makeup a career issue

Makeup: A career issue for both men and women!

How makeup is impacting the workplace

I was facilitating a meeting in Paris some years ago and one delegate asked about women, makeup and career advancement. Is makeup a career issue? In a professional world driven by gender stereotypes  – of course it’s an issue for both men and women.

There wasn’t time to go into it in detail – but we were obviously in France where the grooming benchmark is particularly high. As I was still recovering from surgery and leading the meeting on one crutch (not the height of chic) and struggling to stay on my high heels, I possibly may not have been a convincing fashionista. In fact had I not been wearing makeup, combined with my crutch, I suspect para medics might have been put on alert.

Visual world

There is much research to suggest that basic looks, appearance and grooming lead to more rapid promotions and higher salaries. We live in a visual world where appearances matter. However, just to focus on one tiny aspect of the lookism and appearance issue, is the application of makeup that critical to career success? There is strong empirical evidence to suggest there is a connection for women.

Make up = making an effort

A recent survey, commissioned by The Aziz Corporation, reveals new information about appearance in the workplace. A survey reported in The Times also suggests that 64%  of directors considered women who wore make-up look more professional and 18% of directors said that women who do not wear make-up “look like they can’t be bothered to make an effort”.

They of course would tend to be male.

As a career coach I  always explain the research results and let them make their own decisions. I would advise any woman to focus on overall professional grooming and that would include sector appropriate make-up if they felt comfortable doing so. In a general professional sense all women are advised to wear light make up. A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetics Science in 2006 on Caucasian women has found that people judge women wearing cosmetics as higher earners with more prestigious jobs.

But of course a further trap for women and we have to get it right. Too much makeup and women look “slutty.”

Positive messages

Claire Soper an Image Consultant based in Brussels told me “Without doubt make-up is part of your professional dress and is as important as your outfit. It must be appropriate and well applied and if you wear none, you look under dressed. A well-groomed look sends a positive message about who you, your capabilities and potential.

Think about how you are perceived if you wear none? Believe it or not you could be sending signals that you are disorganized, uninterested and unable to cope and you need to be aware of this. We can control the way we look but not how people perceive us and our professional dress, the impact our image makes has a massive impact on our chances of promotion and career advancement. Know that internal career progression is based 50% on image!”

Gender bias

According to the Mail Online, the average British woman spends £9000 in a lifetime on makeup. Given that women are the greatest global consumer group, I’m assuming the minute they start feeling OK with their faces, bodies and general appearances whole industry sectors would simply disappear. It would seem that there are certain economic imperatives for us all to feel insecure about our appearance and therefore spend huge sums striving for improvement.

However in light of Josef Ackmerman’s CEO of Deutsche Bank’s suggestion that women would  “add colour to the boardroom“, a major faux pas, how and where do we we start overturning traditional stereotypes?

Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Member of the European Party retorted pretty promptly “If Mr Ackermann wants more color in the management board, he should hang pictures on the wall.”

Claire adds “If you look capable, motivated and interested you stand a better chance of getting the promotion. It’s about releasing your potential. Many people’s careers are blocked simply because of the way they dress and women in particular, can gain authority and credibility by wearing make-up so they are perceived as somebody worth listening to.”

The male view

Further research from The Aziz Corporation would indicate that men are also changing their perceptions about personal grooming. According to a study a carried out by Opinion Research, cited in the Mail Online – there is a sharp rise in male attention to makeup, with 20% admitting to wearing it to work.

William, a Senior Partner in an international law firm told me “we live in such a “lookist” society that of course I use men’s grooming products. Men have to make sure their grooming assistance is not obvious. Women are actually lucky in this area because they can hide and enhance certain aspects of their appearance with makeup. At one time men as they got older, were deemed distinguished and women were simply “older”.

Now it’s changing. If a man obviously wore make-up, it would probably be professional suicide. Most of the well-groomed women I know in their 50s, look way better than their male counterparts. An increasingly number of men in my circle have had cosmetic surgery to maintain a more youthful appearance, because they see it as a professional advantage .”

Nip/tucking does indeed seem a bit drastic, when a quick dab of YSL Touche Eclat might do the trick. Guys – here’s how!

