top of page
Search

Success from Anywhere Podcast | The New Power Suit, with Sali Christeson





Karen Mangia

Today, on Success From Anywhere we will unravel an important thread between politics, power perception and promote stability in the new world of work. Please welcome to the show the leader who's redefining what it means to keep your skills in your hip pocket, Sali Christeson, founder and CEO of Argent, is joining us today. Welcome to the show, Sali.


Sali Christeson

Hi, Karen. Thanks for having me.


Karen Mangia

Because we are talking about the world of work. I like to ask each guest, what was your first paying job? How did that job inform or inspire your career trajectory?


Sali Christeson

Oh, boy, first paying job? I have wanted to work since the age of five, I think I was ready for my first job. By the time I turned 14, I went down to a place called the cripple crab, and applied to be a hostess. They hired me off the books. I just sort of did odd jobs around the restaurant. So it was this seafood restaurant right off of I95 in South Carolina. We got all kinds of traffic. It was a pretty popular destination. It informed my work ethic for sure. I loved being able to tie hard work to an income and then being able to buy things with money that I'd saved myself, it just felt very rewarding. So it started a love affair for me of just hard work and making people happy. Honestly, meeting people, connecting with people and then sort of being able to take care of myself, it felt much more gratifying.


Karen Mangia

Your story reminds me of my childhood, other kids were playing house, I was playing office.


Sali Christeson

I had this dress I thought was a uniform kind of look. And I have a brother who's four years younger. Unfortunately, he was always my employee at these imaginary offices I was running that my dad had. My dad is an entrepreneur himself. I'd go into work with him. It was pre pre-internet. So I'd sit there with a stapler and a stack of papers and just dream of faxing papers and owning my own stapler. I mean, it was like the most basic aspirations, but I just wanted to work so we would have been good friends.


Karen Mangia

Yeah, well, you went from staplers to workplace staples, which we'll talk about in a moment. Along with your career journey, you went from a career in corporate America to becoming an entrepreneur. Take us through that story arc, because lots of listeners have either made a similar transition or are thinking about it, as we're all reinventing ourselves right now.


Sali Christeson

Yeah, so I think every person ticks differently. So for a lot of people that want to start their own companies, they just dive right in, and they sometimes will even skip over the academic portion of their path. For me, I've really felt strongly about academia coupled with real world experience. Prior to starting my own company, I always knew that I wanted to start my own company. But just for myself, I felt like I would be best set up if I had a better understanding of business. So I got my MBA thinking if I had a better understanding of the real world and some real world experience. So after undergrad, I worked in banking and finance with my MBA, I had a focus on supply chain. Afterwards, I went into a job at Cisco Systems. It was a leadership development rotational program. So I got to do six months in all the major functions at Cisco. Then the job that I had, most recently prior to starting Argent, was within Cisco's cloud initiative, and so that was essentially intrapreneurship with an AI. So being an entrepreneur within a large organization. I was the seventh person on a team that grew to 250 people in a year and just learned so much about both myself and people; about building a team and managing a team and building something from scratch. So with all of those collective experiences, I felt best equipped to just go out and start my own company. That said, I didn't know what I was going to start. In 2014, while still at Cisco, I read a study that showed that women are judged based on appearance, and for the first time, they quantified the impact of what you wear on your bottom line over your lifetime. It ends up being really significant. Shopping for work wear as basic as it seems, has been an ongoing pain point of mine across different industries, across different environments in different cities. It's been shared with my peer group everywhere that I've been. My entrepreneurial self said, I'm just gonna quit my job and go after this. Worst case, let's say one or two years, and it doesn't work out, I can always re enter. That was my Outlook going in. Basically, this will be a great experience, and I'll learn something from it. That's kind of always my barometer for taking on new experiences, new roles, either in an organization or starting my own company. Am I going to be learning and growing from this? The answer was, yes, so I went for it.


Karen Mangia

You highlighted the importance of getting a variety of skills. When I think about being an entrepreneur, you certainly are using the experience you gained in finance and in understanding how businesses work and growing something and starting something and speaking the language of the business. So, the first piece of advice I heard is: Be conscious of gaining skills that make it possible for you to be on a path to be an intrapreneur or an entrepreneur. Then you hit something really important there, which is the amount of research that quantifies the link between your appearance, how you dress and your Promote ability and pay over time.


