temptation that men say they often don’t want and wish they could turn off — especially in a business setting. Their visual nature is highly attuned to and predisposed to take in appealing images, including images of an appealing woman. And if that woman is dressing in a way that emphasizes her assets, that fact is not only noticed but often begins a train of thought that more men in business would rather not have.

But their visual nature isn’t something that can be turned off. They must work to ignore it.

In talking to men, I found most were incredibly puzzled as to why the woman wouldn’t want to avoid the situation. Why, the men wonder, is a professional woman dressing in a way that is likely to cause men to be distracted and miss some of what she’s saying? And the answer, of course, is that most women have no intention of causing that sort of distraction, and don’t realize that they are doing so.

The male-female disconnect
To test the difference in men’s and women’s perceptions in this area, I asked men what they would think if they saw a woman dressing in a way that emphasized or showed off her figure in some way, such as a low-cut top or a tight skirt. Then I asked white collar women who said they sometimes dressed in that way what was actually going through their minds. Here are the starkly differing results. Seventy-six percent of the men felt the woman wanted the men around her to look at her body. Yet only twenty-three percent of the women actually felt that way. In other words, three out of four women said that was not what they were thinking at all!

In one interview I knew that the man worked alongside many women. When I asked him if he ever saw women do things to hold themselves back in the eyes of men, he paused, then gingerly said, “There is a mistake I’ve seen women make … how people perceive you is important in business, whether you’re a man or a woman. And certainly, first impressions are even more important. The immediate appearance of a person walking into a meeting or a business situation: How that person presents themselves is critical.”

“OK,” I responded.

“And women more than men have some subtle ways of maybe not looking as professional.”

“In what way?”

Looking uncomfortable, he gestured to his shirt.

“Like a woman’s shirt that is unbuttoned too low. Or is tight. You know what I’m saying? I think a woman in a business situation that is dressed simply and not trying to call attention to herself is received better. A guy can relax in that situation a little more than if … well, if the lady is trying to call attention to herself. And subconsciously, I’m sorry, but the message comes across. She’s looking for that attention. And it can be really distracting.”

Almost everyone in business wants to make a good impression, and most of us work hard at doing so. The problem isn’t that we don’t know that it is important. The problem is that we simply may not realize that the visual impression we are making is not the one we intend. Based on the seven nationally representative surveys I’ve commissioned over the years for my books, I can almost guarantee that the businesswoman who puts on a figure-framing crossover blouse under her suit isn’t “looking for attention” or trying to “send a message.” But that is how almost every man perceives it.

So what can women do about it?
Women in the workplace want to be taken seriously. My survey shows that few intend (or want) to create a visual dilemma that could hinder their effectiveness. Nonetheless, the simple reality is that some women are doing exactly that — and perhaps more than they realize.

Thankfully, the problem lends itself to a simple solution for the woman who decides to make a change based on this new knowledge. The visual distraction factor is triggered when a woman dresses in a way that overtly emphasizes or calls attention to her figure. And when she doesn’t dress that way, the distraction factor isn’t triggered.

In practice, however, we need to become a bit more educated and aware of what men see as “overtly calling attention to a good figure” or “revealing.” There is a clear disconnect between what many women feel is “OK” and what men feel is “OK.” Several times I have stood with a man I know at a busy pedestrian area, business district, or coffee shop and asked him to point out cases where he felt a woman’s male colleagues would have difficult time concentrating based on her choice of attire. I’ll bet that woman in question would have been surprised as well.

This disconnect was evident on the survey, as well. Just four percent and twenty-two percent of women, respectively, said they “frequently” or “sometimes” wore work outfits that emphasized their figure. But men seemed to think that the visual dilemma occurred a lot more often.

Among men who have female colleagues and who don’t have a strict workplace uniform, fifty-eight percent say they see a female associate dressing in a way they find as distracting at least once a week. Twelve percent said they see examples of that “every day, multiple times a day.” Most of the women in question undoubtedly intend merely to dress professionally and attractively and are not aware that their attire is perceived as visually distracting.

Looking at the specifics
In general, the men pointed out that the more young and attractive a woman is, the more likely this is to be an issue and therefore, the more cautious she may want to be.

Here is what one of the men said with regard to outfits that tend to trigger a response in men:

It’s all about curves, bare skin, and, frankly, the sight of whatever is supposed to be covered. That is what a man’s eyes will be drawn to. A tight outfit, a short skirt, a bra strap showing, low-cut pants in the back where you can see the top of whatever she is wearing underneath if she leans over a bit ... any one of those things. And cleavage.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Alex Wong / Getty Images North America

    Daniel Schorr on ''Meet the Press''

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    What retirement? Here are a dozen notables who let 65 just fly by.

  • Daniel Schorr on ''Meet the Press''

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Daniel Schorr, journalist, 93 -

    Schorr began his career as a foreign correspondent in 1946, after serving in U.S. Army intelligence during World War II.

