beauty-bias.pngMy intern Christina and I have been pondering lately whether women will ever get a break when it comes to their appearance.

An endless stream of articles on why women have to wear makeup, or look a certain way, got us both fuming. So I asked Christina to write her first post for CareerDiva about the topic.

By Christina Pingaro

christina.jpgWomen may find themselves jobless if they don’t spice up their appearance—at least that’s what some would have you believe.

Over the past two weeks there has been an onslaught of news articles related specifically to women’s attire, makeup, hair and emotions in the workplace. Why this sudden media influx of concern for how women look and feel at work?

Jessica Schiffman
, the head of the University of Delaware’s Women’s Studies Department, points out the harsh realities of today’s workplace. Explaining that even though we believe in “workplace equality” and that all men and women deserve the same opportunities, the facts just aren’t there.

Schiffman believes that there are stereotypical casts for both men and women at work that still apply today: “Men, on average, still earn more than women, on average. Women in high status (and high paying) positions are still a rarity. The US is ranked 69th in the world (according to Inter-Parliamentary Union figures) in terms of the number of women in Congress. There are few women CEO’s of leading companies. There are few women who have served as governors or been presidents of colleges. Women still do the majority of low-paying, low status, work.”

The New York Times published a piece based on a study that shows wearing makeup at work can help women to be taken more seriously by their coworkers and bosses. That it increases how people perceive a woman’s competence and likeability. Of course, this study was sponsored by Procter & Gamble, a company that manufactures makeup and personal care supplies.

Why can’t women be taken seriously if they’d rather go au natural on their face at work? It all has to do with the psychology behind believing that more attractive people are kinder and smarter than their less attractive counterparts.

It seems, though, that in the workplace this idea only applies to women, as publications have been focusing on ways to make women look better.

The San Francisco Chronicle did an article about Skincare-News.com’s “Complete Office Beauty Handbook.” Of their seven chapters, only one is directed at men. How are women supposed to keep their confidence in the workplace if the media keeps telling them they need to focus on how they look?

In an article that is supposed to be directed at both men and women’s appearance in the workplace, the Las Vegas Review-Journal focuses primarily on what women should and should not do in terms of their attire and makeup.

PostBulletin.com printed an article entirely focused on the dos and don’ts of women’s wardrobes at work.

It is apparent that, in an unsure economy, the cosmetic and fashion industries are playing on the inherent insecurity of women in order to exploit them. Women are already afraid of losing their job or not finding one in today’s job-search slump. The appearance industries are playing on this fear and convincing women that they need to look better in order to achieve job security.

Schiffman says that “focus[ing] on appearance tends to trivialize women’s accomplishments. It is a huge distraction from what’s important. Women have traditionally been viewed as adornments rather than whole persons. This is so ingrained in our society that women’s dissatisfaction with their own appearance is the norm.”

Should women be concerned that they won’t get or can’t keep a job if they don’t look physically appealing? This blogger has an interesting take on that idea. Her view is that attractive men are more likely to be hired by both male and female employers, but female employers are more likely to hire less-attractive and therefore non-threatening females.

These ideas beg the question: is there a beauty bias in the job market?

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