Driven by gender stereotypes

So I wondered, thinking that through, is it really better to be in a lower earning junior position, looking younger, wearing full make-up , than being a senior partner, on a great salary, looking his age? “That’s the irony” said Tom ” women are penalised for not wearing make-up and men would be penalised for doing so

So is it time to let go of our stereotypes and if women want to go to work without their “faces” and men want to head for the cosmetic counter, or will light makeup eventually be recommended for both sexes to enhance career prospects? Should any of it make a difference to the way we’re perceived in the workplace?

What do you think?

If you need help with your job search or career progression  – get in touch NOW! 


19 thoughts on “Makeup: A career issue for both men and women!

  1. marion chapsal

    Dorothy, I’m completely mesmerized by the video tutorial for man make up!
    I am speechless.
    This groomed, sexy, painted bloke looks like he’s preparing for stage performance.
    Maybe it’s what needs to be done if you’re making a television show or shooting a video .
    Still, I maybe very “reac”, stereotyped myself, but I couldn’t imagine a young man wanting to do that before going to the office. or an older 50 something baby boomer getting groomed like a Indian Chief on the way to War!
    If it’s what equality means, then I’d rather see women spending less time and money on their appearance, on make-up and surgery, and more on healthy habbits, diet, breathing, relaxing , exercising and making love!
    Also on cultivating beauty from inside, which I really believe shows on the outside.
    I’m mixed, because I do use make up and I don’t really see why men wouldn’t not.
    But please, don’t escalade this tendancy so that we all look the same sort of botoxed robots!
    Lines are beautiful on an intelligent and smiling face!

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Marion – I agree you are so right ” The only lasting beauty is the beauty of the heart.” ~ Rumi , but this sadly does not seem to be consistent with the society we live in and the way we are professionally perceived. There are whole global business sectors that don’t want us to be satisfied with the way we look ” au naturel” -whether it’s our skin tone, hair colour or eyes. For both sexes.

      I was astonished to hear that 20% of men war makeup to work and the number of people having cosmetic surgery for professional reasons. I thought the tutorial was effective – you couldn’t tell he was wearing makeup at all. That was just one I selected at random – there are many more.

  2. Ann Lewis

    Oh dear, oh dear, Dorothy, another great post, and I have to respond to this one.

    I completely agree that good grooming and smart dress are important. And a good haircut is essential. However, I personally wear little or no make-up. It’s not because I am “disorganized, uninterested and unable to cope”. It’s because I refuse to buy the view that a woman is only acceptable if she’s painted.

    If the business world is really so narrow-minded as to believe that a woman who is alert, up to date, competent, fit and happy is “disorganised, uninterested and unable to cope” (sorry to repeat myself, but I find that description very hard to swallow) then I think crash courses in emotional and spiritual awareness are urgent and long overdue.

    Presence doesn’t reside in paint. It resides in the heart. It shines from within, and no amount of make up or lack of it can disguise an individual’s true nature. There’s no hiding place. Certainly not behind make-up.

    Very best wishes


    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Ann – I don’t actually disagree with you but if you look deeper into the research pre-conceived ideas are based on all manner of things: height, weight, hair colouring ( blondes earn more than brunettes) posture, symmetry etc and make-up is just a small part of it all. We should of course all be judged on who we are and what we can do – but sadly in our world today this isn’t the case.

      1. Ann Lewis

        You’re right, of course, Dorothy. There’s no arguing with prejudice. And no hope for greying brunettes either, then?

        Ah well, I shall cultivate my crows feet and maybe look out for a good, well-crafted broomstick. And I shall go down fighting!

  3. Wendy Mason

    Hi Dorothy – a great piece as usual. The first businessman I encountered wearing make up was the head of a major sales team in the IT industry a few years back! I had known him for a while and I suddenly realised at a key event, where he was in the spotlight, that he looked different. He was incredibly good at his job but of a certain age in a very competitive and young environment. He was actually outstandingly good looking without the ‘slap’. But I can totally understand why he made the choice! I do too and for some of the same reasons. The advantage I have is that I enjoy wearing it!
    I want the people I meet at work and elsewhere to think I have made an effort! For me putting on make up is like making sure my shoes are clean – partly self-respect and to build my confidence and partly good manners.
    I hear what Marion says above about wrinkles and I am proud of mine but I don’t necessarily want to parade them! I don’t have a complexion that looks good to me without added colour and it is my choice to apply it!

