Earlier in my career, someone once told me that I “dress too nicely for higher education and should consider jumping industry to fashion or advertising.” Now, at first I was mildly offended because the comment seemed off-putting (Read: your clothes, not your skills and passion, determine where you belong, of course!). Like I was somehow railing against the machine and not fitting into the cultural expectations around me. But then, I thought about the feedback I have received from other peers, colleagues, and friends. The ones who are new professionals starting out and not sure how to reconcile their sense of style with the mixed bag of what you might find or expect people wearing in academia.
The ones who may have vastly different style expression than me, but thanked me for “being myself,” because it made them feel like they could have more fun with their wardrobe than they thought because career development often seems so “straight-laced.” To the one person who told me I was “bold, beautiful, and a bright light” as I left my alma mater and the place I started my career to venture off into a new professional space.
I thought back to my diversity training days: Is it a difference that makes a difference? Of course not. Appropriate and professional does not automatically mean compromising yourself. We challenge our students to think critically when sifting through career opportunities, weighing their values, and practicing for interviews and new opportunities. Shouldn't we, too, practice what we preach and think critically and be authentic at the same time?