Your Hidden Weapons
By Chere B. Estrin
Editor’s Note: This article really struck a chord with many of our readers. We got a lot of great comments! We didn’t like all of them, yet we are super happy people are sharing their thoughts.
The title and main graphic hit a lot of reader’s buttons – the intent was to show the insecurity that many of us feel as we age in a playful, very personal, self depreciating way. Many saw the sarcastic title and graphic for what it was, others took it literally. (To be clear Chere is not advocating cosmetic procedures to be successful.) For many of us have experienced the pain of misogyny and sexism at the workplace, the graphic is too real. We apologize for hitting that nerve.
We, like many of you, are pushing to see things continue to improve in the workplace. Stop judging on the superficial, judge us by our work and skills.
In the article, Chere does reference some things that still affect perceptions of us in the workplace – some of these things we can, and some can’t, change. We are not celebrating these things, but discuss them to make you aware that, right or wrong, they still do have an impact in the workplace today. Knowing about them and talking about them is not the same as embracing them.
As a top recruiter for paralegals and lawyers, Chere is an advocate for her clients and wants to help you succeed.10/20/21
Some time back, I was on the cover of a legal trade publication. I was so excited. The editor wanted to portray me as a fortune teller predicting the future of the legal industry. The photographer dressed me up in a spectacular colorful costume complete with a bandana, lots and lots of jewelry, big earrings and very heavy makeup while holding a crystal ball. I hardly recognized myself. This, I thought, was going to be a winner.
Fast forward and the magazine comes out. Actually, what happened was one of my staffers picked up the magazine from the mail and came into the conference room where we were all having a meeting. He held up the magazine and proudly announced, “It’s here!” I took one look at it and my immediate thought was, “What is my mother doing on the cover of that magazine?”
It’s true. In this day and age of Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapshot and all other social media, how you look has become important. Perhaps too important. What happened to “beauty within”? Out the window, I’m afraid.
Now, I am a woman of a certain age. It’s true. I no longer deny it, even to myself. The good part of this is that I find myself unafraid of almost anything. At this stage in my life and career, I have been there, done that and honestly, sometimes won’t do it again.
I tried everything to look not necessarily younger, but just more, well, put together and ride this horse in the direction it is going. Looking at myself constantly on Zoom was a nightmare. Oh sure, I used the gadgets that softened you up, gave you fake eyebrows and puffy lips but the problem was, if you so much as moved an inch, you had eyebrows floating above your head and lips that were to the side of your mouth. Clearly, this wasn’t going to work.
In a desperate attempt to fix myself up, I bought that stuff advertised on TV that you rub on your face and in 10 minutes, it gives you a faux face lift and all your wrinkles magically disappear along with the bags under your eyes. So far, so good. I was amazed! I actually looked 10x better (in my mind, anyway). I put it on every chance I got. There was a slight problem. It only lasts 6-8 hours at most, sometimes even less. One day, I was in a very important Zoom meeting with a client and I guess the 6 hours were up because I saw myself, right there in front of God and everyone, slowly turning into a craggy old woman as the stuff wore off. Geez, now that was embarrassing. So much for the fake face lift.
To be clear, I am not advocating plastic surgery, Botox, hair dye or encouraging people to be sexier. I am sharing my experience as a woman executive. I am trying too encourage you to be your best and apply some helpful tips that cut through the beauty/sexy misogyny and help your presence and presentation to be seen as professional.Chere
I went to my last resort. I had no choice. One that I had been putting off for years. That’s right. Botox. In I went with terrible trepidation to the aesthetic doctor who guaranteed me he would make me gorgeous. Ok, so I was perfectly willing to settle for “looking better” but hey, if that’s what he wanted me to be, I’m in. The day arrived. I was really nervous. The thought of shots in my face just wasn’t sitting well. However, I steadied myself and went. The doctor prodded, poked, pinched and injected. It wasn’t as bad as I had imagined and I walked out of there a brand new person. At least, I thought so. I waited for everyone to comment that somehow, I was looking really good lately. Not one peep. Not even a huh? What happened to you?
It didn’t matter, really. The important thing is that I felt better about myself. And, in the end, that’s what it is all about. How you feel about yourself.
Being on camera almost all day and meeting people face-to-face on Zoom has proven to be very interesting. The candidates that I interview and the clients I talk to vary from put together to please, put them somewhere else. Recently, I interviewed a candidate on Zoom for a management position. The camera opened up and she immediately said, “I am not feeling too well today.” I guess not. She was interviewing in her bed with her pajamas on. That was one for the books.
How you look today does influence how well you do in your career. You don’t have to be Christie Brinkley to impress people with your professionalism and how you present to the public. You just have to look put together and have the right attitude.
I liken this to a diamond ring. Let’s say you were given two diamond rings, both exactly the same. Exactly. One is wrapped up in a J.C. Penny gift box and the other is wrapped up in a Tiffany’s box. Which one would you choose? Most likely, the Tiffany box. The beautiful wrapping gives the impression of a better quality product, even though both rings were identical.
We would all like to believe that career success is based on talent, skills and drive. Maybe that was true in a less visual time but not today. Research gives us a few clues into how a woman’s appearance may influence her advancement ability. A study conducted by NYU sociologist Dalton Conley and NYU graduate student Rebecca Glauber, found that women’s weight gain results in a decrease in both their income level and job prestige. By contrast, men experience no such negative effects.