    In 1953, he joined CBS News, where his accomplishments included opening a bureau in Moscow, interviewing Fidel Castro, covering the building of the Berlin Wall and reporting on domestic issues such as civil rights. In the early 1970s, he became part of the Watergate scandal he was covering when it was revealed that he was on President Nixon’s “enemies list.”

    He served as CNN’s senior correspondent from 1979 until 1985. Since then, he has worked primarily as a news analyst for National Public Radio.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz addresses an a

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Bob Lutz, former General Motors executive, 78 -

    Lutz announced plans to retire at least twice in recent years, but instead ended up back in the executive suite. This time, however, it seems to have stuck. Lutz officially stepped down in May, saying in a statement, "I can confidently say that the job I came here to do more than nine years ago is now complete."

    In July of 2009, Lutz canceled plans to quit and instead said he would continue at General Motors following the ailing Detroit automaker’s trip through bankruptcy court.

    Lutz had previously retired from Chrysler Corp. in 1998, soon after the Daimler-Chrysler merger. Over his nearly 50-year career, the Swiss-born Lutz also has worked at BMW and Ford.

    AFP/Getty Images / AFP/Getty Images
  • Billionaire financier and Berkshire Hathaway Chief Executive Warren Buffett attends the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders meeting in Omaha

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway, 79 -

    Legendary investor Warren Buffett is known for his wildly successful investment strategy, which has made him one of the world’s wealthiest men and also minted many millionaires out of his investors.

    Buffett is perhaps as well-known for his wealth as for his modest lifestyle and philanthropy.

    In his 2007 letter to shareholders, Buffett made clear that there is a plan for others to take over: “I’ve reluctantly discarded the notion of my continuing to manage the portfolio after my death -- abandoning my hope to give new meaning to the term ‘thinking outside the box.'"

    Reuters / Reuters
  • Soros: Chinas influence to grow faster than most expect

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    George Soros, investor, 79 -

    Born in Budapest in 1930, George Soros survived the Nazi occupation and ended up in England, where he attended the London School of Economics before starting an investment advisory firm in the United States.

    Soros is the author of 11 books, including “The Crash of 2008 and What it Means to You,” and has been a frequent commentator on the current financial crisis.

    Imaginechina / Imaginechina
  • Queen Elizabeth II Visits Scottish Seabird Centre

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Queen Elizabeth II, British monarch, 84 -

    Queen Elizabeth II took the throne at age 25, following the death of her father, King George VI, and has continued to perform royal duties in Britain for more than five decades.

    Her tenure has been marked by periods of intense public scrutiny, especially during the very public divorce of her son, Prince Charles, from the late Princess Diana. The queen has continued to maintain a full schedule and recently turned out for a public celebration of her birthday in London.

    Pool - Getty Images / Pool - Getty Images
  • One&Only Cape Town: Grand Opening - Arrivals

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Clint Eastwood, actor and director, 80 -

    After getting his start as an actor in B movies and the television series “Rawhide,” multiple Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood broke out with movies in the 1970s including “Dirty Harry” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

    He also has served as a director for highly regarded movies including “Million Dollar Baby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Leters from Iwo Jima” and “Mystic River.”

    Eastwood also had a brief stint in politics as mayor of the small town of Carmel, Calif.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • 37th AFI Life Achievement Award - Audience And Backstage

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Hugh Hefner, Playboy, 84 -

    After an early start in the cartoon business, Hugh Hefner launched the first issue of the men’s magazine Playboy out of his Chicago apartment in 1953. By the 1960s, the magazine had spawned a syndicated television show, clubs, resorts, a casino and other entertainment.

    As the public face of the Playboy empire, Hefner became famous for living the lifestyle his magazine and other properties glorified, jetting around in the Big Bunny jet and spending his days at the Playboy Mansion.

    Hefner still holds the title of editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine.

    Getty Images for AFI / Getty Images for AFI
  • "Comedy Central Roast Of Bob Saget" - Show

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Cloris Leachman, entertainer, 84 -

    After getting her start in show business in the 1940s, Cloris Leachman went on to appear in television shows including the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Malcolm in the Middle.”

    Most recently, Leachman competed in the reality television show “Dancing With the Stars” and is slated to appear in a new Quentin Tarantino film, “Inglourious Basterds.”

    Leachman also recently released an autobiography and a clothing line, and showed off her bathing suit body in a recent issue of In Touch Weekly.

    Getty Images for Comedy Central / Getty Images for Comedy Central
  • 35th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards - Show

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Regis Philbin, entertainer, 78 -

    If it seems like you’ve been watching Regis Philbin your whole life, you aren’t alone: the TV personality has been appearing on television for decades, and was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records for logging the most hours on the tube.

    Philbin got his start as in 1958 as a San Diego news anchor. He is best known for his morning talk show, “Live with Regis and Kelly.” Although the show has changed names, iterations of it have been in syndication since 1988.

