Editorial: The sexism women face in the job market based on their looks is unacceptable

Editorial Board

We live in a world where our role in the professional world is dictated by the way we look and dress. There is an expectation that we dress a certain way, that our features—such as hair or eyebrows—are in an acceptable style, or even that our weight and face fit into the eurocentric standard of beauty. Plus, those expectations are treated with a more critical lens regarding women, and even more so with women of color (WOC). 

Most of us have already experienced a situation that requires us to put on our “professional” clothes, whether it’s for a mock trial, a job interview, a networking event or something else entirely. But have you ever felt the pressure of thinking about whether or not what you are wearing is good enough? Have you ever been reprimanded for the professional clothes you’ve worn? The former, many of us have probably experienced. Finding proper business attire can be difficult, especially since it can be expensive to buy a full suit in the right color, loafers or heels and any accessories to make your outfit look put together. And if you don’t look your best, despite most likely spending a considerable amount, there is a chance that you won’t get a job or role, even if you are qualified. 

Even if you have impeccable professional attire, there is also a chance that you will be judged for parts of your appearance you aren’t able to change. An employer might not like the way your hair is styled, think that you aren’t the acceptable weight or even just plainly perceive you as unattractive. You might never know for sure if that’s why you didn’t get the job, but there is a chance the interviewer’s body language or tone can give it away. Pretty privilege can open doors for you, but if you don’t fit a certain standard, then it can also very well shut doors.

However, being reprimanded or judged for your attire and appearance is more common for women. The patriarchy still dictates the way women dress, and this problem starts with school dress codes. Showing shoulders or knees is too scandalous and will certainly distract teenage boys. Having a shirt that shows a slight bit of cleavage is preposterous. When women get to college, we can wear whatever we want to class, but still, there is a high probability we will get judged or leered at. And then we have to worry about anything professional-related. Patterns or bright colors aren’t acceptable for blouses, blazers can’t be too tight or loose, heels have to be a certain height, pantyhoses are expected under skirts and so forth. If we don’t dress perfectly, in a way that isn’t too sexy or revealing, even if it’s just the way clothes fit our body or the way our body is shaped, we are perceived as unacceptable. 

To make matters worse, again, if we dress perfectly, we can also be deemed unattractive, which can play into employers’ biases. Fatphobia is incredibly present in the real world, and an employer can easily dismiss a candidate, subconsciously or consciously, if they think they are too fat, excusing the decision somehow. The same bias can apply to other features. Hair that isn’t perfect, eyebrows that aren’t shaped or legs that aren’t shaved, for instance, can factor unfairly into not receiving a job offer. Women of color have even more pressures to face in the job market. They are already not considered as the beauty standard, and the job market doesn’t do anything to dispel that notion. Black protective hairstyles, hijabs, nose rings and far more can be judged as unacceptable. Overall, if the woman is more than qualified for a position but loses it to the less qualified man, it’s sexist and even more so when that woman doesn’t fit a biased standard of beauty.

This isn’t to say that you will definitely be judged everywhere you go, but right now, the job market certainly indicates that your appearance and attire matter, probably more than they should. This also isn’t to say that we should dress as complete slobs, but instead, societal standards shouldn’t dictate if you get hired. That old white male judge will tell you that you should wear pantyhose underneath your skirt or that your hijab gives people the wrong impression. It is not okay that a job offer can factor in your attractiveness or appearance, and it is even more unjust that women encounter discriminatory biases in the job market and workplace.