Some pearls to go with that necktie?



Once upon a time, I wore a necktie.

I was in college working at a restaurant and someone decreed servers male and female must wear button-down shirts with ties. (I guess in case we had to set down a plate of potato skins to do a quick business merger or closing argument.) I came away from my time in neckties thinking they were uncomfortable, without actual purpose and very, very male.

When I was growing up, mothers on my block set off on careers while still fully responsible for the house and kids. Struggling with this balance, my own mother sometimes wore a tie to work, which I figured was to prove she too was in the club. So, about men and ties.

Last week Gov. Rick Scott and business leaders unveiled plans for a blitz to attract business to our state with this slogan: FLORIDA The Perfect Climate for Business.

Clever. That’s climate as in business climate, but also our lack of sudden ice storms. Notably, the “i” in Florida is in the shape of a man’s power tie.

This next thought may seem as ancient to younger women as whalebone corsets. But to some of us who grew up with tales of important downtown clubs where businessmen dined and women were unwelcome, of big deals cut on golf courses without pesky women in attendance, the message is not so subtle: Businessmen Welcome Here. The rest of you? Eh.

I consulted prominent local business types who also happen to be female:

“How you completely dismiss that entire segment of your business community and use a visual that is so associated with men — this is something out of the Mad Men era,” says Beth Leytham, owner of the Leytham Group public relations firm

“Not everyone wears a tie,” said former Tampa mayor Pam Iorio, now a leadership speaker. “The business community is both men and women. I think I would have chosen something 21st century.”

This doesn’t seem a deliberate slight. Enterprise Florida’s manager of public relations Sean Helton tells me they reached out to 25 female executives across the country. Most didn’t find it gender specific, he says, and all saw the tie as a universal symbol of business.

Still, even unintentional, even subject to perception, it could be enough to lose you an edge with a certain segment.

How important a segment? Our state is fourth in the nation for women-owned businesses, with more than a half-million women’s companies contributing $77.4 billion to the economy, according to the Florida Women’s Business Center. From 1997 to 2011, women-owned businesses grew 73 percent compared to 50 percent nationally. There’s your target audience.

As always, some will say people are being too touchy, too PC. This is a thing that gets said when the group you happen to belong to rarely has much to be touchy about.

So do we drape the F in Florida in pearls? Anchor the A in fashionable heels?

Nah. We just need a catchy phrase that says sunny Florida is open for business, and we mean open to everyone.

Sue Carlton is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.

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