Sali Christeson

There was, in fact, a study that just came out recently, some new research from an organization called Office team on clothing and promotability. It revealed 86% of workers and 80% of managers believe clothing choices affect a person's chances of being promoted.


Karen Mangia

What's your reaction to that? Is that still true in this world of distributed work?


Sali Christeson

I think that there are two pieces to that. One is, yes, I think the way that you show up impacts people's perception of you, because we're making snap judgments of each other all the time. But inherent in that is how you feel when you show up. So we derive confidence from what we wear. We derive confidence from just how we're feeling really. I do think that it has sort of that twofold impact, and it is important, and we're all familiar with the feeling of putting something on that we feel great in or maybe we exercise and we're high on endorphins, and we just feel good. I think that that is a really important component that we sort of apply as our lens is how we can give women confidence in terms of what they're wearing to feel their best so that when they do show up, people can feel that. And people can see that. And I think that does lead to promoting ability for lack of a better word. I also want to call out that women are and this is unsurprisingly held to a different standard than men in terms of what we wear and how we show up compared to men. And I think part of that is confirmation bias. So for some people in society, unfortunately, they're looking for confirmation that women are inferior for lack of a better way to describe it. So if you show up in a way that confirms that bias, then immediately people are making snap judgments about you so not I think the opposite of that, though, is that if you dress to impress. To use the cliche, it really does work to your advantage for a multitude of reasons. Your comment reminds me of an interview I saw with Diane Von Furstenberg years ago. The right famous fashion leader, designer and inventor of the wrap dress and the interviewer asked her what's the most important accessories for any woman and she said, confidence every woman needs to be clothed and confidence.


Karen Mangia

Now you've started this business called Argent work. First of all, what does Argent mean? Secondly, what what is this business because you're inspired about clothing, women and really everyone in confidence?


Sali Christeson

The name Argent was derived from my great grandfather's company. So naming something is the hardest exercise, period, honestly, like one of the biggest challenges that we had was landing on a name. I remember early days, I basically had a wall of name options. I kept coming back to this one because there was an emotional tie to it. It was easy and short and undefined. Ultimately, that's why we landed on Argent, it does mean silver French, which people often will connect it to. I think that in some ways it is a nice irony. We are here to support working women. I like the tide of silver. So the second part of that question was around what we offer. So our focus is really focused on solving, from a product perspective, something that I felt like was a major gap, which is really offering something that's catered to working women in fashion. This is a category that is perceived as unsexy and uncool. It's been overlooked and really has been an afterthought, it is our entire focus, starting with the consumer, and what the consumer needs. So we're focused on style, function, versatility, and comfort. And, really, with all of those things, ultimately, you do feel at your most confident when you're wearing Argent, because you have basically, we're streamlining your day to day. So you just feel as if you've been thought of in the design process. That really translates in terms of how you feel when you're out in the world. The second piece that we're like fit I'm really proud of and our goal up with the brand is to visually represent working women in a way that I just didn't see in my past. So basically taking members of our community and modeling what a successful career path can look like. There are 1 million different paths that you can take. How do we show case and highlight and celebrate women that are on a different, path, taking a different journey in a way that really inspires future generations and lets them know that sort of, all options exist versus when I grew up, it was like you could be really a mom was like the biggest, the SE or a doctor, lawyer banker, I didn't really have any sort of understanding outside of that of what a career could look like. Growing up in the Midwest,


Karen Mangia

And what strikes me about what you're saying is that women's work wear has not evolved in decades, kind of on two fronts. One is the actual stylistic nature of it. I mean, I think back to my first interview suit, and we all had one, male, female, non binary, we all had an interview suit. I think about how different workwear is from his giant design perspective now really than it was then. It's not so different. The reality was work wear for women was, the, I'll use the iconic Brooks Brothers navy blue suit for men sort of shrunk down, and still kind of boxy. If you deviate from that in the office, I can't tell you the number of times in a 360 feedback review or feedback from a huge presentation, I'd given that someone would comment on my appearance. I mean, how do we move beyond beauty bias and lookism in the workplace? We all have that memory for sure. I remember my tailored brown pantsuit that I wore into the bank that I just felt right in and like for a decade of work dressing, it was just always a headache and a time suck for a very time constrained person. I think for us, one of the challenges that we've run into is that workwear is associated with that, right?


