Attractive people may sometimes have a leg up in climbing corporate ladders. But sexy presentation on its own can work against women who are already well up the ladder.
In a new study, men and women where shown videos of a businesswoman discussing her backgrounds and hobbies. In different tests, she played the part of either a receptionist or a manager. And in one round she wore flat shoes, slacks, and a turtleneck, all considered typical professional attire. In the other, she donned high-heels, a tight skirt, and a low-cut blouse.
The test subjects rated the businesswoman on competence and guessed at her college GPA and the quality of her Alma Mater.
The sexy outfit didn't affect their assessment of the receptionist. But the sexy manager was viewed as less competent.
"A female manager whose appearance emphasized her sexiness elicited less positive emotions, more negative emotions, and perceptions of less competence on a subjective rating scale and less intelligence on an objective scale," the researchers write in the December issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly. "Although various media directed toward women …encourage women to emphasize their sex appeal, our results suggest that women in high status occupations may have to resist this siren call to obtain the respect of their co-workers."
The research was led by Peter Glick, a professor of Psychology at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.