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An Insight into Image and Impact: Maxine Benson MBE

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Max is the co-founder of everywoman. Since launching in 1999, everywoman has consulted with government, worked with many large organisations, thousands of small enterprises and start ups, and given talks to the next generation of women in business – so she’s had a wealth of experience of making impact at every level.

Prior to founding everywoman, Maxine worked in the airline industry in Australia and in the film industry in New York. She sits on the Women’s Leadership board for the Duke of Edinburgh Award and was appointed MBE in 2009 in recognition of her service...

Max is the co-founder of everywoman. Since launching in 1999, everywoman has consulted with government, worked with many large organisations, thousands of small enterprises and start ups, and given talks to the next generation of women in business – so she’s had a wealth of experience of making impact at every level.

Prior to founding everywoman, Maxine worked in the airline industry in Australia and in the film industry in New York. She sits on the Women’s Leadership board for the Duke of Edinburgh Award and was appointed MBE in 2009 in recognition of her service to women’s enterprise.

DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUR IMAGE/APPEARANCE HAS AN IMPACT ON HOW YOU ARE VIEWED BY OTHERS?

Absolutely. Studies show that impressions are formed in the first 30 seconds of meeting someone, so these impressions have to be based mainly on what people see – your clothes, hair, make-up, how you carry yourself. In a fair world it wouldn’t be this way but unfortunately appearance does count.

CAN YOU RECALL A TIME WHERE YOU FEEL THAT YOU GOT IT WRONG? WHAT IMPACT DID THIS HAVE FOR YOU AND HOW DO YOU AVOID IT NOW?

I think you always need to look smart and appropriate, but within the boundaries of what makes you feel comfortable. I think where I have got it wrong in the past is that I have sometimes moved so far away from a point of comfort that being so conscious of what I am wearing has distracted me from what I should be focusing on.

YOU NEED TO INFLUENCE MEN IN YOUR WORK, HOW DOES THAT IMPACT ON THE WAY YOU DRESS AND THE MESSAGE YOU WANT TO PORTRAY?

I want to influence everybody, regardless of gender. Ultimately, what I want to do is make the other person comfortable and reassured that I am confident and competent and that they can trust me. It also depends on the company, I do dress differently meeting someone in the financial services industry than I do when meeting someone working in media or advertising. That goes to making the other person feel comfortable and able to relate to me. I think I do tend unconsciously to mirror the client’s style to a degree.

IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT AREAS OF IMAGE AND APPEARANCE DO WOMEN STRUGGLE WITH THE MOST?

I think too many people get caught up dressing to ‘fit in’, and move too far away from a place of authenticity – don’t lose your own unique sense of style in the process. It’s vital you don’t move too far away from your comfort zone. As I mentioned before, dressing completely differently to what you’re comfortable with can shake your self-confidence and distract you from why you are there and what you are trying to achieve.

WHAT ONE PIECE OF CLOTHING IS A MUST IN YOUR WARDROBE?

A simple tailored dark dress. It’s a blank canvas, you can make it whatever you need it to be, appropriate for anything, anywhere.

WHAT ONE TIP WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE TO IMPACT ON THEIR APPEARANCE?

Good make-up, and get a professional to help you with that.

WHAT IS YOUR MAIN CONSIDERATION WHEN DRESSING FOR AN EVENT?

A combination of audience and brand. When it comes to business, whatever the occasion, you want to make a positive impact. It’s a cliché but it’s true, people buy people, so I think you have to make an impression, which means that dressing purely for comfort unfortunately isn’t an option. If comfort was the priority you’d just turn up in your T shirt and trackie bottoms – chances are though you wouldn't win the business.

HOW DIFFICULT DO YOU FIND JUDGING WHAT OUTFIT TO WEAR?

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what to wear, mainly because I don’t have a big wardrobe – unfortunately. I hope I get it right most of the time. If in doubt, the black dress goes on. The team at everywoman have no qualms about letting you know what they think and Karen has said to me on occasion – "What are you wearing, woman?". So while I may not be 100% confident that I always get it right, I am confident someone will tell me when I’ve got it wrong!