In 2015, I was on the job hunt. I was also two months pregnant and doing my best to hide it. As a woman, I knew if hiring managers focused on my beginning-to-bulge belly, they’d make assumptions about what type of employee I’d be.
They’d process my appearance and think, “Well, she won’t be around long” or “Clearly, she won’t be focused on this job.” While none of that was true, it’s a reality women face every day in a job interview.
Hiring managers judge our appearances and draw conclusions. Often, this is to our detriment. In fact, the latest research from Fairygodboss delves into what exactly hiring managers think when they see female job candidates in a job interview — and our findings were far from positive.
We showed survey participants images of professional women, each of whom had different hairstyles, outfits, body shapes, and ages. And we found the way these women looked most definitely affected how hiring managers perceived them, including whether they’d be willing to hire them.
For example, the image of the plus-sized job candidate was also the most likely to be described as lazy. A woman with tattooes was more likely to be seen as unprofessional. And a woman who wasn’t smiling was judged as cold.
Chances are, you’ve experienced similar bias during a job interview. To show you’re not alone, here are a couple of real-life examples of women who have experienced appearance-based job discrimination.
Looking young equals being inexperienced.
“A few years ago, I walked into an interview with a trust in DC and the absolute second the female CEO — who was in her 50s — saw me, she crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. Her body language and facial expression said, ‘No way am I going to hire you.’
At the time, I was in my mid-thirties, and I think the way I looked was a major detractor for the job. The recruiter told me later that the CEO was looking for someone ‘more seasoned’ — although, at that point, I had 15-plus years in my field and could do the job. I had some friends suggest I wear glasses or put gray in my hair to look older to get the jobs.
This also happened at a major Fortune 100 company a few years ago. I was interviewing and made it through seven or eight back-to-back interviews. I kept getting the greenlight to proceed. When I got to the top-level, the final decision maker was a woman in her late 40s or early 50s. She took one look and immediately decided not to hire me.
I could tell by her face that I wasn’t going to get the job. It didn’t matter what I said after that. It was the same kind of arms-crossed, sour facial expression that said, ‘I don’t like you.’ At that point, I should have thanked her politely for the opportunity and left, rather than try to make my case.
I’m now getting older — just hit 40 — and have a little gray hair, a few wrinkles, and have had two children. I doubt these types of issues will affect me as much anymore. But it definitely was a detractor five to 10 years ago at times.
Unfortunately, people are human and have implicit bias, and many of us — probably all of us at times — make quick and inaccurate judgements. Sometimes your appearance or personality helps you, sometimes it doesn’t.”
As Ponzar pointed out, the most important thing is to not let these prejudices get to you. Stay focused on what you know is true. You’re qualified, skilled, and a great talent. If you remain confident in those things, the right employer will take notice.
Showing some knee isn’t always appreciated.
“I remember the first time I applied for a job. I’d just gotten out of college and was being interviewed by a middle-aged woman. She struck me as old-fashioned, so it would probably explain why she was a bit alarmed with my outfit the minute I walked into the door.
I am the type of person who would rather dress comfortably, but still presentable. I was wearing a simple dress, but the length was one or two inches above my knee. I don't even consider it short.
As I was talking to this woman, I became worried when she started to stare at my outfit. It was almost like she was mentally telling herself that my outfit was not suitable for the job interview.
I continued on despite her glaring. I honestly feel like I did a good job with that interview. I answered all of her questions and aced the personality and written test. After a few weeks of waiting, she finally emailed me. You think I would be happy, but she only emailed me to send bad news. It turns out I was not picked for the position.
It was a learning experience for me, though. I don't want to think that she was judging me by what I wore to that interview, but it only proves that most people are a bit materialistic when it comes to hiring. It's the sad reality of things.”
- Joanna Douglas now the owner of Clean Affinity Cleaning Service
Sometimes, personalities and expectations don’t mesh. If a hiring manager is overly judgy about what you’re wearing, they’re not focused on what matters, and chances are, that’s not the type of company you want to work for anyway. Look to transparency-focused job review sites — like ours! — to help you scout out companies known for treating women fairly.
Want to see the rest of our survey's results? Download the full report!