Getting the picture: Why women in business face gendered ageism
Even in 2022, there’s a disturbing truth: Businesswomen must continue to worry about their looks — no matter their age.
“In a culture still permeated and structured by sexism, there’s a Catch-22: younger women are treated dismissively by reducing them to their appearance; older women get dismissed precisely because their appearance is no longer of interest,” said Nicola Pitchford, president of Dominican University of California in San Rafael.
For women older than 40, there’s even a name for this type of discrimination — it’s called gendered ageism.
And plenty of women react by going to Botox, plastic surgery, or pretending to be naturally blonde at 65. Many others shun those options.
San Rafael-based photographer Laurie Bell Bishop has settled into a niche that focuses on women in the workforce who also happen to be 50-plus.
“My mission statement is I want to help women be seen as their 50-year-old-something self, or 60- or 70-something,” the 59-year-old owner of Become Studios said. “In your 50s you know what happens to your hair, your skin, your body. You are not your 30-year-old self, not your 40-year-old self. And the world is interacting with you differently and we don’t feel it. We might feel wiser and more secure in business, but it doesn’t come across as you walk down the street.”
Women want to be themselves
Looking your authentic self, but still appearing relevant is a dilemma professional women of a certain age have had to deal with for eons.
And while we all know you only get one chance to make a first impression, it’s no longer likely that first interaction will be in person — and that has nothing to do with the pandemic. It has everything to do with the internet.
That first look at a business woman by a business or potential customers are likely to be on a website. That is why it’s so important for that image to convey more than a head shot of yourself sitting behind a desk. The right photo can amplify a brand.
“On a website it’s nice to have multiple photos so people can get a sense of who I am. I have clients who say the website spoke to them. I’m not stuffy. I’m approachable. I’m not in my head,” said Jodi Klugman-Rabb, who runs a private psychotherapy practice in Napa and Marin counties.
She is also an adjunct professor at Dominican University of California.
“Sometimes the title of professor scares people, but my photos settle them down and levels the playing field. It helps people decide between various referrals,” she said.
Minette Norman, a photography client of Bishop’s like Klugman-Rabb, also knows the importance of making a good impression online.
“I think it’s important when people come across my LinkedIn page and website they can see photos of me and videos of me speaking. Why people hire me is they connect with me as a human being so it’s important to present myself in a way that represents me,” said Norman, who owns Minette Norman Consulting in Marin County.
Being authentic doesn’t necessarily mean no makeup and messy hair, or random outfits at the photo shoot. Bishop has a makeup artist and stylist at the sessions, and has the client bring an array of clothing options.
“Most people don’t like their photo being taken. My secret sauce is to get people relaxed and comfortable,” Bishop said. “That is what people see and say about the photos, that they look friendly, like you could connect with them.”
Prior to using Bishop for her professional photos, Norman had gone through three sets of head shots. It was time for new ones because during the pandemic she stopped coloring her hair, instead choosing to embrace her natural gray.
“Until just over two years ago I worked for Autodesk. I always felt I had to color my hair. I felt if I was in a young tech world, I couldn't have gray hair. For me at 61 it’s important to show up as a vibrant 61-year-old,” Norman told the Business Journal. “I’m not hiding my age. I don’t feel like I need to look younger than what I am. I’m trying to look my best at 61 instead of what I looked like two decades ago. I’m learning to embrace my laugh and smile lines.”
Considering people are hiring Norman for her expertise, looking her age could have its advantages. Her true self is the image she wanted on her website and the look she will be able to portray in other settings thanks to new head shots by Bishop.