Are high-heels a prerequisite-requisite for executive success? It's such a shallow question that I hate to ask it, even though I did pose it to Paula Goldstein, chief executive of Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia, during our executive question and answer interview published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
When I interview some of these executives, particularly the women, particularly the women who are my age, I think about how their paths are different than mine. Sometimes, frankly, I think, God bless them, I'm happy to be a reporter. Other times I wonder what I could have done differently to move myself higher up the corporate ladder, either here or elsewhere.
And, this isn't entirely a joke. But maybe it's the heels. I didn't even wear them on my wedding day, although I am, by the way, still married to the same man.
So, in every interview with a female CEO, I get around to the high heels question. And they all, including Goldstein, graciously answer.
Question: Do high heels matter?
Answer: Yes. Oh my gosh, I have to tell you it's so funny that you asked that question. One, female executes have a whole different set of expectations in terms of the way they dress.
Q: Tell me.
A: So when I was a social worker at this agency, I was much more of an earthy, crunchy dresser. I liked clothes but I was very comfortable in my kind of freestyle. I love your sweater for instance. I immediately admired it when you came in, and I thought, `That's me.' But when I work with my board and in order for me to transition to that executive presence with the staff here I had to change the way that I looked.
Q: So what did you do?
A: It much more suits. It's more high heels but for me personally, I mean I'm a 58-year-old woman who doesn't have great feet. So I have to find the high heels that work, but I do. I do because I feel there's something to it, and I feel that women in general, know this. I don't just feel this. I know because we talk about it, other executives. We have to think about the way we look in a way that men do not, every single day. If I'm going to meet this person, I have to think about how I'm going to look. It's unusual for me to come in completely casual.
Q: It's very interesting.
A: It's a female thing. We carry it. Some females may not buy into it, but I actually think that it's important.
Q: I've come to the same conclusion, now that I've interviewed so many female executives. I'm not an executive so I don't have to wear heels, but I've come to the conclusion that you don't have to have heel like yours. (She had high-heeled boots -- not terribly high, but not short stubby ones either). You have to at least a symbolic heel.
Q: It doesn't have to be a high-heel. It's just has to be a heel.
A: Right. These are such a compromise because I can't wear pumps, and so these shoes are so comfortable, believe it or not.
Q: So how many pairs did you buy.
A: I have two pairs of these and then I have a different pair by the same maker.
Q: Now do you feel like you can wear flats in the office?
A: Just here.
Q: Just in this room? Not even down the hall?
A: Not really. Now maybe that's Paula Goldstein, but I really have talked to enough other female executives. As one executive put it so amazingly: `People, particularly your board and your donors, they want to feel great about you being their best friend.' They want to connect in that way and part of it is your look. Like it or not.