The CTO wore drag

Whenever I interview a Wall Street executive, or a technology expert, I have to ask for a photograph.  I often joke that we already have a lot of headshots of guys in suits — what I really want to see is some variety. Maybe a photograph of them on a beach. In a bikini. Wearing a blonde wing.

It’s not a joke anymore.

I’ve been meeting a stream of male executives dressed in drag lately — during meetings in virtual worlds.

(Photo by islandmoore, via flickr.)
(Photo by islandmoore, via flickr.)

Maybe I’m old-fashioned. But it kind of freaks me out. Unless I’m interviewing someone in the arts sector, I’m using to meeting folks without disguises on.

This is how I see it. You’re a guy out at a night club. You wear a dress and makeup. You have a good time. You make a lot of friends. You don’t want to become a woman necessarily — you just like dressing up sometimes. Then those friendships turn into business relationships, and you invite people to your office. Do you still wear the dress and makeup? After all, that’s how people know you. Or do you wear your normal suit and tie?

Second Life is, in many respects, like that night club. People come dressed in all sorts of costumes — male, female, animal, robot. It’s a round-the-clock party.  When the party is over,  and it’s time to do business, do you keep the costume on?

Some companies have an offline dress code, and simply transfer that dress code into the online world. If you wouldn’t wear an animal head to work normally, don’t wear one online, either.

At my company, all employees must use avatars with their real names, of a gender that matches the gender they happen to be in real life, wear business casual clothing, and be somewhat realistic in their shape. (Okay, I somehow lose a few pounds whenever I go online — but I use a photo for my avatar face.) There’s a reason for this. We’re a media company, and we normally interview executives in the finance and technology sectors, and the dress code tends to be very conservative. As journalists, we’re also not allowed to disguise our identities — that would be a violation of the ethics policies of most major news organizations, as well as our company.

But say your company is in the party business. And your client, a conservative business, is looking to hold a party. Is it okay to come in costume? And is it okay to encourage the client to loosen up, maybe put on a funny wig?


Maybe if you’re throwing an office costume party.

But if you’re looking to host a catered lunch for your board members, say, you might expect your service providers to be more conservatively dressed.

When I’m hiring someone to do a virtual worlds project for my company — or am recommending someone for project — I want to know that the person is serious. I want to know who they are — their real name, their professional experience, check their references.

Unfortunately, when it comes to virtual worlds programming and design, there is a big obstacle in the way — the fact that many designers have cut their teeth in Second Life, a free-for-all creative community and hotpot of innovation, a place where you couldn’t use your real name even if you wanted to. Unless you were lucky enough to find your actual name in the limited list of choices that Second Life allows for avatar names.

It will probably take years for this to shake out. Meanwhile, I’m going to have to get used to the very disconcerting experience of discussing outfits with middle aged male chief technology officer — who happens to be wearing the body of a young woman.

Maria Korolov