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December 8, 2014 Dr. Jayne 11 Comments


My favorite fashionista sent me a link other day in advance of this week’s mHealth Summit. Since I spend most of my time worrying about MU, PQRS, VBP, and a host of other acronyms, I wasn’t terribly familiar with the fact that Forbes apparently has a style file. And here I thought they were all about business and investing!

Reading further down her text made me even more curious: “There’s tongue in cheek, and then there’s this….”

Power Wear: mHealth Summit 2014” starts out innocently enough, providing background on the conference and its attendees. From there, however, the author gets a little silly, stating, “What you wear will visually convey your professional message as well as empower you to fully engage at the conference … my mission is to free you up to concentrate on presentation and participation by making getting dressed easy.”

Seriously? Does she actually think that women who have arrived at the point in their careers where they’re presenting at a national meeting cannot coordinate their own wardrobes?

She goes on to remind us that we need to “appear flattering” and “to opt for clothing that enhances or creates an hourglass shape.” I’m pretty sure I left my corset in the 1890s, where it belonged. When she admonished readers not to be distracted by “a fussy handbag, or fidgeting with your look,” I’m sure my mouth was gaping open. I wonder how many female mHealth professionals even own a fussy handbag, let alone give much consideration to their “look?”

Certainly no one wants to look bad on stage, but most of us prefer to spend our time polishing presentations and ensuring we have time to actually make all the meetings on our schedules rather than fretting about whether our outfits are au courant. Not to mention, serious travelers are more motivated to ensure their entire conference wardrobe fits into a 22-inch roller bag rather than making sure they have multiple handbags with which to accessorize.

She offers three “inspirational style guides” that are (in her words) fashion-forward, professionally-polished, versatile, comfy, and inspirational. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a smart suit or a hot shoe. But generally I’m inspired by a person’s words, accomplishments, and how they relate to the audience far more than how they’re dressed.

The second look she pictures reminds me of something out of the Barbie aisle, complete with awkward posture, anatomically-fascinating digital alterations, and optional accessories:


I was torn on thinking whether this piece was really supposed to be serious, so I sent it to some of the most fashion-savvy people I know, all of whom are seasoned conference presenters and attendees. Comments ranged from, “OMG, is this a joke? I’m kind of speechless. And why specifically for mHealth?” to, “After reading the beginning, I was expecting something a little more from the clothing.” One C-level took less exception to the existence of the piece than to the author’s choices: “Seriously, did you look at what she picked out… Good God! But don’t they have similar fashion articles for men?”

Other highlights:

  • I am sorry, but I am stunned by this. I would think that this conference would be less Project Runway and a little bit more Davos… the fact that this is probably representative of the wearable market (did Google Glass die yet, because it should), which is ripe with misplaced interest and based on the idea that the sexy dork is a smart one. Sure, I’d love to have years of biometric data in your EHR if I were your patient, but can’t we agree as patient and provider that it would be most valuable if you had all of my previous tests, visits, labs, and data elements in discrete and reportable (and trendable) format inside your EHR first?
  • The only trend in healthcare that we should care about is the one that comes from having a true longitudinal and holistic and normalized view of a patient from birth to present. All other trends should be left at the hatters and haberdashers.

My favorite all-around IT guy is married to a physician and summed it up:

Maybe, just maybe, when healthcare leaders start to focus on the meaningful, the trite can be ignored. Providing sartorial suggestions for presenting demonstrates to me that we continue to focus on all that is useless while ignoring the real issues at hand. I am saddened, in a time when female representation at these meetings and panels remains woefully disproportionate to the balance of society at large, let alone employment in healthcare, that there is something important in how a woman is styled that will alter the content of the message, the value of the opinion and/or data, and the attention of the audience.

I am wearing a smart plaid tie over a blue shirt with brown pants, brown belt, brown shoes, and plaid socks with grey in them. No one cares that my socks are poorly chosen and the brown belt and shoes are not the same brown. Nor do people care that I rarely get a close shave. They just don’t. I stand in front of people and present things and they just listen to me and judge me on the content.

My personal advice for presenters is to wear something you’re comfortable in and to make sure that you have somewhere to clip the power pack for your wireless microphone. That in itself effectively rules out the first look, unless you’re traveling with a backstage roadie who is ready to hook it to your bra band or duct tape it to your back under the dress. I saw both of those happening in the green room of the studio where our hospital films its public-access cable show and neither is a technique I’d want to utilize in the 15 minute handoff between speakers at a conference.

I know a good number of HIStalk readers are at the mHealth Summit this week. I’m interested in what you think as well as what you’re seeing in the halls and on the podium. Is the mHealth crowd more fashionable than the HIMSS or Health 2.0 crowds? Is a $177 Tory Burch floral top going to take my presentation from good to great?

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Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. “Seriously? Does she actually think that women who have arrived at the point in their careers where they’re presenting at a national meeting cannot coordinate their own wardrobes?”

    But Dr. Jayne – many of the men who present at these national meetings cannot coordinate their wardrobes….

