Brand You: are high heels bad for your career?

September 18th 2016 / Phanella Mayall Fine, Alice Olins

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In the first of their monthly career advice columns for Get The Gloss, the Step Up Club’s Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine ask whether it's time to swap heels for flats in the workplace

Here’s a piece of work style advice you never thought you’d hear: high heels are bad for your career. Ok, full disclosure; high heels aren’t actually going to prevent you from finding meaningful or lasting career success. Heck, we’re both suckers for a pair of stilettos when the right situation arises, but high heels do unbalance your gravitas – and gravitas is closely linked to confidence.

And as it states in the title of our new female career manual, Step Up: Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes a Day, we are deep believers in the importance of confidence when it comes to work. As women we tend to wear our emotions on our sleeves; we are empathetic, fragile, sometimes highly strung, at others times unnecessarily hard on ourselves, but are we are also incredibly intuitive, the list goes on….

Our emotions make us unique and brilliant, but they can also render us fragile in work scenarios. We overthink, and that makes us doubt our abilities and when we doubt ourselves, we lack gravitas.

Gravitas is a state; it is a way of being that infers authority. Politicians have gravitas because they need to be able to persuade the electorate to their points of view. Many doctors have gravitas. Royalty are gravitas experts. Michelle Obama, Anna Wintour and Beyoncé each possess their own brand of gravitas, their own kind of presence, their own vibe that powers them through their work and their lives. Gravitas isn’t about what you think or say, it’s about how you say it.

Confident people have gravitas and gravitas comes with confidence. The two are intrinsically interwoven, both playing into the base ability to be able to stand up, be counted and have people take notice. Gravitas can present in many forms: poise under pressure, absolute decisiveness, an indisputable power of persuasion. And research says, nothing rocks gravitas like a pair of 10cm Louboutins or Choos, though we love each brand dearly. Heels throw you off balance and make it more difficult to ground yourself into the floor, and being unbalanced is an instant gravitas killer.

Why we all need gravitas

We all need gravitas at work, because work is as much about perceptions as it is hard graft. When someone walks into the room and exudes authority, or leads a presentation and does it with gusto, humour and panache, it’s natural to feel impressed. What we’re impressed by, if you break it down, is an impression and when you can get the impression working in your favour – heels or no heels – your career and confidence will soar.

How to get gravitas

Gravitas and body positioning are closely linked. When we present open, strong postures, we instantly boost our gravitas rating. So as a woman, it is even more important for us to master our stance: think open, expansive and still. Being off balance, teetering on heels for example, makes that much more difficult. We totter, reposition ourselves more often and find it more difficult to open up our torsos, because the stilettos require that we concentrate more on keeping in position. When we ground ourselves into the floor in a chic pair of flats, or neat ballet slippers, we anchor ourselves down, and those powerful poses tend to flow more naturally. Breathing is also a vital part of the gravitas formula. It is of course often in the most pressured situations, those when we require our highest levels of gravitas (read: interviews/presentations/meetings with the big cheese), that anxiety makes it wobble.

When we’re nervous, our breath automatically speeds up and becomes more shallow. But breath - slow, measured breath - is intrinsic to giving off an appearance of power. We say, even if you’re panicking on the inside, you don’t want to seem that way (think swan), so concentrate on slow, steady breaths from the diaphragm – think yoga. When we do this, we appear calmer than we actually are, and when that happens, we instantly become a more grounded, less wobbly sort of confident.

MORE GLOSS: 10 ways to overcome anxiety

Is it possible to get gravitas in heels?

Yes, of course! As we said above, we wear heels all the time. Our advice would be, and it just so happens that this season block heels are majorly on trend, that if you can, go for a lower more solid version that reduces wobble. Practice also makes perfect; so don’t pick your wobbly new skyscrapers for a job interview, rather wear them in a bit on a Saturday night before you let them loose at work. When it comes to gravitas and heels, it’s about having self-awareness (another big Step Up theme) – when you stay conscious of how you feel, how you stand and how you breathe you can still absolutely achieve gravitas in a pair of stonking Louboutins. After all, what you lose in balance, you’ll make up for in feel good factor and a great silhouette!

Step Up – Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 minutes a Day (Vermilion), £12.99 pbk by Phanella Mayall Fine and Alice Olins. Buy online here.

Follow the Step Up Club on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Picture credit: Liya Zlotnik.

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