Is it smart to go sexy at work?
IS IT right to flaunt your womanly assets in the office? In Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital, Catherine Hakim suggests women need to look, and act, sexier if they want to get ahead.
She champions the liberal application of Erotic Capital, which she describes as a mix of physical and social attractiveness; beauty, sex appeal, fitness, social skills, sexuality and skills of self-presentation.
She says that looking sexier in the office will help you get that pay rise.
But is she right?
Let's start with the girls. Women look up to women with high Erotic Capital. Well-dressed, sexy women are pored over by women just as much, if not more than by men: celebrity magazines wouldn't sell otherwise, and as Editor of VIP Magazine, I should know.
We put a well-known woman with a cheeky smile on the cover of the magazine and it will sell up to 50pc more copies than a dapper, desirable man.
And we are selling mainly to women.
In the office, which is 90pc female, I hear other women saying things like 'isn't she a ride' when referring to Cheryl Cole, a scantily clad picture of whom they have as their screensaver.
Women seek out Erotic Capital in other women, are attracted to it, fascinated by it. Why? Because they know the value of Erotic Capital and they want to learn its secrets. It's the ability to make men fancy you and other women want to be you, and its stock was particularly high at a time when women were to be seen and not heard.
In Mad Men, the drama that depicts the lives of ad agency men of the 1940s, and the women they worked/ regularly slept with, the office women look sexy; really sexy. They use and improve every scrap of attention-grabbing allure they have, because they sure as hell won't get to voice their genius ad concept otherwise.
And so to today. Does smiling flirtatiously, or wearing a short skirt, help a woman get ahead? Is Erotic Capital a tool used by smart women to steal a march on their colleagues, or a sneaky weapon wielded by cunning females to disguise their incompetence?
If a clever girl uses her brain to get ahead, why shouldn't a sexy girl use her body to do the same?
The power of Erotic Capital can be found in every walk of life.
A disadvantaged woman who becomes a footballer's wife is the modern day equivalent of the Downton dowager, using her looks to achieve a luxury lifestyle.
Georgia Salpa uses her erotic capital in an obvious way -- to earn cash. Kate Middleton, this century's ultimate social climber, oozes Erotic Capital.
Did wearing a see-through dress at a university fashion show lead Prince William to proposal? Not expressly, but it didn't hurt. But does sexual one-upmanship belong in the office?
Catherine Hakim firmly believes so. She wants everyone to stop pretending that sex appeal doesn't matter. She cites recent UK figures that indicate 'attractive' women earn 12pc more on average than their 'unattractive' counterparts. She suggests that, while men continue to earn more than women, everywhere, and the highest percentage of top earners have always been male, women need to use everything they've got to get ahead. Boobs included.
I asked men. "Of course I notice it when a female in the office is dressed sexily," one said. "And while it's distracting, it's a nice distraction to have around the place."
Do women who dress to please male colleagues 'get away' with more? A male acquaintance said yes. "She might be late, but at least she's wearing a low-cut top," Groan...
Another, slightly less chauvinistic take came from a friend who owns a sales company. "A confident, well-dressed woman is sexy," he reasoned." People respond to her: both male and female, but males in particular. Male clients respond to her, and that matters to me. Looking good could help her get ahead."
This straw poll indicated what women say they hate, yet know to be absolutely true: men are visual creatures who respond with delight to a sexually attractive woman. All of them.
Of course, what constitutes sexy or provocative office attire, is a thorny one. Take the same black dress, put it on ten different women and you'll get ten very different results. Leggy Lisa may well send a shockwave through the office, yet Dowdy Deirdre will barely raise an eyebrow.
Does this mean, if Lisa gets a promotion, that her sexual allure got her ahead? If Deirdre doesn't get a promotion has her Machiavellian plot failed? In other words, if a woman looks sexy, is it her fault? Should she dress down to dispel any notion that she's using what she's got physically to further her career...
While Hakim's theory that dressing 'sexy' pays dividends has merit, ask yourself this: do you know a single woman at the top, or close to the top of her profession in Ireland, who got there by virtue of a short skirt?
There are highly successful women who trip around town on 5-inch stilettoes -- Ann Heraty, founder of the massive CPL Recruitment being one -- who didn't get where they are by the height of their heels.
They demonstrate that women can be successful and sexy, but sex appeal alone won't do.
And anyhow ... doesn't anyone realise how hard it is to be at the top of any Irish business today? If dressing sexy leads you to 17-hour-days, I'm wearing flats.
In my opinion, women should use everything they have: their brains, their brilliance, and, if they want to, a bodycon dress.
But -- and here's the rub -- those using Erotic Capital need to make damn sure they have the professional ability to back it up. Otherwise, you're just that woman, in that dress, that everyone would prefer was seen but not heard.