What “Really” Looks Good in an Employee?

Claire Suddath posted a quiz concerning the disadvantages of women in the workplace in the July 28-August 3, 2014 issue of Bloomberg Businesweek (p. 62). She shared these interesting tidbits:

  • Although 54% of the U.S. workforce reports to a male boss, a 2012 MIT study suggests that women cannot count on female bosses to help them advance their careers.
  • Male managers who are married to working women are more apt to recommend female employees for promotion than are men married to stay-at-home women.
  • Blondes earn 7% more than brunettes.
  • Women in organizations led by CEOs whose first children are female earn 1.1% more on average. Wages drop for all those reporting to CEOs with firstborn sons.
  • Women wearing makeup are considered more competent and professional; however, women who perceive other women as dressing “too fancy” are “put off” by their attire.
  • A woman’s weight influences her earning potential. “Even very thin women are punished when they gain a little” (p. 64). There is a correlation also between an increase in a woman’s BMI and a drop in income for both the woman and her spouse.
  • Good posture affects the level of power others perceive women to have.

Perhaps all women should dye their hair blonde, lose weight, practice balancing books on their heads for improved posture, wear makeup and khakis, and accept a position only if the boss is a male manager with a firstborn daughter, and married to a working woman. Yes, I am being facetious. What a superficial list!

The world isn’t fair. Although perception is reality, its effects are powerful. These findings reflect collective practices that are unethical and illegal. One cannot confront this behavior directly because managers have learned how to discriminate covertly in the last 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement began. A manager would never tell an employee “You are overweight so you are not getting a raise.” Rather, the manager would find other reasons that most probably could not be connected to discrimination.

Transformational leaders coach, encourage, and support employees. These are gender-blind behaviors. Through my research findings (shared in detail in my book Transformational Leadership and High-Intensity Interval Training) I suggest that transformational leaders hire employees who embrace their vision, which aligns also with the mission of the organization. Once on the team, these leaders manage to their employees’ strengths. They provide growth opportunities that are based on their skills and interests. They want their employees to shine because they realize when their employees excel, they “look” good and the organization benefits. Perhaps there is a need to redefine our notion of “good looks.” Employees who are motivated, energetic, enthusiastic, work hard and deliver results could be the new definition of attractive. A win-win for all.

Copyright © 2014 Carol R. Himelhoch. All rights reserved

2 thoughts on “What “Really” Looks Good in an Employee?

  1. Thank you for sharing this blog post. Your topic resonates with me as the father of a firstborn daughter. I’ve worked diligently to instill true self-esteem while also readying her for the unfairness that awaits in life. It is unfortunate that discrimination is a chameleon that adapts to sunshine by simply camouflaging its appearance.

    The list you’ve provided does indicate a correlation between gender, appearance, and discriminatory workplace practices. I am not surprised by these findings. While some of the underlying behaviors that cause leaders/managers to discriminate against their female subordinates may be conscious decisions, others likely are not. In truth, I don’t know which is more unsettling – intentionally discriminatory practices or unintentionally discriminatory reflexes.

    At this point, I could easily launch into a diatribe on the portrayal of women and girls in the media as objects. This is one of my hot button issues. Sadly, the objectification will not end until people collectively turn their backs on the magazine publishers, the clothing designers, and the music/television artists (amongst many others) that hold misogyny as their stock-in-trade. As of today, there still appears to be a strong market for such things.

    Continuing on, the last paragraph on your blog post is a bright spot. You’ve described the precise type of manager/leader that I hope to be someday. I want to “manage to employees’ strengths” and “provide growth opportunities.” I also want to make sure that my daughter and everybody’s daughters get a fair shake in life. This blog post really brings together two topics that I feel strongly about. I will be picking up a copy of your book!


  2. Thank you, Ryan, for your thoughtful insights and taking the time to offer them here. There are many subtle cues that influence unintentional discriminatory reflexes. I do feel optimistic that with mindful self-awareness we have the ability to influence our attitudes for the better.


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