There’s something very powerful about honesty—especially in those who hold leadership positions.
Alicia Glen, New York City’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development, used to lead an investment group at Goldman Sachs, overseeing $3 billion in property and companies. Like many women (and some men), she dyes her hair, and needs to regularly color her roots when they start to grow out—a dauntingly time-consuming process that must be repeated every few weeks. She made a point, she said in an interview with Elle, of not hiding this basic fact about her life: When she needed to get her roots touched up, she unashamedly put it in her calendar for everyone to see—rather than euphemistically calling it a “private” or “personal” appointment.
The reason was to make it clear to her employees—especially women—that work isn’t only about sitting at a desk. Just as male colleagues weren’t ashamed to leave the office to play golf with clients, she wasn’t shy about attending to her appearance. “I really believe that I need to have my roots done so that I can do my job, so that I can sit in meetings and look professional,” she said.
People were shocked by the openness, she said:
Well, news flash: That’s my real life. And I really hope the women who were in my group saw that I wasn’t just pretending I was at a client meeting, that I was acknowledging the fact that it takes two hours to get my roots done. It never meant that I wasn’t making as much money for the firm or that I wasn’t doing as many deals.
Glen also showed her employees that as dedicated as she was to her job, she had a life outside of work—and in doing so, she empowered her employees to find their own work-life balance.
Such honesty from someone who has reached the top levels in the corporate and public sectors sets a tone for working women, showing that they need not hide the other parts of their existence in an attempt to appear “professional.”
For people with busy lives and demanding jobs, families, and other commitments, it’s refreshing, especially in a time when overwork is fetishized, as the New Yorker pointed out recently—calling out Lyft’s praise of a driver who continued to take fares even as she went into labor:
And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news. Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace that promotes itself as being for “the lean entrepreneur”—as its name suggests, services advertised on Fiverr can be purchased for as low as five dollars—recently attracted ire for an ad campaign called “In Doers We Trust.” One ad, prominently displayed on some New York City subway cars, features a woman staring at the camera with a look of blank determination. “You eat a coffee for lunch,” the ad proclaims. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”
In contrast, Glen is fierce in her determination that women in positions of power should help other women, not just in hiring and promoting them, but also in setting an example of humanity, rather than unachievable perfection.
But even now, Glen still gets pushback regarding her hair appointments, she says: “Now that I work in government and the entire public can access my schedule, they want me to put it down as a ‘private appointment.’ I’m like, Really?”