Is it a coincidence that popular TV shows and movies about life in the workplace are often replete with an overwhelmingly good-looking staff? Think Mad Men‘s Don Draper or more appropriately, Joan Holloway and her fleet of perfectly-outfitted secretaries who are the constant victims of sexist comments and harassment that would shock any modern HR department. It’s no surprise that scientific research shows that good looks help you get hired (in accordance with our societal standards of “good looking”) and can have a major effect on getting a raise or promotion.
According to Forbes, the kind of woman who advances the most in the workplace “are more attractive, thinner, taller and have a more youthful appearance than their female colleagues”. In fact, a study from Cornell University showed that when white women put on weight (an additional 64 pounds to be exact), their wages dropped an average of 9% and according to a research paper published in 2007 by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “studies have shown that white women are the only race-gender group for which weight has a statistically significant effect on wages”.
Interestingly, Michigan is the only state in which a man or woman cannot be discriminated against for height or weight – which means that leaves virtually all other women in the US unprotected and more often than not, discriminated against.
And that’s not all, according to research by Daniel Hamermesh, Ph.D., a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, females in the top one-third of attractive females make about 10% more annually than women in the bottom sixth of the genetic pool.
Other studies even show that if a person is generally found to be attractive, but also somewhat organized and somewhat generous for example, that they will also be viewed as more organized and more generous than he or she actually is. Because why? People tend to pay more attention to attractive people.
Ironically, (seeing as blondes are typically stereotyped as being dumb or ditzy) 48 percent of female CEO’s and 35 percent of US senators are blonde compared to a mere 2 percent of male CEO’s that are blonde. How can this be when only 2 percent of the world is naturally blonde and only 5 percent of those people are white. According to the Huffington Post, the first women to get a major party nomination for president, the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the first women president of Harvard were all, you guessed it, blonde.
So why the disjunction? According to research from the University of British Columbia, people are better able to accept a female leader if she is perceived as gentler, less demanding, and weaker-willed than her dark- or gray-haired colleagues. Jennifer Berdahl, business professor at the university calls this “the Glinda the good-witch effect“.
Additionally, light-colored hair is also associated with youth, attractiveness, dependence, and warmth – traits that counter-balance the more aggressive, dominant ― and stereotypically male ― characteristics required of a CEO. This means if you are blonde, you can get away with adopting these characteristics. This all said, research did not suggest that women were going blonde in order to disarm male colleagues, but it did find that 43 percent of the highest-paid male CEOs have a blonde spouse – coincidence?
A third study showed furthermore that when both blonde and brunette women said the same assertive series of statements, (“I don’t want there to be any ambiguity about who’s in charge,” and “My staff knows who the boss is.”) brunettes were rated harshly on their attractiveness and warmth while blondes were perceived as being more friendly than bossy or bitchy. Remember when Claire Underwood dyed her hair back to brunette in Season 3 of House of Cards? Yeah, that didn’t last long – and for precisely this reason.
So all this said, despite advances in hiring women and (minor) improvement in compensation it still remains as the fact that your appearance matters in whether or not you’ll be hired. Catherine Hakim, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, and author of the book, Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom even suggests that as a solution, women should use their “erotic capital”, i.e. beauty, sex appeal, charm, fashion choices – to get ahead at work.
Okay, yes. But only if you want to. Just because the research says so, this doesn’t mean these are the only solutions to getting ahead at work, getting a promotion or getting hired. So what about women who say looks shouldn’t matter in the workplace? The bottom line is that it shouldn’t matter, but it does. This doesn’t mean that you should go under the knife or splurge on a new icy-blonde look (I mean you can if you want) but getting ahead at work is also based on a variety of other factors – working hard, staying on top of deadlines, taking the extra step for a superior etc. Take a word from the wise, Nasty Gal’s CEO (and a brunette at that) Sophia Amoruso, “If I have anything to prove, it’s that when you believe in yourself, other people will believe in you, too”. Blonde or brunette, short or tall, college graduate or college dropout, success is yours for the taking – go get that job girl boss.