Sali Christeson

And we're actually catering to the modern professional. We're introducing denim this fall, we're introducing sweaters this fall, so we're catering to the consumer that's working from home and it flexes or it's in a more casual environment. Lot of people are dressing like that now or a lot of corporate dress codes are calling for denim. Then we offer students fully suited options but it's not the shrink and pink model that your Brooks Brothers were doing for example, where they would take a men’s suit and shrink it and like pink it is what they call sell it and just force fit it to work for women. We're actually starting with our consumer and designing for her. So a more traditional suit for us is actually really chic and fits in a way that you haven't experienced before and has interior pockets and it has bands in the sleeve that hold up the sleeves when you push it up. They're just hacks within the product that really make the consumer feel considered and feel great in what they're wearing.


Sali Christeson

Yes, I am in fact.


Karen Mangia

I'm wearing one of your shirts and vests right now. So this is this Argent work brand. It struck me the first time I saw this, some people listening don't know women's professional attire has a pocket problem. So now you can see there's actually a pocket to put something like a phone in or business cards. What I like is when I'm wearing this on stage, giving a big presentation that lays flat, so I'm not lumpy. This is just open spaces here, if you want to keep a pen, all on the inside, it was revelatory to me the first time I walked on stage to do a keynote. There was a space to put the microphone pack that wasn't hanging on the back of my dress poking me in the back of my head. Even that, even getting poked in the head while giving a power presentation can take you out of that moment. Which makes me think about, what are some of the other ways you're designing function into women's work where because men have long had an advantage here that women have it?


Sali Christeson

Pockets are definitely the most obvious example. But we also have a jumpsuit coming out this fall that is detachable, so you can use the restroom without having to take the whole thing off. So it becomes a work-appropriate option that allows you to spend the 30 seconds that you have between meetings, quickly using the restroom versus having to completely disrobe. We have the band and the sleeves that I mentioned, we have little pockets for credit cards and your pants if you're not wearing the blazer. So really, it's just little hacks in all of our pieces, pockets and everything for sure pants and blazers. But we're considering every use case. One of the most vivid memories from my days at Cisco was when I was working with a state we were doing. Essentially licensing for a state owned enterprise in China and the boss was based in China came in town, predominantly a male team, there were three women on the team, we had a meeting before lunch, we went to lunch, all the men went straight to lunch, and the women had to get back to their desks to get their bags, so credit cards and phones, and then followed the group of males. So by the time that we got there we got our food we set on the end from, the boss was basically sitting in the middle surrounded by all the men and the women were on the outskirts. We missed a really important networking opportunity, we missed this chance to informally connect with the boss of the initiative. So this is just the smallest example of how our clothing can hold us back. How do we consider all of those experiences in the design process and make sure that we're fully delivering for women in a way that allows them to fully participate? So, I mean, we're constantly trying to innovate and think of what the experience is like, as a working woman, I think, another area of focus for us are moms, who are still pumping and have a need for pumping. I don't know that we have full solutions. We've got a couple of things in the pipeline that I'm excited about. So we're just thinking about things that women are experiencing, and how we can innovate through our garments.


Karen Mangia

You start with listening to your audience, and then representing a wide range of people, I mean, on your site and in all of your materials. There are women in all kinds of professions representing a range of body sizes, ethnicities. What's fascinating to me about your business model as you go be onto clothing to also have programs to help clothe people in confidence. Tell us about some of the programs and empowerment opportunities that you've wrapped around your dress for success. Or what do you say ambition suits your dress like you mean business?


