Last week, I was chatting with a client of mine who is a CEO. She told me about a roundtable video meeting she was in with other CEO’s and how one of the men showed up to the call wearing pajamas. “Can you imagine a female CEO did this?” my client asked. This situation reminded us both of the different standards and expectations put on women in leadership positions as compared to men, and forget women of color in leadership roles in comparison to white men with the same status. While women are advancing in the workplace, women of color are still lagging behind, according to this recent article.

It’s an incredibly unfair double standard and total BS, but it is, sadly, the reality that many women in leadership roles face. If you want to compete with a man, you need to go above and beyond what a male counterpart can get away with. I recall a conversation I had a few years ago with another client who has a large role in finance for a Fortune 500 company. According to something called the grooming gap, in order for a woman to compete with a male counterpart, she needs to spend more compared to men for things like grooming, clothing, and self-care. It’s a vicious catch-22. In order for women to get ahead and make more, they have to spend more. These expenses eat into money that a woman could be putting away for things like retirement and considering that women typically live longer than men and often make less, it’s a sobering reality. And let’s not forget the pink tax which calculates that 42% of the time women spend more on products targeted at women than men do. Wage Gap + Grooming Gap + Pink Tax = an incredibly unfair playing field.

To make matters worse, despite how modern we’ve become, household responsibilities between men and women are rarely equally divided, leaving many women left to take on extra with parenting or running the majority of the household. And that is if a woman is married. As my client, who is single, explained, often her male counterparts have someone at home to pick up the slack. Single women don’t. My client has often scrambled to manage her home and work responsibilities or spent money to hire someone to do these things for her just to keep up with her male counterparts. And we haven’t even figured in the time spent grooming. The grooming gap accounts for 55 minutes lost a day by the average working woman which is the equivalent of two weeks a year.

Unfortunately, a time where the playing field is level between men and women in the workplace is not in the foreseeable future and gives women only one option, to step up and figure out how to be efficient and effective. Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just giving you the grim reality of the situation as it is currently. Yes, I wish it were different and that you too, as a woman in a leadership role, could just stroll into a Zoom meeting in your pajamas without makeup. However, sadly, this is not the reality we live in. Instead, I am going to give you some fuss-free outfit ideas that level up your Zoom game so you can do it quickly and efficiently.


Outfit #1

If there is a benefit to meetings being held exclusively on Zoom, women really only need to concern themselves with the top 1/3 of their looks. We’ve got that going for us…which is nice (oh the irony in me referencing one of the most popular movies among men…Caddyshack.) Leveling up for Zoom meetings does not require the same level of attention to your looks as it does for in-office and if men have been basically dialing in their looks, then we do have a lot more wiggle room to ease up a bit.

In this look, I went for color, which makes a huge difference on camera by selecting this magenta blouse from Banana Republic and topping off the look with a printed scarf from Nordstrom. To lean into the comfort that working from home has offered us, I styled the look with the Everlane Easy Pant, a pair of comfortable Allbirds ballerina flats, and pearl hoop earrings.

Depending on the amount of meetings you have that day, you can keep a top like this nearby and throw it on when needed. I do it all the time.

Outfit #2

If this silk tunic from Eileen Fisher feels like too much effort, a professional looking t-shirt can be swapped in. Knowing that many of my clients already have this top in their closet, it’s nothing for them to break it out and throw it on. It’s super easy and polished looking at the same time. I added some richness to this top with a burgundy cardigan from Nordstrom and a professional jogger from M.M. Lafleur. I finished the look with a stone pendant statement necklace and taupe flats from Everlane.

Outfit #3

There will be a time where we will be back working in-office. It will come, eventually. There are those who have put off thinking about their workplace wardrobes until they return but also a lot of women, like many of my clients, who have used this time to craft their work wardrobes and plan. A sweater blazer like this one from M. M. Lafleur is one of those easy pieces that can be worn comfortably while looking professional for Zoom meetings while also being great for in-office. And don’t worry, the cardigan works just fine without the belt.

I styled this cardigan blazer with a basic white t-shirt and elastic waist ankle-length pants by Mango. I finished the look with the same scarf, flats, and earrings from the first look. Instead of buying a lot of new things, look to ways you can get more use from less.

Outfit #4

Unless you are throwing a t-shirt under a jacket or cardigan, level up your look for Zoom meetings with a short sleeve sweater. I styled this oatmeal sweater from J. Crew with easy drawstring pants from COS and finished the look with the same shoes from the second look and a statement necklace from Chico’s.

Outfit #5

This easy blush blouse from Mango will look professional on Zoom while offering a level of comfort while sitting behind a computer all day. I styled it with plaid ponte leggings from Nordstrom and finished the look with the same flats as in previous looks and the necklace from look two.

Other tips for leveling up your professional Zoom look

  • Use the “touch up appearance” setting in Zoom. In the Zoom desktop client, click your profile photo, then settings. You will see a box that you can check to do this.
  • Use a clip-on light ring. Amazon sells light rings that can be attached to your phone or laptop and desktop.
  • Position your camera properly. Make sure your laptop is in a position where you are not looking down. The best angle is straight on or slightly above.
  • Avoid “wide-angle face.” The closer you are to the camera the more distorted your face will appear.
  • Test your video before signing on. Have you ever accidentally turned your camera on and shocked yourself? Do a quick check of your camera before logging on to your meetings.
  • Have headphone-friendly hair. If you wear headphones (not earbuds) make sure your hair works with them.
  • Avoid optic prints and patterns. Optic prints, like black and white stripes and prints, jump on camera.
  • Black gives a blobby appearance. Black may hide a multitude of sins in person but wearing it on camera can make you look like a black blob.
  • Open your neckline. A neckline that isn’t too low but offers enough space between your chin and chest offers enough neck between your chin and top.
  • Keep jewelry and scarves nearby. They can be grabbed in a pinch to look more professional on camera.
  • Avoid dark lipstick shades and heavy eye makeup. Dark lipstick shades make lips look smaller and thinner on camera. Dark eye makeup and smoky eyes will make your eyes look smaller as well.
  • Emphasize brows and cheeks. Video can make people appear flat. Focus on cheeks and eyebrows to add dimension to your face.

In Summary

Writing this post and listing all these extensive tips to help women in leadership succeed enraged me a bit because it just seems so unfair that women have all these extra hoops to jump through. But it also got me wondering. Even if women could get away with wearing pajamas to a Zoom meeting or could stop trying with their appearance in order to get ahead if they really would? I’m not sure women are wired to not want to put the effort forth. I think women do want to try. However, what I don’t think women want, and where I take great issue, is the expectation and the potential penalties women face if they don’t. That’s what sucks, that women start out in a deficit position compared to their male counterparts and don’t have a choice in the matter.

It is time companies start taking this part of the equation more seriously if they want to promote and retain their female executives. As companies make efforts towards leveling the playing field between their male and female employees, they need to acknowledge just how unlevel this component of the playing field is, and do something about it. They should consider the grooming gap and pink tax when compensating their female employees in addition to acknowledging the time it takes for women as compared to men to look up to snuff when representing their company. Companies need to understand that a woman can’t just slide into a role with equal effort and money a man puts forth to achieve the same results. Women aren’t looking to be coddled, they’re merely looking to be acknowledged and compensated for what it takes to be equal.