Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mirror, Mirror on the wall ... Will this outfit do me any favors at work today?

As women, we spend a lot of time thinking about our looks. It's only natural. One thing I miss about working outside the home is dressing up. Even though my last job had a casual dress code, I still took pride in wearing cute clothes, wearing make-up, having cute hair, you know. Now-a-days, I'm lucky (or should I say, my husband is lucky) if I look any different than how I did when I first wake up. So sad. I honestly always thought I'd be better than that.

But seriously, when most days of the week you're just at home working by your lonesome with only your cat as a companion, looking cute doesn't serve any purpose whatsoever. I may feel better about myself when I look in the mirror from time to time, but it has nothing to do with my work performance.

On the other hand, looking good while in the workplace totally serves a purpose ... all kinds of purposes. Let's start with the job interview. Would you hire someone who looked like me in the mornings? Uh, no you would not. On the job, have you thought about how your looks affect how seriously you're taken by your peers? Like the girls vs. the guys? How about your male boss? Your female boss?

Being attractive always seems to help in the workplace, whatever the situation may be. This is kind a weird topic, hard to talk about, I know. But it's worth bringing up because whether we like to admit it or not, beauty totally affects our jobs, our careers.

There's even a term for it that economists call "the beauty premium," which states that good-looking people get paid better, get more attention from bosses and teachers, move up the ladder faster, etc. What's scary is that during this economic challenge that we're in with so much more competition for jobs, looks aren't just important, they're CRITICAL. And that's according to Newsweek.

I was reading this article in there, "The Beauty Advantage," and quite honestly it made me secretly happy I was a work-at-home working girl where beauty is something I don't have to think too hard about anymore. (Although, I really should try harder ...)

So in this article, Newsweek did this little study where they spoke with hiring managers about how an interviewee's looks affected the hiring process. Get this: 61 percent of managers who happened to be mostly men said it would "be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure" during an interview. OK, wow. It kind of makes me bristle hearing this all officially and everything, but isn't this something we already know in our heart of hearts?

When I was interviewing for my first job out of college, I met with a dude who was one level above the role I was applying for who I technically wouldn't be reporting to, but who I'd be working vey closely with, and I have to say, I looked pretty good that day :) And this guy! He could not look me in the eyes the entire interview. He fumbled around with his questions and kept mumbling. He didn't look like the shy type, but I just think he was caught off guard when he saw me and then it was just all downhill from there. I was hired, and not that he was 100% responsible for that decision, but if this guy could not look at me and could not pay proper attention to me or ask me any coherent questions, how was he supposed to have given a positive recommendation of me to the HR person? Obvisoulsy he based his recommendation on something other than my resume, my looks maybe?

Boy, this makes me sound stuck-up. I'm not, promise. Any of you have stories like this to share?

Also, another interesting thing. A former co-worker of mine, and one of the most observant people I know, pointed this out to me over lunch one day. On our PR team, we were divided into four sub-teams, with one manager overseeing each one. I was on one of the sub-teams, my friend was on another. So one day, she's like, "Have you ever noticed how different our teams are? Like, you can tell Randy* really let our managers hire whoever they wanted to."

And then she proceeded to point out how each manager hired a very specific type of person, mostly based on looks. It was beyond odd. My manager, for example, she said was a guy who clearly liked petite women, that he was a "body guy." Hm, me and the other girl on my team were eerily the same size. Her manager, she said, was careful about hiring females who looked just like her, cute, but not cuter than her, and a little on the curvier side, but not skinnier than her, strong personalities, but not stronger than hers. I thought about their team of four, woa ... bizarrely true. The third manager she described as not attractive in any way, and look at his team. He obviously does not care for looks, but they were all nice as could be. I know, ouch. And the fourth manager, she was kind of a quirky, eclectic girl, and she hired a similarly unique, edgy team. It was soo nuts when looked at that way, but a major eye-opener, too. Looks play a huge role at work, and we may not even be aware of it!

So ladies, I know I didn't really tell you anything new today. But it's just something to think about. Is there anything we can do about it? My opinion is be your best self, inside and out. Ultimately, I think it's your personality and worth ethic that will shine through, but I do think your looks will play a key role in presenting you the opportunity to do so.

*name has been changed.


FB @ said...

There's nothing wrong with admitting that you know you're good looking. It's a fact. I don't think I'm the hottest woman alive, but when (sober) people (men and women) constantly tell you that you're attractive, it's kind of hard to keep refuting when it seems to be a general consensus.

It works against me at the start.

I'm too young to be working in the industry I am, and too 'cute' apparently.

I get a lot of unwanted attention at every workplace but I've learned how to politely deflect it all.

I'd rather they judge me on my brains first but I can't help it, and I have to work extra hard to prove myself and to watch my friendliness.

Angeline said...

This is always an interesting topic. For my current job, I did not look my best on my interview day (got my hair done -- and messed up -- earlier that week and was not able to get a fix-it appt in time).

In your example, I wonder if the employees were hired based on their looks (even if it was subconscious) or if they've grown over time to be more similar. I think work relationships can mimic those outside of work--you often hear stories of people looking like their dogs or spouses. Our team is often teased for presenting in all black and gray, but that was definitely not how you would have classified my wardrobe back when I was hired.

I've been on the hiring side of things a few times now, and I don't know that wardrobe or style of dress really affects me personally, unless it's inappropriate. As for physical looks, honestly, I don't really find there are a lot of people out there that aren't really good looking in some way. Maybe it's just my optimism, but I think that most people I meet (voluntarily or involuntarily) are attractive in their own way.

I definitely enjoy dressing up for work (heck, I devote an entire blog to it), and when look good, I feel good and I perform better. While I do think looks may get you an easier time getting through the door, I like to think that looks can only go so far and your work will speak for itself the rest of the way. Unfortunately, in my experience, this isn't always true.

Erin said...

I have the same problem for sure. I work from home and while I do make the effort to change out of my PJs most days, I've resorted to my college wardrobe of jeans and t-shirts. My professional attire is out the window.

Anonymous said...

I 100% believe that looks AND appearance make a difference in getting a job and moving up within a company. With that said I think I would say overall appearance is probably given more weight. How many people have looked around at the people within their company, and particularly at the people in the management roles? When I look around my company I see well put together people in the management roles.

When I was in school and doing a summer internship, I had one of the bosses tell me that I would go far in the industry (an industry that is considered an intellectual industry, mind you) because "you're attractive, intelligent, and seem to have it together." Notice he mentioned attractiveness first. I think that says a lot about how much physical appearance weighs in people's minds.

Corporate Chickee said...

When I landed the job at my current place of employment, we had a SUPER casual dress code. My boss wore flip flops and cut offs and bud-light tee shirts regularly. We never saw clients in the office - so it didn't matter. I came from wearing a full suit every day... so I would dress nicely, but still casual. Think dressy jeans, low heels, a cute top, jewelry, etc. I even wore a few casual dresses/skirts, and a dress pants here and there.

The funny thing? After about 6 months... a few other girls started "dressing up" too. The girls who previously lived in jeans, running shoes, sweatshirts and pony tails with no make up. All of a sudden they were doing their hair, wearing make up, and ditching the sweatshirts for cute tops.

Funny how they kind of jumped on the 'dressing up' bandwagon!

Anonymous said...

Corporate Chickee, I had a similar experience in my grad school program. After a while, I noticed that one person in particular who used to always wear jeans, a tshirt, sneakers, hair pulled back, and glasses started dressing much nicer everyday and ditched the glasses for contacts after we became friends.