Sali Christeson

So I think that the thing that excited me most when starting Argent was that rooting it in a physical product that represents our collective strength, and serves as a physical reminder to women that are oftentimes the only woman at the table in their respective work environments. But just basically armoring them for lack of better word, and something that reminds them that it's not just you. There are a number of us that are up against, gender inequities, and, the multitude of issues and challenges that women face. So I think that just having that physical reminder of the fact that there is a community here, there's data that shows that women individually can feel a bit defeated, but collectively feel quite powerful. To me, the clothes are a physical reminder that even if you're not together with that group, we're there, and it's there. Then I think, in terms of programming, it is so much more than just the clothing, we're really on a mission to arm women with the tools that they need to optimally and successfully navigate their career, whatever that might look like. It looks different for everyone. But we really feel strongly that women deserve equity in the workplace period, full stop. We have, as I mentioned, simply just casting our community members as models for our campaigns and doing a lot of storytelling with them is a big piece of it. Building out our editorial arm is a huge priority for us that we've just started. But we recently rolled out a program called office hours where we talk with women that are in powerful positions, that are giving advice that we then disseminate to our community. Then the thing that we have not done as much of in the last two years, but we'll be rolling back out our actual workshops and events focused on negotiating and things as simple as come get your LinkedIn photo, so whatever it is that we feel like, is helpful to our community, we've really been focused on offering through the brand and through events that we host.


Karen Mangia

We have lots of men who listen to the show as well. They might be wondering, is there a menswear line in your future? If not, why not? Why are you not focused there?



Sali Christeson

Stay tuned. So I think we're absolutely focused on women, but involving men in the conversation is an absolute priority. In the events that I mentioned, we did a negotiation workshop, where the content is gender neutral. I think it's important that men participate both as coaches but also as participants, because the experience of being female in the workplace is fundamentally different than it is for males. So for people in power to understand that when you ask for more money, which is what women are told to do, because we don't ask for more money, and then whether it's at hiring or when getting promoted, our experience ends up being different and that we get more pushback. There's, in I'm stereotyping a bit, but this happens more to women than it does to men. So I think for there to be an understanding at all levels is incredibly helpful, because I think that change really happens through a collective effort. From a product perspective, we are focused on women, however, we might have something coming out in 2023 that would cater to a male audience. So stay tuned. I'll never forget the time I had a male coworker approach me because he had a female employee that he felt was dressed inappropriately and he didn't want to have a conversation with her. Over time, whether it was male or female, I slowly became the go to person for Office attire conversations, which in and of itself is a bit discriminatory. You and I were talking about that study earlier from the Office team and they talked about candid clothing conversations as one area they researched. There's a wide range of comfort levels as you would expect with having a conversation of those they surveyed 44% had spoken to an employee about inappropriate attire. 32% had sent an employee home based on what they were wearing. Out of all of those manager conversations 35% described that they felt incredibly awkward even though they had the conversation 15% completely avoided having the conversation at all.


Karen Mangia

What words of wisdom do you have for leaders or for colleagues? Who may observe that someone is dressed in a way that they're not showing up at their best? How do we have this candid conversation in an appropriate way?