Though women may be trying to change their looks through plastic surgery in hopes of positively influencing their careers, being perceived as especially good looking doesn’t always work in women’s favor at work. “Absolutely, your looks can also be used against you,” says author and entrepreneur Laurel House. “Being very attractive can especially make it difficult when it comes to co-workers who might have assumptions as to how you got your job, which means that you have to work even harder to prove yourself. And even then you might be hard to accept—a beautiful and smart co-worker can definitely appear to be a threat. It seems that somewhere in the middle might be the ticket.
According to Maggie Jessup, author of Fame 101: Powerful Personal Branding and Publicity for Amazing Success, women, in particular, need to be strategic. At the managerial/executive level, in contrast to administrative positions, personal appearance becomes a power factor in hiring, promotions, and earnings. Be aware: it’s not all about physical beauty, it’s about presenting yourself strategically.
“It’s not about beauty. It’s about presenting yourself strategically.”
“A strategically presented woman has an immense advantage over simply average or disheveled colleagues,” says Jessup. “If by manner, dress, and education (including continuing) she conveys power and several other factors, she will be the one who catapults past her male competitors into a corner office and becomes unbeatable once there. It’s more than just physical appearance, it’s about looking the part and dressing for the job you want.”
Discriminating against people based on their physical appearance is wrong — both morally, and in many cases, legally speaking. I see a lot of it along with age discrimination even in the legal field that is supposed to know better. The way you look usually has no bearing on how you’ll perform in your job. In a perfect world, everyone would be judged solely on his/her merits.
But the harsh reality is this isn’t a perfect world, and discrimination — whether intentional or inadvertent — still plays a role in the workplace. And while it should never be condoned, job seekers and employees need to be aware of how discriminatory practices regarding age, race, sex, and physical appearance can affect compensation.
Here are 7 ways looks affect your career according to the Huffington Post:
- Height: Tall people get paid more money. A 2004 study by Timothy Judge at the University of Florida found that for every inch of height, a tall worker can expect to earn an extra $789 per year.
- Weight: Boy, can I attest to this one. I once had a job as an administrator in an AmLaw 100 law firm. The first week, The Director of Administration took me to lunch at the Yorkshire Grill in downtown Los Angeles. He insisted that I have the pastrami, piled high and a huge serving of potato salad. Walking back to the office he said, “You know, if you want to succeed here, you are going to have to lose weight.” My God! My whole world stood still. I even remember the exact spot in the street where he told me that. I succeeded anyway. However, lesson learned. How people perceive you definitely can influence your career.
Obese workers are paid less than normal-weight coworkers at a rate of $8,666 a year for obese women, and $4,772 a year for obese men, according to data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 2004. Other studies indicate obese women are even more likely to be discriminated against in pay, hiring and raises. An International Journal of Obesity study described an experiment where people were shown pictures of job applicants, as well as resumes, and asked to score them on suitability, starting salary, and employability. What the test subjects didn’t realize is the pictures they were being shown were actually of the same person, but before and after bariatric weight loss surgery. Overwhelmingly, the thinner candidates were chosen for the job and with higher starting salaries than the heavier applicants.
- Hair color: Believe it or not, this is an influencer. We have all heard that blondes have more fun. It turns out they also have more in their paychecks. A 2010 study from the Queensland University of Technology studied 13,000 Caucasian women and found blondes earn more than 7 percent more than female employees with any other hair color. The study said the pay bump is equivalent to the boost an employee would generally see from one entire year of additional education.
- Physique: Richard Simmons, where are you? According to a study in the Journal of Labor Research, workers who exercise regularly earn 9 percent more on average than employees who don’t work out. The study from Cleveland State University claims people who exercise three or more times a week earn an average of $80 a week more than their coworkers who don’t exercise.
- Make-up: People judge a woman by how much make-up she is wearing. These women also rank higher in competence and trustworthiness according to a study funded by Procter & Gamble, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. A study in the American Economic Review said women who wear make-up can earn more than 30 percent more in pay than workers not wearing make-up. BusinessInsider.com quoted a study in the London Times reporting “64 percent of directors said that women who wore make-up looked more professional.”
- General attractiveness: Good-looking people get paid more money. A Yale University study from Daniel Hamermesh finds employers pay a beauty premium to attractive employees. The beautiful workers earn an average of roughly 5 percent more, while unattractive employees can miss out on up to almost 9 percent, according to the study. Effects for men are at least as great as for women.
- What you wear: Research has found that when you combine your appearance with communication skills, others’ behavior toward you is influenced. Fair or not, people judge us by the way we look and that includes the way we dress. Especially in the workplace, clothing significantly influences how others perceive you and how they respond toward you, Clothing plus communication skills determine whether others will comply with your request, trust you, give you access to decision makers, pay you a certain salary or give you a substantial raise.
Recently, I had a candidate interview for a sales rep position at a legal services vendor. He made it through the first round and was moved forward to a second interview with the CEO. He showed up looking like he had just gone on a run. I have no idea what gave him the idea that was appropriate but he sure didn’t get the job.
The lesson I have learned
Overall attractiveness does play a role in life and in business but it is more about the package—dressing appropriately, having a great attitude, the right skill set, strong work ethic and determination to succeed. All of this relates to perception in the workplace. When you have the right combination, you’re most likely to get that promotion, dream job and a heck of a better salary.
Editor’s Note: We’ve received a lot of great comments about this!
Be sure add your thoughts to the conversation below! We want to hear from you!
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization. She is the Co-Founding Member and Vice-President of the Organization of Legal Professionals providing online legal technology training.
Chere has written 10 books about legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur, Above the Law and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award, a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award and a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: email@example.com.