A tight skirt can make a smart manager look dumb

Past research has shown that physical attractiveness helps people get ahead. A study published in the latest issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly examines this issue further to find that a sexy self-presentation (i.e. high-heels, a tight skirt, and low-cut blouse) harmed businesswomen. But this negative effect was limited to women in high status positions.

This dress was viewed as inappropriate for both managers and receptionists, but it was only the former that evoked hostile emotions and were deemed less intelligent. “A female manager whose appearance emphasized her sexiness elicited less positive emotions, more negative emotions, and perceptions of less competence on a subjective rating scale and less intelligence on an objective scale,” the authors state.

Male and female participants were shown a video of a businesswoman discussing her general background and hobbies. The scripts and actress remained the same, but her dress and job changed. The sexiness manipulation had no effect on judgments of or emotions toward the receptionist. In contrast, the sexy manager was viewed as less competent as compared to her neutrally attired/more typically professionally dressed counterpart (wearing flat shoes, slacks, and a turtleneck).

Participants rated the woman on her competence, and estimated her GPA and how selective her Alma Mater was. “Although various media directed toward women …encourage women to emphasize their sex appeal, our results suggest that women in high status occupations may have to resist this siren call to obtain the respect of their co-workers,” the authors conclude.

From Psychology of Women Quarterly

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