Sali Christeson

That is a tough one. I can absolutely understand in today's world, why men would want to avoid having the conversation because unfortunately, I do think that there's exposure there as much as I don't want to admit that. So I think the priority is, if there is someone that you feel is dressing in a way that is impacting their career, you are doing them a favor by making sure that that message reaches them. So I think that is the priority is making sure that your intentions are right, and that the message is correctly delivered. Who the messenger is, I personally think there's a little bit more flexibility around because I do think, again, I think it's a tough conversation to have. But just making sure that it is had is, is number one. Number two, I think how you handle that message being delivered is also important. I think that it is that we see a lot of potential in you and you're adding a lot of value. Unfortunately, these are some of the things that you have to consider in this environment. It's just the reality that people do notice, and people are paying attention, people are talking about it, it's distracting from the work, but I also think there is an element of choice in that right. So if you'd continue dressing that way, that's absolutely your prerogative, however, here is how it's impacting you and how it could potentially impact you. So I think that it's about awareness for that individual. For them having the choice in the matter. I don't think it should be prescriptive, and I don't think it should be that you absolutely have to dress this way. In terms of if you flip it and you're an employee starting in a new job, or if you're interviewing at a company, the way that I recommend approaching it is to understand what the dress code is at that particular company. Then within those boundaries, create your own identity that works for your personal style, and is comfortable for you and appropriate within that dress code. For example, Facebook, if you show up fully suited, you're not a fit, period, Amazon, same thing Amazon will send out and I think a lot of companies do this dress code guidelines for interviewing to make sure that you don't miss step in that way. I think it's really important that you do a little bit of work upfront. To me awareness across the board is key for individuals to have a successful career. So awareness of the fact that what you wear matters and impacts your bottom line. Do with that what you will be aware of what the dress code is at an organization creating your own dress code within that, ideally, if you're ambitious, leveraging it to your advantage in a way that maybe you're dressing up just a little bit. Really using that to stand out and to be an extension of the work that you're doing and just enhance the work that you're doing awareness of even things going beyond dress, but to compensation and promotion paths and things like that. The more that you are equipped to successfully navigate your own career. I think the onus on senior teams is to try and mentor and sponsor people that they see potential in and making sure that simple things aren't holding them back in that there is awareness, their pre pandemic we had a perception of what a power suit is, and when you wear it and the political implications, and then work from home happened and it normalized leisure wear as office attire. Now lots of people are returning to the office part time or full time or returning to conferences.


Karen Mangia

What's the new power suit? What's your style guide for us all as we return to the office?


Sali Christeson

Totally depends, we're absolutely seeing data across every industry that people's pandemic shopping behavior has returned. workwear is performing the best in apparel right now. Because everyone after spending two years in leisure wear is sick of feeling slovenly for lack of a better word, and just a little bit lazy and so ever worse seeing a huge rebound in the category. People are over-dressing from what they were pre pandemic in some ways because they're going into the office, maybe one to three days a week. So for those three days, they really want to show up because they haven't been in public in two years. In terms of navigating new dress codes, again, I think it's really about versatility and having a range of options. The competitive landscape from our perspective is completely wiped out, because everyone turned away from suiting for two years. I think that that highlights our founding mission and why we exist, which is, there's always, there's always a customer and always a need for a more standard, straightforward black Navy conservative suit. We sold to women, the last two years that are working in the White House that never worked from home, we sell to consultants to women and banking, et cetera. But now, I think as you go back out, it's about it's a bit of a reset, I think for everyone, but it's about going out and figuring out your wardrobe and doing the work in one day for the next six months to a year or so going and figuring out what your particular capsule looks like. For us we have solutions, like I mentioned, where you've got denim and sweaters, maybe that could be your Friday wardrobe, it could be your your all your you if you're in tech, your wardrobe five days a week, but then we've got suiting that is all it's it's separate. So mix and match, right. So I think it's putting some thought and effort into what your wardrobes are going to look like as you emerge from the pandemic and feeling great about it and solving it upfront.


Karen Mangia

So you don't have to apply any sort of thought to it. After that sort of creating a formula for yourself, if you will.


Sali Christeson

Invest in your starter kit. I love it. Instead of back to school shopping, we're going to go back to Office shopping and do it in a day.


Karen Mangia

Speaking of going back to the office, people often talk about missing the spontaneous conversation of the water cooler, which is why I have a virtual water cooler segment in the show that will transition to now where I'm going to ask you five questions. Just share what comes to the top of your mind as we have a spontaneous conversation with all of your beautiful suit jackets hanging behind you. Areyou ready?



Sali Christeson

I'm ready. I love this so much.


Karen Mangia

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?


Sali Christeson

In business?


Karen Mangia

Yeah.


Sali Christeson

I just wanted to work it literally I just wanted to do whatever. As long as I was working, I was happy.


Karen Mangia

What is your favorite guilty pleasure office snack?


Sali Christeson

Can I say kombucha? And it's I don't know if that's a guilty pleasure. Or maybe a chai latte? It's all beverage for me.


Karen Mangia

If it's comforting, there's another CEO who was on the show from well, I won't reveal his company so that people will listen to the episode. But his guilty pleasure was an apple and I thought wow, if that's your guilty pleasure, what are your healthy choices?


