Elke Kraemer about dressing with a purpose and stereotypes
For more than 25 years Elke Kraemer has been active in the tech sector in various management positions. What really defines her is that she is passionate about projects that inspire people to look at our world differently. With Clusity she wants to inspire women to do what they want and not let stereotypes hold them back. She wants to inspire people to embrace diversity as an engine for innovation. Because she believes that a company becomes more innovative and sustainable when it reflects the diverse society we live in.
“It is more beneficial to stand out than to look like everyone else and blend in with the crowd. You want to have a USP, something memorable, leave an impression so that people know what you stand for.”
Listen to the Work Fashion Talk episode here in Dutch or read the summary in English below.
Elke’s definition of work fashion
At the age of 24, I started out in a very conservative tech world. Not at all in an environment with trendy hoodies, trainers and jeans, as many people think of when they think of a tech environment. And it certainly wasn’t the case in Germany. What I did then was to mirror my target audience. The CEOs, CFOs and sales managers – men aged around 40-50 – to whom I wanted to sell. Moreover, I wanted to be taken seriously. They were so much older that I still felt like a teenager in their presence. Work fashion for me then was suits and shirts. All very sleek. To position me in that world. Gradually, I unlearned that. I noticed that it is better for me to be myself and to use my own style.
I have a relatively classical style of my own, for example. I like straight lines and solid colours. You will often see me in a combination of black and white. But apart from that, I’ve always been a bit rebellious and I put accents in my outfits to show that rebelliousness. For example, by using animal prints in my outfit or combining a blazer with leather trousers. I also use colour accents like red or green to stand out at events or during public speaking and to make the association with my company and branding. Today, work fashion is simply about being myself in order to feel good about me instead of creating a silhouette to protect myself like in the past. The measurement tool now is: in what do I feel good.
It comes with age and experience that you become calmer in that respect and now I don’t need that power dressing anymore. I also no longer work in a traditional corporate environment, but rather in a trendy start-up scene where things can be a bit looser and where you can and may have your own way of dressing and style.
Of course, sometimes clothing is a conscious and strategic choice. For example, when you want to stand out at an event or reinforce your message while speaking.
Dressing with a purpose
For an event or other professional occasion, I have a certain look and feel, and especially a purpose.
For example, I am a speaker and I am standing on a stage. If I know that there is a black background, I will dress so that I do not disappear into the background. Then I choose something white or red so that I stand out and can create a visual impact when I say something.
So my guiding principle and starting point is more my goal and how do I formulate/shape that into my appearance. I ask myself the question “What do I want to achieve?” and as a result, I choose certain clothes that fit me well and are comfortable.
Throughout my career, I have discovered that it is more beneficial to stand out than to look like everyone else and blend in with the crowd. Because that way you are quickly forgotten. You want to have a USP, something memorable, leave an impression so that people know what you stand for and that they can feel you. It is good to stand out in order to leave a mark.
Using the mirror technique can be an advantage but it is very valuable if you are yourself and then you are more credible. Authenticity and credibility have a very big impact on the trust that another person has in you. In my opinion, this is much more important than trying to mirror someone or make someone comfortable if you adapt your style.
If you are still searching and unsure, you are more likely to fall into the mirror technique and adapt more. The quicker you know who you are and that you are good as you are, the quicker you will be able to be who you are and that will be reflected in the clothes you choose. And that is much stronger.
Stereotypes and role models
Many women don’t make it to C-level, but I don’t believe we have to adapt to get there. I believe we have to go our own way and set our own emphasis. That’s why I want to inspire women to become entrepreneurs to find their own way of being successful instead of trying to climb up those existing structures by copy-paste behaviour. As women, we just have strengths in the differences that exist. If we then start to discount those strengths to copy other people’ talents, then we will never be as strong as we can be. It is absurd to push away the strong potential in order to copy something that is not real or does not feel real. If you then relate that to clothing: you have to find how to express your mission in a style rather than copying a male style, even though I did this myself – without knowing better – 25 years ago. I would never have worn a skirt in those days. I didn’t want people to see me as a woman. And I didn’t want to be approached by male customers about being a woman.
So just be yourself and stand strong. We should not copy what is there. The structure and working world we have today is heavily influenced by a relatively strong traditional model. The challenge is to find a new modern structure. By being more ourselves, and reflecting how things really are, we will be able to establish this new structure faster.
Role models help to break down stereotypes in a large group. Role models can be there for other women as examples of how they have defined their own way of life and success. But also for young men, where female role models show what women can achieve. The impact you can generate through role models is so much greater in our society. Giving visibility to these ladies creates a broader view. Role models are therefore not only important for the young girls, but actually to show a large group what is possible.
You learn by doing and by doing, also in the field of work and clothing. In the situation that you are in, you always try to do the best for yourself. If, after a while, you find that you no longer feel comfortable, it’s going to come out anyway and you have to adapt. In the tech world, you have an agile way of working. Well, in your career and also in clothing, you can apply agile. An agile way of living and dressing. Do a regular stand-up, stand still, discuss, see what the state of affairs is, feel if you feel good about it and fine-tune. Design thinking is another process you can apply. There you have a creative phase, a do phase and an analysis phase and then you complete the circle again. If you translate this into your life, you should not be afraid to make big mistakes. Because you can still correct it when it is necessary for you. Don’t be afraid, test it out, feel it and finetune it. Sometimes that is better than thinking too long and approaching everything too analytically.