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The Currency of Beauty in the Workplace

Asian woman looking through a window.

It’s enough to have to worry about having the right skillset, making a good impression on your superiors, and navigating workplace politics. You should not have to worry about how you look. But unfortunately, you absolutely do.

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Marginalized, overweight or unconventional looking women will seldom be promoted to managerial roles. They often do not make as much as their fairer, thinner, prettier, or male counterparts, regardless of their aptitude, ambition or depth of experience. Gender, race, weight, beauty and other aesthetic characteristics determine who in the office will be tucked away into a corner and treated as the dark company secret. These are the intersectional blind spots we need to light up along with the gender pay gap conversation.

Although feminism has come a long way in terms of women’s rights, the gender pay gap is still a glaring issue we have yet to solve. “The gender wage gap is one of the most significant issues that we are still challenging around the globe and right here in our backyard in Canada,” notes Toronto MPP and cofounder of Body Confidence Canada, Dr. Jill Andrew.

In 2020, a full-time working woman still makes about 87 cents for every dollar that a man makes, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation But what we are not seeing at the forefront of the equal pay conversation is that this wage gap is even wider for women belonging to marginalized groups. “Women of colour, Black women, Indigenous women, trans women, disabled women, senior women in the workplace actually make less. Sometimes as low as roughly 50 cents on every dollar a man makes,” says Dr. Jill.

According to the Women in The Workplace 2020 study, “for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for some women: Only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas were promoted.” Covid-19 has exacerbated this issue, and the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women of colour in the workplace. According to the same study, “Women of colour are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the Covid-19 crisis, stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security.”

Black woman with curly hair looking frustrated at work.
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On top of the gender pay gap, compounded again by the race pay gap, is the beauty wage gap

“There are women out there being discriminated against in the workplace because of the texture of their hair, because of the size of their nose, or their eyes, because they might have acne, because they are fat, because they don’t dress a certain way,” says Dr. Jill.

Psychologists call it the “beauty premium.” Essentially, it is the income gap between attractive and unattractive people, and it is comparable to the gap between genders. Who determines what is beautiful? In a nutshell, beauty standards are dictated by those with the most power and wealth, all within the precincts of a patriarchal society.

This means women are economically penalized if they fail to conform to the beauty standards laid out by the powers that be. “If you happen to step out of those body image and beauty stereotypes, if you’re not able bodied, if you don’t have a cisgender gender expression, if you’re not working within that box of what femininity and masculinity prescribes, then all of a sudden you can be cast to the side and seen as not worthy for the pay that you deserve,” explains Dr. Jill.

Plus size woman wears yellow blazer at work
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This beauty wage gap also intersects with weight discrimination and fat phobia.

“Not only are women paid less than men for the same job, same expectations, same qualifications, but what we learn is that fat women are paid less than men, and they are also paid less than thin women,” Dr. Jill clarifies. A study led by the University of Florida and published by the American Psychological Association, overweight women are consistently judged more harshly in the workplace than overweight men. Women of average weight earn less across a 25-year career than women who weigh 25lbs below the average weight. For men, being heavier can actually be more lucrative. Thinner men made slightly less than average, while peak earners weighed around 207 lbs. What is interesting is that this weight wage gap only seems to exist for women. Men do not have a wage gap. Dr. Jill explains, “Research has also shown that men who are fat, sometimes their income goes up. Whereas women who are fat, their income tends to go down.” Overweight men receive bigger salaries, while women have to slim down to get fatter paychecks.

Dr. Jill believes that women should be able to walk into any workplace confident and focused on the skillset, expertise and wisdom that they bring to their job. She emphasizes that women should not have to worry about what they are wearing – the length of their skirt or the height of their heels or whether their hair bounces in the wind or not.

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Dr. Jill believes, “We should be able to have our own personal style. We should be able to have our clothing, our accessories, our entire adornment match who we are. Because that is what is going to help us do a better job, not fitting into someone else’s mold.”



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