  2. I, too, am as outraged as you by this so-called “Power Wear” missive for the mHealth Summit. This sets women back so many years….and it’s very sad.I am not at the conference but I do wish to offer a somewhat related comment about appropriate dress when speaking at a conference. I work for a prominent HealthIT vendor and we held our annual User Conference recently. We had 3 keynote speakers, one of which was a well-known female healthcare policy expert who shall go nameless. During her keynote she was professionally dressed to be sure, but I couldn’t help noticing that she wore a “mini” skirt where the bottom of the hem fell well above her knees. At the end of her talk, she was seated in an arm chair and was interviewed by the host and the skirt kept crawling up and up… I was uncomfortable just watching her. Needless to say it was quite distracting. When speaking at a conferenc, or in front of any group for that matter, it’s always sound advice to keep the audience attention on what you are saying and not on what you are wearing!

  3. I actually was on a panel once and there was a woman who wore such high stilettos that she fell off her shoes and knocked over the computer presenting her slides. She ate up about 10 minutes of the other speaker’s presentations because every doctor in the audience ran up to her to ask her if is she was ok. So while she prepared well for the presentation, she forgot the cords on the floor we always almost have to walk over to get to the podium. She dressed like she was waiting for her date from match.com in the audience to come forward. And to top it off she was indeed very brilliant, well educated and seasoned so she should have known better. Go figure….

  4. This is an insult to women and where they have been able to take their careers. This feels as though we have lost ground in the professional world rather than elevating our careers and still need guidance on how to dress.

  5. Well there ya go. Since Mr H has always had awards for best vendor, worst vendor, best CEO, etc, why not have a few for best dressed, worst dressed, classiist, etc.

    And while he’s thinking of that, I need some help, as my dear wife has always told me I missed out on the fashion gene. I am scheduled for a presentation on HIMSS Wednesday and can’t decide wheter the hip hop orange crotch high shorts with torn T-shirt is better than the my blood stained,green surgical fatigues with matching high top connies? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  6. I’m presenting tomorrow! I’m actually at home packing and now I’m suitably (pun intended) freaked out about what to pack/wear.

    I should be reviewing my slides and now I’m wondering if I should call one of those judges from Project Runway or someone from Fashion Police.

    I’ll be the short woman in a purple dress. I’m sure that’s some sort of violation.

  7. My concern would be that the fashion advice was focused on women and didn’t have a context of “professionalism in presentations.”

    Really good presenters have spent time polishing their image and skills. They speak clearly, understand pacing and the role of repetition. They dress well, or at least in ways that are suitable for the forum. The presentation materials are interesting but the presenter does not use them as a crutch.

    Some presentations focus on the material. For some, quite honestly, the presenter is the focus (motivational speaking comes to mind).

    However in all cases the goal is to communicate. Things that detract from the mission to communicate are bad; things that enhance communication are good.

    Therefore if a presenter dressed poorly enough to detract from the message, then yeah, some remedial fashion advice might be called for. However stand-alone fashion advice focused on women presenters might lead some to think that an attractive presenter was the main purpose of public speaking.

  8. Male consultants will sometimes receive instructions from customer management to change up the wardrobe. Yes, the customer manager was a sociopath.

  9. Dr. Jayne, thanks for opening the discussion on this topic. I agree with some of the previous comments that the problem with this post isn’t necessarily the clothing advice (though some of the suggestions were baffling!) but the fact that it singled out female presenters and focused on an “appealing” or “attractive” image. Some of the best advice I’ve received when it comes to public speaking, interviewing, or other high-stakes business apparel is to keep it boring. Ultimately, your ideas and abilities should make the impression.

    …Advice that I routinely ignore because I enjoy expressing myself in my fashion choices and have found that I am generally more comfortable when I dress like myself–and my clothing choices haven’t hindered my career yet.

    We hosted a training session yesterday and one of our managers has to pull a male trainee aside to speak to him about his overly casual interpretation of “business casual.” The week before as I was setting up details fore training session, the trainer himself (who is not our employee) asked me about our dress code. As an IT professional, his usual work wear involved sneakers, jeans and t-shirts. It’s refreshing to be reminded that women aren’t the only ones who deal with work-wear related anxiety.

    I think a far more interesting topic is the dynamics of power in professional dress. The trainer can show up in jeans and t-shirts, but the trainees need to present a more polished look. How common is it to have different rules for the executive level? I’m curious how many of you see this power divide or double standard in your organizations?

  10. Late to this thread—I do presentations to Health IT and medical device organizations 4-5 times a year in the USA and Europe – I am female. I try to look subtly fashionable, but definitely spend more time on the content of my presentation and my preparation to answer any questions from the audience.

    I don’t wear stilettos – going up and down the stairs to the dais or podium can be nerve wracking and when you have wires all around, downright dangerous.

    I do have a few tailored jackets and very nice patterned cardigan sweaters that make for great portable wardrobe pieces that travel well (lightweight and thin). Comfort is important as well. Black pants look good on everyone and go with most any top. Black shoes work well in many situations as well – I use flat or low-heeled clogs or loafers.

    There are different customs with regard to dressing in the USA and Europe – they are much more formal in Europe, so I probably am a little less formal compared to most in Europe, but more formal compared to most in the USA.

    It is important to look professional and quasi-fashionable, but it needs to be tempered as stated above. I think the most important thing is to have a few pieces that look good on you and that you feel comfortable wearing. It can help your confidence when speaking in front of hundreds of people that you don’t look odd or garish.

  11. Sorry – no editing on the comment – I meant in the last sentence that if you are comfortable with what you are wearing, then it helps your confidence when speaking as it’s one less thing you might be worrying about. It is nerve-wracking enough to be in front of many people speaking – worrying about whether your wardrobe is appropriate is the last thing you want on your mind at that point.

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