Makeup makes the woman (or man) in the boardroom, says scary-sounding new book

December 5th, 2007

In the book Drop Dead Brilliant, Lesley Everett, described by her publisher as “the United Kingdom’s leading professional branding expert,” writes:

It is a fact that women who wear make-up in business generally get better jobs, get promoted more quickly and get paid more… in a survey, 64 per cent of directors said that women who wore make-up look more professional and 18 per cent of directors said that women who do not wear make-up “look like they can’t be bothered to make an effort.”

Well, colo(u)r me not making an effort. I wear makeup so infrequently that when I do I feel like a mime. But before you cry foul! blasphemy! sexism! know that men are not immune in Everett’s perfectly quaffed pod-person workworld:

Men also need to consider make-up, which is something they should be aware of for diminishing minor skin imperfections that could be distracting. Foundation or base make-up should be considered if your skin tone is uneven or blotchy, and certainly if you are presenting under bright lights or making a TV appearance. Always apply your base after a moisturiser. Choose a colour close to your natural skin tone and you will give your skin a healthy and natural appearance.

Everett certainly isn’t the first career consultant (or whatever you call someone who’s making a living by telling people they need to go shopping) to say that image is everything, and I’ll be the first to admit that in some circles it is, however stupid or unfair. I quoted an HR expert saying as much in this article. And I’ve certainly been known to wash my hair and wax my eyebrows and use deoderant before a public reading or TV interview.

But in the interest of not making an effort, I’ll stay the hell away from cookie-cutter corporate cultures that won’t let me wear my worn-out jeans and hand-screened T’s to meetings. And if I have to meet a client face to face (which rarely every happens, thanks to the interweb), I will take a few extra seconds to throw a beloved vintage blazer over the whole ensemble. More often than not, I’ll be the one who’s overdressed for the meeting.

(Thanks to my pal Diane for sending me the Times Online piece. The photos are priceless.)

Entry Filed under: Coffee break

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. boohoo  |  December 5th, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    I think what we are seeing is the extreme fraternization of the corporate workplace. Of course work has always had its similarities with college fraternities and sororities, but in the not so distant past getting work done mostly took precedence over an excessive need to “dress up” Today it appears that the questions like: “Do you look like us?” “Are you pretty?” “Do people like you as soon as they see you, without ever you ever needing to utter a word?” are more important than actually working these days.

    Also, today marketing and sales jobs are on the rise in terms of available positions while positions requiring more than a flashy image and a dependable work ethic are on the decline in availability. I dare anyone to look on any job search site and not see less than 80% all posted jobs belonging to the fields of business development, marketing or sales. Even jobs that aren’t really sales jobs require sales skills in job ads (not that this makes an approved applicant any better at the job)

    If I were to infer a reason, I would suspect it is to add yet another category of reasons to not hire “certain” people who otherwise are qualified and could do the job. It seems everybody wants to hire people with sales skills for non-sales jobs. Well I hate to brake it to companies, but not many people on earth are cut out for what coporations think a good sales person is. I would even argue that this expection can only be met by a very small portion of the population who are even qualifed for these “make-up prefered” positions. Soon enough you will see such a question in those hiring questioners.

    “Do you wear make-up, please check the box than most applies to you: Often, frequently, rarely or never?”

  • 2. Michelle Goodman  |  December 5th, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    bh, you slay me. thanks for making my day.

  • 3. Amanda  |  December 17th, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    Reading this piece makes me feel depressed and relieved all at once.

    Depressed by the narrow point of view adopted by Lesley Everett, who makes it sound like you have to spend four hours in front of a mirror to be taken as ‘professional’, rather than be judged on your work or potential.

    I won’t be buying her book.

    Are we all so vain and shallow and image obssessed? Is this what we aspire to? If nothing else, this obsession with image and ‘brand me’ says something about the pervasiveness of marketing culture into our most personal, intimate selves; so much so that it is sufficient to question the very ways in which we value ourselves and has altered the things we value about ourselves.

