When Silicon Valley CEO Eileen Carey recently admitted she had dyed her natural blonde hair brown, wore glasses instead of contact lenses and adopted an androgynous style of dress to get ahead in business, her comments caused much controversy.
Carey, a successful career woman in her early 30s, said she changed her appearance as a result of advice she was given by a female colleague in venture capital, who said investors would be more comfortable dealing with a brunette than a blonde. Being a brunette also helped her look older, she said at the time - which was something she felt she needed in order to be taken seriously.
If you're starting out in your career, it may seem that your older and more experienced work colleagues don't value your opinions or ideas as much as they would those of someone their own age. But anyone of any age - or gender - can be affected by a lack of recognition, even if they've been in business for decades.
The good news is you don't have to go to such radical steps as Carey. Here are some tips that could help you earn professional respect…
Dress the part
Most workplaces have a dress code, whether official or unofficial. If you ignore it and dress too casually or too flamboyantly, it can make you look unprofessional. Choose clothes that are appropriate for your work environment - if you want to be taken seriously, you have to start dressing like it.
If you have a tendency to arrive at work late or miss the start of meetings, your manager and your colleagues will start to lose any respect they may have for you. Revise your waking-up time if you have to - an extra half hour in the morning could see you getting to work punctually - and be more strict with yourself when it comes to arriving at appointments on time. Even if you're only occasionally late, it will be noticed, and eventually you'll gain a reputation for having poor time management.
Make eye contact
If you're trying to make a positive impression, try to look people in the eye when you're talking to them (without staring, of course). Avoiding eye contact altogether can make you appear secretive, mistrustful or simply uninterested.
Use positive body language
The right type of body language can make you look more confident, more experienced and more professional - all things that could help others take you more seriously. Interestingly, a University College London study recently found that women are more likely to be taken seriously at work if they adopt a strong, typically male stance (the so-called ‘power' stance in the study included having feet shoulder width apart).
But there's more to positive body language than ‘power' stances. For instance, as well as making regular eye contact, try to look straight ahead rather than down at the floor, sit or stand straight with your shoulders back instead of slouching, and adopt an ‘open' posture rather than crossing your arms or legs. And when you meet someone, greet them with a firm - but not too firm - handshake.
Find out more by reading How to make your body language work for you.
If you have something interesting or important to say during a meeting or while speaking with colleagues, don't be shy and keep it to yourself. Speak calmly and clearly with an even tone, and use professional language - try not to swear or use slang or casual words, as it can make you appear uneducated.
On the other hand don't feel you have to say something for the sake of it - stay quiet and listen to what others are saying if you don't have anything valuable to add to a discussion. It's better to say nothing than to blurt out something foolish or inappropriate. But do try to ask intelligent questions, as it shows you're interested in what's being said.
Good manners can go a long way. Behaving rudely or inconsiderately isn't going to win you any fans at your workplace. Never write anything derogatory about the company you work for, your boss or work colleagues online - you may not think anyone will notice, but chances are someone will.
Try not to turn up to meetings unprepared or underprepared. Always try to have a good grasp of what's being discussed beforehand - and when you think you've prepared sufficiently, do that little bit more. People tend to pay attention to those who are knowledgeable, so all your efforts won't go unnoticed. At the same time don't brag - if you try too hard to impress, you risk being seen as arrogant and obnoxious.
Play up your skills
Consider working on skills that will get you noticed - think about the type of skills your organisation needs and work hard on building them. These skills don't have to be technical ones, as companies also need people with strong ‘soft' skills, such as problem solving, being able to adapt well to change and being a good communicator.
If you already have the type of skills your company values, make sure your employer and co-workers are aware of them - after all, they won't do you much good if you keep quiet about them. For instance, you could offer to take on a job or project or look for other opportunities that would let you show off your skills and make them more noticeable. Once you've been recognised as someone with superior skills to offer, your opinions will be valued.
How CABA can help
Do you need help with career development? We have an extensive range of career development support that could give you a boost, whether you're just starting out in your career, getting back to work, changing direction or launching your own business - or more. Our career coaching programmes, for example, could help you develop a plan to succeed at work.
For more advice and information, call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.