09.24.12 Career & Finances

How To Use Style And Grace To Give You A Workplace Advantage

BY Cheena Pazzo

I am constantly struggling with the line between what’s interesting and what’s appropriate at work. (There, I said it. Self realization is the first step to recovery, right?)

I think many women in leadership positions have the same struggle. There are so many expectations (some, of course, are self-imposed) about how we should behave. Assimilating to the boys’ club requires an irreverent coolness. When holding your own with strong corporate personalities, you’ve got to have a take-no-prisoners, bad-ass approach, but not in a way that labels you the “office bitch.”

I believe I’m both, but not always at the right times.

The adage “choose your battles wisely” is trite but true. It’s hard to not get caught up in being right, especially as a woman with so much to prove. I have engaged in some interesting conflicts. Perhaps the most perplexing is my refusal to wear a suit everyday to work, even though it would only help further my career. I refuse to adapt to corporate America’s idea of how I should dress. It’s partly a feminist thing, but mostly because I’m a creative person. My wardrobe is a reflection of my imagination and personality, and it directly impacts my approach to the workday. My point is this: whatever your battle (and regardless of how insignificant it might seem to others), make sure you are prepared to fight it with intelligence, and perhaps a little humor.

Although I’ve made my fair share of missteps, I’ve learned that adapting to your environment and each unique situation is also key. There is no template. Your approach with colleagues and business situations should be genuine to your personality- whatever it might be that day. I’ve experienced moments where I willed myself not to weep after being called “Princess” in a budget meeting, and have conquered the most difficult personalities through thoughtful, sometimes overly passionate, debate. While oftentimes uncomfortable, I believe those authentic moments are what make me likable and successful. I strive to be genuine and kind (not always mutually exclusive!), and hard only when necessary. Even though I’m not perfect in every situation, I’d like to think people trust and respect me more for it.

Maybe men don’t worry about the same things, and that’s fine with me. Women are complex and passionate beings. I’ve learned to embrace my eccentricities, regardless of how they are labeled.

In my best Bill Clinton voice: listen to me, because I’m fixin’ to tell you something important. Blur the line a little; don’t be afraid to burn your bra in 4-inch Louboutins while citing poetry.

Even after being advised by a required HR personality test that she was too intense and creative for the corporate life, Cheena has enjoyed almost every minute of her 17-year career in marketing and public relations. A self described logo cop, font snob and lover of music and semi colons, Cheena is an avid Yogi and subpar runner. She collects dogs, adores her family (wife and mommy of two) and might have a shopping problem. Follow her on Twitter @cpazzo.


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