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25.10.16

A glimpse at the future - Look the Business Dinner 2016

The Gloss Magazine - Look the Business Dinner 2016

Siobhan Walsh, Partner, Dublin

This year’s dinner was a decidedly glossy affair, perhaps because it’s organisers, The Gloss magazine, is celebrating its 10th birthday. The professionalism, exclusivity and sheer feel-good factor surpassed even last year’s impressive event.  The acoustics were ably managed to accommodate the 1,000+ chattering guests, speakers and fashion show music and the timing of the night’s events was as smooth and precise as the Tanqueray Ten gins and tonic.

My colleagues, our guests from the HR and commercial industries and I thoroughly enjoyed the excellently managed evening. Prizes seemed to be flung around the room with indecent regularity and goody bags gifted delightful surprises, like a copy of the hardback The Irish at Home, full of captivating interiors. I’m looking forward to a Saturday cappuccino in a quiet corner to indulge.

The highlight of the evening for me was Lucy Kellaway and her legendary style of poking fun at ordinary and quirky aspects of management traits and business habits. She has a unique way of seeing things that most of us seem to have noticed, but not realised or articulated until she nails them, which makes her anecdotes utterly relatable. Her topic on this occasion was, appropriately, how we dress at work.

For Lucy to feel truly authentic, it would be to turn up in jeans and Birkenstocks. But, as she learned early in her career, dress code matters, especially in US investment houses where she was told women didn’t wear pants, (meaning trousers, not underwear, as she misunderstood) let alone jeans.

Authenticity has been a popular topic in business comment over the past few years. But, does being authentic at work mean being fully yourself? Does it mean behaving just as you would at home or with friends? Not in most workplaces. Over-sharing of personal experiences or hasty comments can cross lines and lead to discomfort or even reduced trust. Maybe authenticity at work has more to do with being genuine and sincere; having an appropriate level of openness that engages but maintains a comfortable boundary around sharing. In other words, not being the ‘no holds barred’ version of ourselves, but a version that’s appropriate to the environment and still genuine.

Both Lucy and Anne O’Leary, our other fine speaker, agreed that what you choose to wear in business has a big part to play in feeling empowered. Even the usually casually dressed Lucy admits there’s a distinctly different feel to jeans and Birkenstocks than heels and a well-cut dress or suit, despite possible foot discomfort. Dressing up helps her to feel strong and fantastic. Kildare Village presented perfect examples of ‘power pairings’ during the snappy fashion show and Louise Kennedy showed wonderful ‘desk to dinner’ outfits.

Who knows what we’ll be wearing at work in years to come? ‘Disruption’ has become a de rigueur description of all things new in the technology world. Lo and behold, it’s even reached fashion. ‘Disrupting and enabling fashion and technology’, the dramatic and futuristic Gigabit Dress took to the stage. Commissioned by Vodafone, it has fibre optic cable embedded in the fabric which can read your body’s signals. This departure into responsive fashion could have us buying swimsuits that alert us to put on more sunscreen or choosing garments whose colours reflect our changing moods. No wonder it needed the catwalk all to itself. I have to admit, it feels a little strange, but then, most change does at first.

Remembering the speeches at last year’s dinner, there was a distinct theme of encouragement to change the status quo and strive for more gender equality in top executive positions; for women to find their power and live it. Just like the prospect of a futuristic wardrobe, this can feel uncomfortable to many. But there was little talk of that this time. It was a confident, assured evening. As if the mindset has been established. We are empowered. Now let’s get on with truly changing the world.