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Wendy for your comment. I should tell non UK readers ” slap” is slang for makeup! Well it’s interesting isn’t it as people’s professional lives are longer than before and we live in a lookist culture, will more and more older people of both sexes take to the knife to become more youthful in their extended careers. Or will the use of make up become more prevelant with men. I was pretty surprised but the ” metrosexual” male is seemingly on the increase.

      I personally wear makeup and on one occasion on the way back from the gym wearing none, I saw a potential business associate and actually hid! I’ve written about it. Think that was a strategic move on my part!

  4. Geraldine Bown

    For 23 years my hair was pink, purple and aubergine. People told me I would never get work as a consultant because I looked far too ‘whacky’. They were wrong. I did. I think it comes down to weighing up what messages you think people will get from your dress and deciding whether or not you care enough to change. When I started out over 20 years ago talking about women and equality, I knew that the (mainly) men in the audience who held the power would not like what I had to say and would want to dismiss me as feminist, lesbian, separatist – any label which would mean they had a reason not to see me as credible. So I set out to dress like a Tory (Conservative party UK) wife – designer clothes, make up, smiling, charming so they were completely non-threatened by me. By the time they realised what I was actually saying which was very radical, they were forced to react to my words because I had given them no reason to dismiss me personally. Now although I am naturally smiling and like to wear make up I did dress in enough charm to hide my natural instincts to head butt most of them! (And I didn’t compromise on the purple hair). But I find the general trend worrying. For all the talk about beauty being within and being heart centred and spiritual connection with others being most important, we are increasingly concerned only with superficial characteristics. And now we have men wearing make up too! As usual it will take some courageous women to change things….as did the suffragettes as did the women from Dagenham re the Equal Pay act. Please let’s continue to teach women and men about the meaning of authenticity and not about what colour lipstick they should wear.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Geraldine – thanks for your comment. I think historically makeup has played a key part in the lives of a certain class of men and women – this is just one link I tapped into. Perhaps the major difference is the scale of use and the scale of insecurity.

      It was interesting that UBS was mocked globally for introducing a 44 page dress code manual, including the application of makeup and is now revising its guidelines As organisations become more relaxed with dress down days and home working, perhaps it will only be in client facing situations that these expectations will be implemented. But perhaps eventually clients won’t expect it either!

  5. Jennifer

    Hi Dorothy – I have read the article and comments with interest and am suprised that the wearing of makeup is so linked to insecurity and lack of confidence with no mention of self expression.

    I wear makeup ( I also have a discreet tattoo). Like you I am very fair and feel that if I didn’t I would appear a little washed out and pale. Pallor conveys ill health (which you alluded to in your funny story about doing your presentation with a crutch). Organisations want to see their employees are healthy and strong! I am a confident person with the insight to accentuate my best features and the intelligence to disguise potential weaknesses. I think that’s smart and strategic. Many of my male colleagues wear concealer and use products to disguise razor burn, broken veins and spots. Corporate life is a stage and we are the players. It’s nothing more than that! We dress the part but in doing so it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are selling our souls or in any way feel unworthy!

  6. Peter

    This is an interesting post. Your commentator was correct about male grooming products. An increasing number of men use products to enhance their appearance. To deny that would be ridiculous in the face of the boom in sales of male cosmetics and other products – from colognes to face scrubs to waxing products. This is mainly about fashion and a wish to fight the passage of time for the older generations, with such a current emphasis on youth culture. My senior manager clearly low lights his hair! I don’t think any less of him for doing that. We will all probably do it at his age.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Peter – thanks for stopping by! From your perspective it all sounds more about the need to appear youthful for older generations, at a time where perhaps age and experience are less “revered” than in previous generations. But in general terms not a big deal. Interesting input!

  7. Courteny Parker

    I think for most of my generation ( I’m 26) wearing make up is a personal choice and something we all do to go to work and for a night out. For most of us it has the same significance as putting on business attire and nothing deeper than that. I don’t know anyone who would consider it as selling out. It’s just fun because most of us look better with it on than without it. Mainly because normally eyes are accentuated and eye contact is important in communication.

    I wonder if it’s a generational issue? Are older men and women more aware of any negative issues than the younger generations. Is it more about the aging process than the cosmetic process?

  8. Dave Velasco

    Actually there is nothing wrong about men using make ups.. There are just misconceptions about it and that others don’t understand sometimes. But people also need to know when to use it and how, what purpose too, so that people won’t take other meaning for it even for a cosmetology license individual

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