    Yet, I am relieved because I am not -nor do I aspire to be- one of these women. In fact, having a long beauty routine is a distinct disadvantage in my profession (anthropology) where remote area field work is involved. Far better you know how to change a tyre or use a GPS than know how to locate the right shade of foundation or mascara!

  • 4. Michelle Goodman  |  December 17th, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    amanda, your job sounds incredibly cool. thanks for your great comment. rock on!

  • 5. boohoo  |  December 18th, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Holy smokes Amamda! My undergrad degree is in anthropology, geez it appears we were drawn to speak on the very same blog entry.

    Do you think anthropology had anything to do with it?

  • 6. M Houran  |  January 4th, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Hey, I’m an Anthropology-degreed business pro too! Who is also very likely not to wear make-up on my typical read/write/attend internal meetings day. What are the odds! Makeup is expensive for good quality product whihc is apporopriate to your skin type and age, takes a significant attention to completely apply (which I rarely have thanks to kids and spouse and traffic).

    Honestly I think the makeup thing is rooted two-fold: classism and inadequate self-esteem. Before I go on though, let me clarify I am talking just makeup (none or minimal versus full makeup; nail polish v. just manicured), not hygiene and general personal appearance (i.e. cleanliness, neatness, appropriateness of dress, accessories, etc)

    Attitudes which equate makeup with “professionalism” are a grown up of the reframing of that heavily-wielded weapon of the high school in-crowd/out-crowd, the superficial-artifact-of-exclusion/inclusion . Seriously, makeup as uniform is not unlike the jordache jeans of the early 80s. The need to emphasize an ARTIFICIAL behavioral difference, like makeup application or non-application, is a pressure to conform. The pressure to conform, as exceprted from Everett, is a tool of exclusion/inclusion. Conformity of this type doesn’t come from social norms (e.g. illegal behaviors), but from esteem issues.

    Also as noted by our bush-bound colleague above, makeup is only an issue in an affluent workforce and a non-subsistence workplace. Makeup as noted earlier is expensive and time-consuming. Thus people without concern for time or money are going to be concerned with other people’s makeup. Whether one applies makeup to pose their way into the “elite” or because as an elite, one has time and money to be a makeup zealot, the motive is the same: distinction. Distinctions upon which you assume to group people are a bias. If one’s bias is anchored somewhere in your high-SES (or motives thereof), then its classism.

    By the same token, you can consider youth like affluence too. Same mechanism: people without multiple responsiblities and roles have more time and energy. It is well-documented that youth is valueable in the workplace for its lesser salary requirements, lesser expectation of balance, etc. That’s ageism in hiring.

    And lastly, I have heard many times over how attractive sales people always sell more. No doubt about sex sells. But research and ancedote tells us that big ticket decisions are NOT made because of a pretty face- we ALWAYS buy better from someone we can relate to. Attractiveness though, for many managers, is easier to measure if you work in a don’t-think-just-hire-fast corporation, and ooo, that subconsious fantasy comes with an awful lot of managers into the interview room.

    All this said, I always wear makeup on TV and my 5-year old has a preternatural fashion obsession…

  • 7. Alice  |  February 26th, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Yes, this one make me chuckle! I started my career in the corporate world in 1980, and those were scary times when the Dress For Success (meaning wear little man-suits with skirts) was the dress code for those who wanted to get ahead. And you’d better have a face-full of professional-looking makeup too, or no one would take you seriously.

    Things did relax over time and casual wear became more accepted. However, the earth-muffin look with any-old-clothes and no makeup was a recipe for a major career stall. I had the extreme good fortune to have left that world a while ago, but it doesn’t surprise me at all that form still conquers substance. They just can’t seem to let go of some stereotypes, mainly that a woman who doesn’t “bother” to put on makeup obviously can’t be “bothered” to give her all to ensure corporate success.

    Whatever. What I want to see is the boardroom full of guys in guy-liner. Now THAT’s a meeting I wouldn’t mind attending!

  • 8. Antoinette  |  August 4th, 2008 at 5:04 am

    Well, I’m a working woman and I too believe that working professionals should always have a decent makeup in their office.

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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