They say you should dress for the job you want, but apparently, you shouldn’t look too good while you’re doing it — at least not if you’re a woman. According to a paper published in the journal Sex Roles, researchers from Washington State University found that attractive women are perceived as less trustworthy in the workplace, a news release about the study said. These "femme fatales," as the paper called them, were perceived as less truthful than their less attractive coworkers, or even "more worthy of being fired." If that wasn't enough sexist stereotyping, the researchers said this perception isn't just because attractive women subvert traditionally masculine roles, the researchers say. According to the researchers, this perception stems from more primal feelings of “sexual insecurity, jealousy, and fear” among both men and women.
The researchers conducted six separate tests that had participants in Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online crowdsourcing platform, rate the attractiveness of images pulled from Google image searches for “professional woman,” the news release said. They also had the participants rate how truthful and trustworthy they thought the women were in various scenarios, the news release said, and whether they thought the women should be fired. In one of the studies, some of the participants had been primed to feel sexually secure, while others had been primed to feel sexually insecure, according to the news release.
The researchers' overall findings were that the participants found attractive women less truthful and trustworthy than less attractive women, no matter what their titles were or what industries they worked in, the news release said. “Highly attractive women can be perceived as dangerous, and that matters when we are assessing things like how much we trust them and whether we believe that what they are saying is truthful,” Leah Sheppard, an assistant professor of management in the WSU Carson College of Business and lead author of a paper, said in a news release.
This study is just part of a plethora of research showing that women face all kinds of unconscious (and sexist) biases in the workplace. The reality is that women really can’t win when it comes to how they look. Society focuses on women’s appearances over their abilities in practically all industries, from sports, politics, to even music, according to Psychology Today.
For the “femmes fatales” out there, Sheppard said it might be a little extra hard to build trusting relationships with people in the workplace. “They’re going to be challenged in terms of building trust,” she said in a news release. “That’s not to say that they can’t do it. It’s just that trust is probably going to form a bit more slowly.”
It goes without saying that it's unfair that the burden of building trust falls on the shoulders of women. Women's abilities are constantly judged by their appearances, the sounds of their voices, and other factors that are completely irrelevant to what they are actually capable of accomplishing. But that should never stop any woman from accomplishing great things — despite what anyone else thinks.