Sali Christeson

On a day to day basis? I mean, that was interesting. I think I can I think it's incredible. Yeah, it can be just too healthy. I agree. Yeah, Chai is full of sugar jam packed. I also can definitely get into some chocolate. I love it


Karen Mangia

.What is the best, most creative excuse you've ever heard for someone missing a meeting?


Sali Christeson

The only ones I can think of are legitimate we had a woman share one of her employees was in labor and on the way to the hospital in the presence of mine just send her a message and say I'm missing the meeting because I'm hospital and labor. She's like, how did you have the presence of mind to send me a message?


Karen Mangia

Well, what do you keep on your desk that inspires you?


Sali Christeson

I have a note from one of our investors. It's typed, he mailed me a check and he mailed me a letter and this was five years ago that said it says Dear Sali, let me know you got this. I'll be tracking our our progress with great interest knock it out of the park or something like that. And it's signed by him. And I have it framed and I have it sitting on my desk. Yeah, he's he's an advertising executive. He's had a very six was full career just the way that it's worded. And just it just feels very personal and it inspires me.


Karen Mangia

That's fantastic support, support matters, those reminders and to Whom are you most grateful for investing in your career?


Sali Christeson

I have a mentor sponsor, I would say from Cisco, he's the reason I got hired into Cisco. His name's I can't say his name, probably all right. It's all good stuff. Carl Bright Berg, you probably know him. I interviewed with him at Cisco, after the program had already been hired for and he helped get me into this program. So they went off the cycle a little bit. He then became my executive mentor. So I met with him once a month. Then he led the Cloud team that I joined, and has just been instrumental in every career step that I've made, including now I still call myself still involved, he's still supportive. But he and I have, it evolved into a relationship of trust, where I felt very comfortable telling him any and everything in a way that I think helped me raise my awareness level around certain things with people specifically good and bad in the workplace. And he's just been a coach for me and someone who has opened a lot of doors and gone above and beyond. I'll say for myself, I feel like he has modeled what being a good executive is, which is carving out a portion of your time for the next generation of leaders. And unfortunately, I think with women, especially as you get more senior, your time is really sought after, because there are fewer women at the top. And so I think that sometimes it becomes harder for women to carve out the time. But I do think it's important as you get higher in your career, that you figure out a way to carve out a portion to mentor and sponsor and sort of pay it forward. I also think this is not a water cooler answer. But it adds to your impact in a way where you have people that are willing to do anything for you. I would do anything for Carl given all that he's done for me. So I think that that loyalty is important. And as you're building out teams, etc. So anyway, Carl, there are so many standout moments from our conversation today. I mean, fashion is functional. The best attire for the office. Whether your office is a headquarters or a third party workspace or your home office is clothing that helps you feel confident and represents who you are and where you want to go next. And we can all play a role in combating beauty bias in the workplace. Check out Argent work online.


Karen Mangia

Before we close out the show today, Sali, I wanted to ask you, as you look forward, what's your biggest dream or aspiration for the future of work?


Sali Christeson

My biggest dream is gender equity, that women get all of the same opportunities and that work changes to better support women specifically in moments where they have to balance work and life. I think that the most shining example is when you become a mom, I just don't think that we've figured out how to best support that in a way that allows women to stay in the workforce. I think there's a lot of flexibility that can be introduced. Salesforce is actually a great example of some of the steps that can be taken to just get women on equal footing. I remember years ago when Marc Benioff made sure that there was pay equity. Just giving women equal opportunity to show up because we know that when women are at the table and part of the conversation that there is better output in every regard. So for work, we're definitely very mission focused, obviously from that answer. But how do we ensure that women have the same access?


Karen Mangia

For our listeners who are wondering, Sali does have two children of her own in addition to running her own business, so she's contributing her lived experience as well. She's in her own focus group, I guess I would say. Thank you to Sali Christeson, CEO and founder of Argent.


Sali Christeson

Yes. Well, thank you


Karen Mangia

Sali Christeson, founder and CEO of Argent work for clothing us in strategies to show up at our best today on Success From Anywhere



13 views0 comments
bottom of page