This just in: Research tells us again that attractive women in the workplace are at a systematically sexist disadvantage. This time, we're told that beautiful businesswomen are more likely deemed less truthful, less trustworthy and, moreover, more worthy of being fired than average-looking women.
It's true that attractive people earn roughly 20 percent more than average people, according to a 2016 study, "Gender and the Returns to Attractiveness." Other studies have even suggested that attractive people are more likely to be invited to job interviews and receive more job offers. Perhaps one reason is because, the more makeup a woman wears at work, the more likable and competent she seems — so long as she doesn't overdo it with a too "glamorous" look. Otherwise, she'll come across as untrustworthy.
So this is not the first time that science warns women of a classically sexist Catch-22: to "look the part" but, nonetheless, remember that "less is more" or to "dress well, but not too well." But, this time, science has looked into why attractiveness can make women appear less trustworthy — and even "more worthy of being fired" — at work.
According to the paper published in the journal Sex Roles, researchers at Washington State University and the University of Colorado found that attractive women, dubbed "femme fatales," are perceived as less trustworthy in the workplace. The researchers gathered Google images of “professional women.” They then conducted six texts in which participants ranked these photos by attractiveness, via an online crowdsourcing platform, Mechanical Turk. The participants were also tasked with rating the photographed women's truthfulness and trustworthiness across various scenarios, and whether or not they thought that the photographed women should be fired.
According to the research, both men and women tend to think that attractive women are less deserving of trust due to primal feelings of "sexual insecurity, jealousy, and fear.” But the researchers came to this conclusion because of the strategic approach they took prior to showing the participants the images. In two separate experiments, they used a "prime," or a suggestion intentionally designed to put participants in an emotional state that could very well impact their opinions. They did this by asking some participants to remember a time that they felt sexually secure in a relationship, and by asking others to think about a time when they felt the opposite.
They found that those who were primed with feelings of sexual insecurity tended to view the attractive women as less truthful and more deserving of getting fired than the rest.
“Highly attractive women can be perceived as dangerous, and that matters when we are assessing things like how much we trust them and whether we believe that what they are saying is truthful,” Leah Sheppard, lead author of the paper, said.
Of course, this research, albeit nothing new, is infuriating.
"This is obviously outrageously unfair, given that — in the vast majority of industries — a woman’s ability or willingness to conform to traditional beauty standards has nothing to do with her capacity to do a job well," writes Stylist contributor, Moya Crockett. "But if average-looking women lose out on career opportunities to those who are more conventionally gorgeous, and beautiful businesswomen are viewed with ruthless suspicion by those around them, as this new research suggests, where does that leave us? Essentially, we’re stuck in the middle, trying to be the visual equivalent of Goldilocks: not too pretty, not too plain."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.