In 2018, Professional Women Are Still Judged by Their Appearances

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I have heard from “them” – you know, the “experts” – that women who don’t wear makeup don’t get the job. I’ve heard also from “them” that overweight women earn less than thin women.

More recently, I’ve also been thinking about the effect of “going gray” on working women. If the experts claim makeup and weight can impact a woman’s career success, can gray hair also be a detriment?

I sent a member of my team on a hunt to find the facts about how a woman’s appearance might impact her career path. I would like to say the research shows that women are no longer judged by how they look – but, unfortunately, I can’t.

Moreover, I also had my researcher look at how a man’s appearance can affect their career. The answer seems to be “not in any significant way.” My researcher compiled more than three pages of statistics on women’s appearances and work, compared to just two bullets on men’s appearances.

Here are some of the startling facts my researcher uncovered:

Women and Gray Hair

  1. In 1950, 7 percent of women dyed their hair. In 2012, the number was closer to 95 percent in some locations.
  2. A June 2017 article on Yahoo! Finance shows recent pictures of each of the 32 female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies. None appear to have clearly gray hair.
  3. While many female celebrities are embracing their gray hair, fewer professional women are doing so. According to civil rights attorney David Scher, this may be due to the fact that ageism is still alive and well in corporate America.

Women and Weight

  1. Employers tend to underestimate the abilities of obese people. They assume overweight people can’t complete difficult tasks or work for long periods of time without getting tired. Overweight women are judged especially harshly by employers.
  2. Research suggests obese people may be perceived as having less leadership potential. Furthermore, obese women are more likely than obese men to face discrimination when applying for a job.
  3. Weight bias affects white women particularly strongly. According to Business Insider, “A difference of about 64 pounds translates to a 9 [percent] decrease in wages for this demographic.”

Women and Makeup

  1. In one study, people were shown photos of the same women wearing no makeup, wearing some makeup, and wearing a lot of makeup. In general, research participants preferred the pictures of women in some makeup. According to Dr. Tara Well, a psychology professor at Barnard College of Columbia University, “We may make the inference that if a woman wears some makeup, she takes care of herself and, therefore she’ll take care of other people, projects, etc., [w]hile no makeup may signal self-neglect and a lot of makeup might make a sign of an extreme self-focus that can negatively impact one’s working relationships.”
  2. In one survey, 49 percent of employers said a woman’s makeup would be a factor in their hiring decision if the woman were applying for a public-facing role with the company.
  3. More than two-thirds of employers in the same survey said they would be less likely to hire a female job applicant who didn’t wear makeup to an interview.

Employers, I ask you to examine your biases. At the next job interview, try not to judge women candidates so harshly on appearance. Instead, focus on their performance and their outcomes.

For professional women, remember: The job interview is your chance to sell yourself. While you may face unfair scrutiny from employers based on your appearance, you can also try to keep the conversation firmly focused on your skills and competencies. Show the interviewer what you have to offer, and you may be able to mitigate some of their bias.

Jaynine Howard  is a military veteran whose work as a career strategist and reinvention specialist has been recognized by professional organizations throughout the nation.

By Jaynine Howard