Working women face no shortage of obstacles — and that's continuing to hold true of our experiences during this pandemic.
Already, women are being hit harder by the economic and social effects of the coronavirus. More than 60% of all minimum-wage and lower-wage workers are women, and they're likelier to experience job insecurity during economic crises in general, says gender economist Katica Roy. Plus, as children are kept out of school, many working parents are having to make tough decisions and compromises about their careers. And we're seeing that a lot of those compromises are falling along traditional gender lines, as families struggle to figure out how they'll stay afloat throughout this outbreak.
Suffice it to say, with so much uncertainty over the health of ourselves, our families and our financial lives in the air, we have enough to worry about. Which is why I think it's unfortunate that some working women are feeling an additional pressure right now: to continue looking "presentable" on virtual meetings and video calls by wearing makeup.
That was true before this new normal, and it's continued to be true as I've moved my meetings to virtual formats. I've always felt that one of the most silly (and annoying) expectations women deal with on an everyday basis is the expectation that we will spend our personal time making ourselves up, especially when wearing makeup in the professional world can seem to be a lose-lose proposition in the first place.
A 2011 study found that women who wore makeup were deemed more competent than those who did not. However, the same study found that women whose makeup was described as too “glamorous” by their peers were deemed untrustworthy. In short, women are judged for wearing too much makeup and are also judged for wearing too little.
Beyond this ridiculous double-standard, as a CEO, I choose not to wear makeup in work settings — digital or otherwise — for a host of reasons.
I have three young children, a business, personal goals and relationships to keep up with; I don’t have much spare time, and when I do have free time, I’d rather not spend it in front of a mirror, priming and primping. Moreover, I often work out during the day; if I did this while wearing makeup, I’d have to run through this routine twice.
Wearing makeup every day is not only impractical for my schedule; it also doesn’t align with my belief that people should be valued for their substantive contributions rather than their appearance. I help guide the culture for my company. I want Fairygodboss to be a comfortable space that is inclusive of everyone, no matter their physical appearance or fashion sense. If I cannot be makeup-free in my office as the CEO, I worry I set an example that might pressure other employees to wear makeup when they’d otherwise prefer not to. And if a mission-based company like Fairygodboss isn’t a space where all people are comfortable in their own skin, where is?
Despite my personal beliefs surrounding makeup, I am not blind to the fact that appearances can be important to others, particularly when it comes to making first impressions. I wear makeup for certain first-time meetings, events and some other engagements because I know I can expect to be judged by my looks. No matter what I wish, women are still evaluated based, in part, on their appearances in many professional spaces.
I know that makeup can be a source of power and confidence for many professional women and a creative form of self-expression for others. And I’m not here to tell women that they shouldn’t do what makes them feel best.
After all, the workplace is already hard enough for us all to navigate without judging each other for our lip gloss (or lack thereof). We should all be advocating for individual choice at work, whether it means putting nothing on our face or wearing blue lipstick. The best workplace is one where everyone feels comfortable being themselves.
Georgene Huang is the Co-founder and CEO of Fairygodboss.