New Manager

Paying lip service

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on October 23, 2011

Looks matter and how. Studies say that the right shade of lipstick can put women's careers on the fast track.

I have an important work decision to make today. Can you help me with it,” I asked my husband, as I was getting ready for office. He raised an eyebrow.

“It's the colour of lipstick I should wear to work,” I said. “Should I wear a lipstick that is light yet provides contrast to my facial skin. If I do that, I can win the trust of my superiors and respect of my colleagues. But if I need to exude a powerful, I am-in-charge aura, then I have to wear a darker shade. So which should it be?”

My husband, who is not at his loquacious best in the mornings, raised another eyebrow. So I explained that a new Procter & Gamble survey released last week shows that wearing the right make-up can help women move up the career ladder faster.

Too little, it says, and you are not taken seriously. Too much and you are dismissed as a glamour babe. But, if you strike the right balance and wear appropriate make-up for the occasion, tweaking a shade here or there for the correct effect, then you can just watch your career zoom.

Of course, it's in P&G's interest to turn out such surveys — after all it's in the business of selling cosmetics. But another recent survey by Aziz Corporation in Britain of 100 company bosses showed that one in four employers were more likely to give a job to a woman who wore make-up than one who did not. A third of those surveyed felt that a woman without make-up looked like she couldn't be bothered to make an effort. Again, Aziz Corporation, which is a communication and leadership consultancy, is in the business of image management and its consultants seem to be in the job of dishing out advice such as the etiquette of wearing heels to businesswomen to make an impact in boardrooms.

Expectedly, my Facebook fraternity is going up in flames about these surveys and setting up a rant about how sexist the workplace still is, and the weird yardsticks on career progress for women. But, they are missing a point.

I mean, if these surveys are right, look how easy things are for us women. “You poor men,” I crowed to a male colleague, “here you have to plod hard at gaining trust and respect, and all we have to do is wear the right shade of lipstick, and stride in wearing high-heeled shoes (a bit more difficult that task) and voila our career is made.”

At which point he retaliated with his own set of surveys. Kaya Skincare, along with Nielsen had some time ago done a survey of Indian men in the 18-50 age group, which showed that they were quite aware of the importance of personal grooming for workplace success. Eight out of 10 men surveyed said that being well-groomed had a positive effect on their careers.

Intrigued I called up friends in the corporate sector and learnt that the same rule seemed to apply for men — candidates with dirty nails or bad skin were often rejected during job interviews, confessed a friend who runs an executive search firm. Those who take better care of themselves also take care of their jobs better is the assumption.

And, to put a lid on the issue, just last month, came a new book by US economist Daniel Hamermesh who has created a new branch of economics called pulchrinomics — the economics of beauty. In his book Beauty Pays, which is the result of more than a decade of research on the subject, he finds that attractive workers always get more wages. On average, the University of Texas professor says that good-looking workers earn $230,000 more than those with below average looks. Also, this discrimination is not restricted to the US market alone — surveys emanating from Canada, Germany, Britain, China and India all show that better looking people do earn more.

Oh well, one can't do anything about the looks one is born with — unless one chooses to go under the scalpel — but certainly, if this is the new reality in today's ‘lookist society' as somebody put it, then one should head to a salon. And, who knows, perhaps, companies might soon start giving a salon allowance!

Published on October 23, 2011

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