Monday, April 13, 2015

How to land the job: intelligence, skill and makeup?

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a female colleague who was on her way to a job interview. She asked me, “Do you think my makeup looks okay? It’s not too much is it?” We went on to talk about how difficult it can be to find the right balance when it comes to makeup. Female interviewees want to wear makeup, because they think potential employers will view them as put together. However, they don't want to wear too much makeup, because this could make the potential employer think they're an "incompetent diva."

A study found that wearing enough makeup (but not too much) increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s competence, likeability and trustworthiness. In fact, the study found that perceivers who view a female face with makeup make inferences about what it may signify about the user’s personality, intentions, or character.

But wearing makeup incorrectly can have detrimental effects. High-contrasting makeup made testers conclude that the woman was more “untrustworthy.” The study noted that people might get a poor impression if the woman wears the wrong color or texture that “isn’t enhancing...natural beauty.” There is also a general idea that if a woman is extremely pretty or too glamorous, then she must be dumb. Women have to be careful not to look too good.

Magazines and newspapers today publish articles instructing women on the proper workplace makeup balance. One recent article was entitled “Must-Follow Beauty Rules for Getting Ahead at Work: Do you have CEO aspirations and 6-figure dreams? Discover the beauty tips to help you get there.” So there are certain beauty techniques a woman must follow in order to be a CEO. I knew I was missing something! The article described the proper makeup tips and stylings for many “types” of career women:
The Artsy Entrepreneurs: “Sexy and a bit undone…still be yourself, but an enhanced, even more empowered version of yourself…”
The Jet setting CEO: “Very feminine…"
The Low-Maintenance Professional: “When you’re in a position of authority, you can't have too much fun with your look…you don't want to send the wrong message to male clients…[a]t the same time, you can’t look 10 years behind.”
Sexy but a bit undone? Not too much fun, but not 10 years behind? I’m no makeup expert, but I don't understand what this advice means when I'm applying makeup.

The average employer or potential employer now wants women who wear just the right amount of makeup. And why shouldn't they? Requiring women to use makeup and other enhancement techniques was recognized as legally acceptable in the workplace. In 2006, the Ninth Circuit held that Harrah’s “Personal Best” policy requiring female employees (no similar requirements for male employees) to have “teased, curled or styled” hair, wear makeup (including lipstick) and nail polish was constitutional! The court found that there was a legitimate business justification for the casino’s policy, and therefore the policy did not impose an unequal burden on males and females. The legitimate business justification, however, has nothing to do with utility in completing job functions. Instead, it is entirely about fulfilling the female beauty standards perpetuated in society.

As a female employee, I usually choose to wear makeup to work. However, sometimes I choose not to. Sometimes my eyes become irritated when I wear makeup for long periods of time, and I’ll go without wearing it for a few days. Similarly, I know other women who wear contacts, and choose to give their eyes a break by wearing glasses and going without makeup. Other women simply choose not to wear makeup. My peers and I still dress in the appropriate business attire for the position and look presentable. Should we be punished because we don’t have makeup on? I guess the answer to that question depends on the employer’s policies. 

The explicit and implicit requirements for women to wear the right amount makeup in the workplace is part of the larger female beauty standard prevalent in our society. Women, even in their jobs, are expected to meet this standard on a daily basis. So much so that some women feel inadequate when they don't wear makeup. A study of 1,300 adult women found that 44% have negative feelings about themselves when they are not wearing makeup, including feeling self-conscious or unattractive.

Daniel Hamermeash, an economics professor at University of Texas, who wrote the book Beauty Pays, said that it makes sense that makeup makes women more likeable: “I’m an economist, so I say, why not? But I wish society didn't reward this. I think we’d be a fairer world if beauty were not rewarded, but it is.”  Read this post for a discussion of different responses to employer makeup policies, and this post for more on the pressures placed on aging working women to remain youthful. Also see The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law by Deborah Rhode for an overview of the ways that appearance impacts job qualifications and hiring practices.


Jessica S. said...

I've always seen this as a "gender as a performance" issue. Anything outside the actions of the average woman is threatening. We reward those who fit gender stereotypes, and punish those who don't. And it's always a thin, exhausting line. I get concerned that so many people read sexual messages from a color, style, or physical features. Why does anyone care if a woman isn't wearing makeup? It's absurd that we must always judge or police others.

I heard at a job interview panel that a man refused to hire a woman because her lipstick "had an orange tone." Lol, okay, and he probably never said that of a man's tie. If the lipstick truly was distracting in some way, he could have mentioned it, and I'm sure the candidate and him could've worked it out. What a poor excuse for sexist discrimination.

Rebecca F. said...

As a leader of KHWLA, this has consistently been one of the most frustrating topics for me. (Partially for things like that lipstick comment - we definitely had "wear the right shade" advice given at one of our panels.)

Every year, at some point, we have to talk about these issues because in the real world we are still judged based on how "presentable" we are to potential employers in interviews or at mixers. It's a painfully gendered discussion of hairstyle, make-up, clothing, stockings, jewelry, shoes, and even purses!

As someone who rarely wears anything more than mascara, never styles her hair, and has a penchant for wearing lots of jewelry and outrageous shoes, it seems like all of my tastes and instincts are wrong. And frankly, I worry that this extra burden (of preforming our gender) does more of a disservice to women than we realize. I've certainly changed my appearance for job interviews and mixers, conforming to the advice I've been given, and it makes me more uncomfortable and adds to the stress of the situation. And it makes it that much harder to make a good impression, let alone get the job.

Damon Alimouri said...

I think we should also pay attention to the fact that many women of color, particularly black women, have to endure racist and sexist double standards in the workplace as regards their grooming decisions. Black women that expect to enter higher echelons of the workforce are tacitly required to straighten their hair, as it somehow looks more professional and non-threatening than their natural hair texture. Michelle Obama's choice of hairstyle clearly reflects this implied expectation. It's sad that many black women have to live with a constant feeling of self-consciousness over something god-given, so to speak.

Unknown said...

These expectations and restrictions regarding make-up at the workplace are a part of the popular idea that woman are the most beautiful when they are 1) unaware of their natural beauty and 2) are not (obviously) trying. There have been so many songs sung about the guy who loves the girl because she doesn't know she is beautiful and that beauty occurs without any effort. This popular trend speaks to the idea that women should be demur, but confident (though not TOO self-confident otherwise they become stuck up or crass). Also women should not wear too much make up (otherwise they look unprofessional or "slutty") but they also cannot wear no make because then then people just assume they are tired or worn out. This balancing act is ridiculous but as this blog post shows is sadly something women must grapple with.

On a lighter side, Amy Schumer did a video calling out this problem, "Girl, You Don't Need Makeup":