    He also has served as host for other shows, including “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and “America’s Got Talent,” has appeared in movies and has released several albums.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Carl Icahn

    What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Carl Icahn, activist investor, 74 -

    Carl Icahn began his investment career in 1961 after stints in medical school and the army.

    As an investor, he is known for taking major positions in companies and then pushing for the agenda he thinks will best serve shareholders, even if it is at odds with current management.

    Forbes estimates that his net worth is approximately $10.5 billion.

    Icahn has shown no signs of slowing. In addition to being chairman of Icahn Enterprises, he serves as chairman of auto parts supplier Federal-Mogul and biotech firm ImClone Systems. He is on the boards of his own philanthropic foundations.

    AP / AP
  • What retirement? Some famous workers who let 65 pass by

    of

    Kirk Kerkorian, investor, 93 -

    The head of investment firm Tracinda Corp., Kirk Kerkorian is known for his investments in Las Vegas casino operations and the auto industry.

    In 2008, Kerkorian took a significant stake in Ford Motor Co., but he ended up selling most of the stake by the end of the year.

    Kerkorian also made an unsuccessful bid for Chrysler and in 2006 sold much of his stake in carmaker GM after the company rejected his suggestion of an alliance with Nissan and Renault.

    Kerkorian also is a major investor in MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas gambling company.

    Getty Images / Getty Images

Breasts are always distracting. It is so frustrating when I see in the morning that my one female colleague is wearing a button-down shirt, because she regularly has those types of shirts unbuttoned one button too low, and where it gapes or she turns sideways you can see everything. And I try to avoid looking, but I cannot put my hand up and go like this [he put his hand up as if to block his view of her chest] when I am talking to her, so that is a really difficult thing.

And of course, I cannot tell her about her top. I think she trusts me, but no guy can ever talk about this with a woman. Unless she’s his sister or something.

Help other women understand this
When I interviewed one senior female partner at a major consulting firm, she told me that the men in her practice had asked her several times to address this issue with specific women. The men explained that these women frequently went on client calls dressed in ways the men felt would be counterproductive. The men didn’t feel that they could bring it up, but were anxious to correct the issue before it caused client problems. Yet the senior female partner was one of the top rainmakers for that practice. She was way too busy. Moreover, she told me she resented the fact that just because she was a woman, she was expected to “be a sort of babysitter to women who should know better.” Because she was so busy, and didn’t know how to address it in a non-offensive way, she never followed up.

I know from experience that making other women aware of this issue can be awkward. It helps if you get the other person’s permission in advance. For example, you might say, “I have something a bit awkward that I want to ask you about. But it’s something that you might find important because it could affect how you may be perceived. Would you mind if I raised it with you?”

One senior female executive I know is always getting (in her words) “stuck” with having this conversation with female colleagues because she’s one of the most senior women in the company, and no man feels able to raise the subject with the women in question. So the men go to my friend, and my friend has to raise it as part of her job.

When I asked her what approach she found to be the most effective, here’s what she said:

“It starts with ensuring you are respectful and discreet. You need to do it in such a way that no one else knows the conversation is happening. I have had to do this multiple times, and I basically ask the woman to come into my office, close the door, and say, “This is really awkward, but I have something I need to talk to you about. Let me just blurt this out, and we can clean it up later. I just have to address what you’re wearing, and want to walk you through why it probably isn’t the best choice for this work environment, or this meeting you’re preparing for. It’s both for your sake and the company’s reputation. I’m so sorry, but I just have to bring this up.”

“How do you explain the actual issue to the woman, though?” I ask. “If she’s confused, or doesn’t understand why this is an issue. Or if she’s offended?”

I ask her, “When you do this meeting, what do you want to be remembered for?” She will almost always say, “My presentation! I’ve got the stats, I’ve been working hard on this, and now it’s time to present it.”

I then say, “OK, so if you want to be remembered for the presentation, then you want to do everything you can to ensure that the presentation is the focal point, and do everything you can to minimize any possible distractions, right? So you put together a great PowerPoint, and you decide how to emphasize these two main points you want them to remember. But you also think ahead of time about avoiding distractions — you silence your cell phone, for example, or close the conference room door so people don’t get distracted by outside noise.

“We often don’t realize it, but it works basically the same way with what we’re wearing. If you want them to remember your presentation and not your feather hoop earrings, or your red stilettos, don’t wear them. And if you want them to remember your two main points and not your cleavage, then you should probably consider changing your top before the meeting.”

Sometimes I jokingly say, “You just happen to have a figure that I would kill for, so you may have to think more specifically about how to make it a non-issue, so the guys can concentrate on what you’re saying.”

A tool that might help
As an aid for any managers, workers, or HR departments who want to address this with their female employees or colleagues, I have created a tool that might help: a short presentation that you can find on TheMaleFactorBook.com. The presentation summarizes my findings, in particular the results of the video experiment showing the “distraction factor,” as a way of helping women understand how certain fashion choices may be perceived.

Excerpted from “The Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace” by Shaunti Feldhahn Copyright © 2009 by Veritas Enterprises. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

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