What Not To Wear: How Women Look At Work Affects Pay

beauty“You look like a million bucks.”It’s a compliment that dates back decades, maybe more, and it’s not meant literally. Or is it?In a new study from sociologists at University of Chicago and University of California-Irvine, the conclusion was deeply superficial: “Physically attractive individuals have higher income than average individuals.” And for women, it makes a bigger difference than it does for men.According to the researchers, “We do find that grooming accounts for the entire attractiveness premium for women, and only half of the premium for men. Our findings underscore the social construction of attractiveness, and in doing so illuminate a key mechanism for attractiveness premia that varies by gender.”So what does that mean? It means that the “Beauty Shift,” or the third shift in our lives after home/family and before work that involves applying mascara, concealer and blush is necessary to perform in order to be taken seriously as a woman leader in the workplace.According to Ana Swanson writing in the Washington Post: “You might dismiss all this female primping and preening as vanity or silliness. Yet a fascinating new paper from two sociologists suggests that women do have good reason to spend so much time and money on their appearance: If they don’t, they risk losing a substantial amount of money.”Swanson continues: Data came from “a national study of more than 14,000 people to look at the association between attractiveness and income. In the surveys, the interviewers asked people a variety of questions about their income, job, education, personality and other attributes. Interviewers also rated their interviewees on how attractive and how well-groomed they appeared.”The conclusion? “They find that, controlling for other differences such as age, race, class and education, individuals who were rated as more attractive by an interviewer earned about 20 percent more than people who were rated as having just average attractiveness.”This attractiveness gap reminded me of a 2013 Pantene commercial that aired in the Phillipines and earned 5 million views in one month. It made waves about how men are called the boss and women are called bossy, for doing the same things and presenting themselves in similar ways.There was a hubbub recently in the United Kingdom where high heels for women at work became an issue. According to Emma Wollacott writing in Money, “The recent case of the receptionist sent home from work for wearing flat shoes has highlighted the issue of appearance in the workplace. Nicola Thorp, who worked for temping agency Portico, was sent to PwC where, she says, a supervisor told her she should be wearing heels between two and four inches high. She was told that she’d be sent home without pay if she didn’t go and buy a pair.”Wollacott writes: “However, Ms Thorp is far from alone in having been asked to alter her appearance at work. In a recent survey, OfficeGenie.co.uk found that eight percent of people had had it happen to them. Three-quarters of workers – including 79 percent of women – said they believed that there should be strong legislation to ban appearance-based discrimination.”And from the small to the big screen, there have been generations of women demonstrating in movies and television shows that what they look like at work matters—and affects everything. From “Working Girl” in 1988, to “Murphy Brown,”  “Erin Brockavich,” and even “Two Broke Girls,” the message has consistently been that what you wear at work and how you present yourself is the key to your success.[bctt tweet=“The message has consistently been that what you wear at work and how you present yourself is the key to your success”]Recent studies from researchers out of the U.K. and Canada suggest a paradox of women leaders in power and the way they are disrespected for their appearance, and judged more harshly than men in similar positions of power. According to the study, “Women elite leaders hold power through their formal positions, yet remain marginalized in social relations because their feminine bodies are out of place in organizations. In a qualitative study with women elite leaders, we illustrate how the theme depicts a dialectical process of simultaneous disgust and attraction with women’s bodies and appearance.”The bottom line is women climbing to the top are at the same time put down for what they look like. And the two opposing cultural views are hard to reconcile.[bctt tweet=“Women climbing to the top are at the same time put down for what they look like”]Similarly, a study out of University of Colorado-Boulder and University of Texas-Austin, “But You Don’t Look Like A Scientist: Women Scientists with Feminine Appearance are Deemed Less Likely to be Scientists,” earlier this year found that photographs of highly esteemed female scientists at elite research universities were judged to be less accomplished on the basis of their appearance only.Some may advise that if you are judged by how you look where you work, the best advice may be to change where you work. That comes from Dawn Rosenberg McKay, writing in About Careers.McKay writes: ”If expressing yourself through your clothing style is very important to you, rather than bristling under the restrictions of what you may think of as a conservative work environment, perhaps you should instead look for a job that allows you to wear the type of attire you desire. It is in fact one of the factors you should consider when you choose an occupation or a place of employment. Some types of clothing are inappropriate for certain work environments and occupations but are perfectly fine in others.”