Does Makeup Matter?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m from the southern U.S., so I would no more leave the house (even to go to the mailbox) without makeup than I would without brushing my teeth or donning certain essential items of clothing. I freely admit I don’t understand why a woman would choose not to wear makeup, but I wondered whether that was just my southern girl bias showing. It’s not.

 In 2013, Escentual, a UK beauty products retailer, conducted a study to learn about how makeup affects – or doesn’t – a woman’s career prospects. The results surprised even me:

  • 68% of hiring managers said they would be less likely to hire a woman who didn’t wear makeup to the interview.
  • 49% said it would be a major factor for a job that required public interaction.
  • 60.8% of executives said that regularly showing up without makeup would lessen a woman’s chances of getting promoted.
  • 39.2% said a woman who didn’t wear makeup would be “much less likely” to get promoted into a position that required public interaction.
  • 67% of bosses said they would disapprove of female employees not wearing makeup to key business meetings.

 Other studies showed similar results:

  • A U.S. study by Procter & Gamble, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that women who were wearing makeup were ranked high in competence and trustworthiness than women who weren’t.
  • An American Economic Review report found that women who wear makeup can earn up to 30% more than women who don’t.

Those differences can be explained to some degree by attitude. In the UK study, 66.4% of female respondents said they’d feel “much less confident” attending an important meeting without makeup. Feeling less confident might lead them to be less assertive, less engaged, etc. And those perceptions can certainly affect career success.

But the differences are too big to be explained that simply. In my opinion, it goes back to what the UK study said about women who wear makeup being ranked higher in competence and trustworthiness. To me, makeup says you:

  • Take pride in your appearance (and will therefore probably take pride in your work)
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Take the interview or job seriously
  • Are professional
  • Will be comfortable working with people in high-ranking positions

Is that fair? Of course not. Are those perceptions always accurate? Nope, not that, either. But, fair or not, the facts prove that there is indeed a makeup bias in the career world. The question then becomes, “What do you do about it?”

If you already wear makeup, just keep on with what you’re doing. If you don’t wear makeup, then you need to decide between adapting to reality or trying to change it. What’s it going to be: real or ideal?

That’s a hugely personal question and is totally dependent on your goals. If you have your eye on an executive-level position, you may want to start wearing just enough makeup to make yourself look polished and professional (and it would be really interesting to note whether people treat you differently). If you’re more focused on fixing the world’s injustices than you are on career success, keep your fresh-scrubbed look and bust your hindquarters showing everyone at work that you’re just as competent and trustworthy as your colleague who spends a quarter of her salary at Sephora.

 What are your thoughts about women wearing makeup in the workplace? If you wear makeup to work, do you do it because you think it’s expected, or would you wear it anyway? If you don’t wear makeup to work, do you think it’s hindering your advancement in any way?


photo credit: freeimages via african fi




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