Perhaps like you, I’ve been a bit curious about this situation with femme fatale sports caster Ines Sainz and her recent issues with alleged sexual harassment in the Jets locker room.
What is triggering my interest is not the question of women in the locker room (not going there, thank you). It is the issue of how we, as women, choose to present ourselves professionally. Granted, Ms. Sainz is an extreme example - I mean how many of us have bikini shots up on our LinkedIn profile?
But let me first go on record: The way a woman dresses may be a serious lapse in judgment, but it does not make sexual harassment acceptable.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I think we can agree that many, many women make the choice to “lead” with their sexuality at work by dressing a certain way. And by “lead” I mean that by dressing a certain way, they make a very sexy first impression. For some women, it gives a false sense of power and a false sense of control over the room. For others, it's hardly a choice they make with full awareness... they are simply a product of their upbringing, or the media environment we live in. Many times they just haven't had the guidance.
Regardless, once you have branded yourself as “sexy” the road to "credible" is long, painful and difficult.
But What About Self Expression?
Many young women I’ve worked with in the past have said, “But this is who I am! I’m expressing myself honestly… isn’t that what you always teach us to do?” To this I say: Let's give ourselves a bit more credit, shall we?
Who we truly are is not something as superficial as a low neckline or high hemline. Who we are goes much deeper than that, and when we lead with our sexuality, it sends a message that there ain’t much else there.
One very bright, accomplished woman I worked with said that she loved the rush of being “checked out” in meetings, only to wow the room with her insights, intelligence and experience. The problem here is the underlying message that “it’s about me, and how I feel.”
Any good presenter knows that success comes when you are in devotion to the audience needs first. Not the other way around. Leading with our sexuality, or our fashion flamboyance, can send a message of self-absorption and a complete lack of awareness and respect for the people around us.
Know the Game You’re Playing
On the flip side, many women have made great careers for themselves by leading with their sexy side. I don’t mean to judge them, or discredit their success. But I am saying that we need to take responsibility for what game we're playing. If we lead with sexy, then sexy is what we’ll get. For better or worse.
The good news for those who take this path? Sex does sell. And Sainz is having a pretty great run as a Mexican sportscaster, and her notoriety in the U.S. is soaring. I predict a Letterman interview and a Playboy offer within the month. Heck, if she keeps up the publicity, I see an Entourage cameo in her future.
Would she be taken seriously in a nightly news setting here in the U.S.? Not on your life. But I would surmise that Sainz has no interest in that path. She knows the game she’s playing, and she’s doing her thing.
But we shouldn’t for a second fool ourselves into thinking we can have it both ways. Overtly sexy does not go hand in hand with serious creditability.
So the question we have to ask ourselves is, if we choose not to lead with our sexuality, what are we leading with? And thus begins the hard work of true self expression.