Global Leadership: How Much Skin Is Enough?

I thought I would touch on the topic of exposure and global leadership. Hence my question and title of this post: How much skin is enough? ūüôā

I think it is fair to say that in the western world, the level of acceptable exposure for women has¬†drastically¬†changed over the years. The above cartoon says it all (which I found on a blog discussing women’s image and health). The level of exposure not only differ with generations but culture and religion. It is also very tightly tied to personal space. So what does that mean when you are in a leadership role? Globally? ¬†I think when in doubt, lean on the conservative side. ¬†Here are some pointers:

Certain parts of the body can be off-limits in both a personal or professional setting.

Women should be careful about exposing their arms, legs or even faces in many Muslim countries.

Wearing shorts or other types of casual clothing is not acceptable in many cultures.

The most sensitive situations apply to women in orthodox settings in the Middle East, where proper attire for women does not include shorts or short skirts.

Showing the bottom of a shoe when crossing the legs  is also considered an act of disrespect  in many Muslim countries as well as in Thailand.

Sometimes, a well-meaning gesture can be misinterpreted for example, touching the head of a young child in most Asian countries is not acceptable behavior.

If you are not aware of the culture of a country, or  the culture of the organization, your wardrobe should air on the conservative side when meeting for the first time.

Colors are also  important Р in many settings you can convey a positive or negative impression because of the color you are wearing. For example , in Asia, red or white typically are worn to funerals. Purple is considered unlucky in Italy.

Now, with increased  business globalization some blunders may be forgiven as we open up our doors  and have a deeper understanding of other cultures. However the  message here is, do your homework. Do not assume.  Again, a quick check of culture can go a long way to making the first step to building that relationship.

What has been your experience?  Do share. I would love to hear from you.

Now go dress for success!

About Shirley Williams

I have a passion to create, resolve and build.I have had a pretty dynamic career that some say has led to a solid reputation as a visionary, result-driven and passionate leader. I say, simplify the complexity, work WITH people and you have a formula that not only deliver results but forms bonds that will stand the test of time. I have led numerous initiatives with a geographical scope that has included Canada, US, The South Americas,Europe and Australia. My professional career spans Biotechnology, Brand & Generic Pharmaceuticals, IBM Business Consulting Services, Healthcare, Retail, Electronics, more recently Mining and now Social Media. I am a biochemist and have a Master of Scence degree in endocrine pharmacology. I am a certified practitioner and professional in Change Management (Prosci), Project Management (PMP/PMI) and Social Media (OMCP, Online Marketing Certified Professional). So that makes my full title to be: Shirley Williams, MSc. PMP. CMC. OCMP. Having spent many years in the LifeSciences (you can check my career profile on Linkedin ) I have now directed my attention to bridging strategy and goals with social media. Loving it! In fact I am passionate about it. I have also produced and currently host my own internet radio show. My programs to-date have included Rise Of The Patient and Give Startups A Chance. I consider myself as an Experience Enabler. I facilitate and advocate for improved experience from the consumer perspective. Thank you for stopping by to check me out!

17 Responses to “Global Leadership: How Much Skin Is Enough?”

  1. Hi Shirley…great…and important post…as a man I’ve never encountered much difficulty when overseas…I basically either imitated local customs or wore western-style suits…either was always safe.

    What I am surprised about is what passes for business attire for some females in this country…and yes I am aware this is a very touchy subject…but is this a subject you might be willing to tackle in a future post…I admire your intelligence and sensitivity and believe you could shed some much needed light and wisdom on this topic.

    If this is something you would rather talk about off blog, I understand…my email is

    Be encouraged!

    • Hi Stephen!
      Thank you so much. I am glad that this post resonated. Dress is a sensitive matter ‚Äď it is a balance of personal expression and, under this context, business protocol.

      I think I will do a post in the future and address your question under the umbrella of image and dress.

      Thank you for the idea

  2. Reblogged this on Ransae's Blog.

  3. Reblogged this on txwikinger's blog and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  4. HI Shirley: Good information to be considered. I agree with Stephen about how some women dress in the workplace. It could be partly psychological on my part. I was raised conservatively and was always a bit shy about my body. I certainly don’t have a “model” figure, (which in many cases are bad examples for the rest of us, includindg young girls, who see women in varied stage of dress or undress. ) But nevertheless, I’m amazed as well at some of the women’s outfits. There is a great debate over whether cleavage gets more sales. I would probably tend to lean on the side of yes, whether I think it’s proper or not.

  5. This is excellent Shirley. I travel a lot for business and I am sometimes stunned at the lack of respect shown for the local culture. There are parts of the world where modesty is still a value and, when we visit, the least we can do is show respect by not blatantly disregarding local sensibilities. Event in areas of the world where one may feel the dress code is extreme, if we decide to travel there, we should be sensitive to local customs.

    As for North America, as far as I am concerned, women are showing way too much skin, even in the workplace. Hopefully, the pendulum will swing back soon.

    • Shirley Williams Reply April 21, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Lovely to see you hear ūüôā
      Thank you. You hit it on the nail. It is really understanding what is considered as respect from different perspectives and understanding those sensitivities. Once understood, hopefully they are acted upon. I just finished writing another post reminding us of what our Global Village really looks like. Here in North America, exposure seems to be a full on “open door” in some cases. I hear you.

  6. HI Shirley. Great post. I agree with Stephen about how some women dress in the workplace. It may be partly psychological on my part, in that I was raised conservatively and have always been shy about my body. I don’t have a “model” body, but even if I did, I don’t believe I would dress in a provocative manner.There is a debate on whether cleavage results in more sales. I tend to believe the answer is yes, which is another debate on its own.

    • HI!
      First of all thank you for visiting. Secondly, apologies not required for mulitiple posts! Love the engagement:)

      You raise some interesting points which I think I may use for future posts ūüėČ the definition of model body has totally changed over the years. I recently put a post on my G+ profile on this very topic. I have added the link below for your interest. At the end of the day, what we wear says a lot about ourselves. The question we should all ask, what is it that I want to say to the world and is my image portraying that?

      Thanks for sharing!

      Link to how society’s perception of the female image has changed.

  7. Interesting post and yes it is very important to understand or try to understand local customs – what I also find important to do though is to leave ones cultural bias at home. Entering countries that still have deep rooted traditions can be offensive to many but even though violence against women is not acceptable – trying to impose North American forms of justice does not make sense either – just look at the resentment in Africa, Afghanistan, etc


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