Are You Guilty of Common Female Prejudices at Work?

Last night at dinner my 17 year old sister was telling me all about her AP Psychology class.  Her class is watching a film in which ABC set up different awkward situations to see how the common person reacted, if they would call for help and, therefore, if they were prejudice.

For example, one of the situations had a bunch of white kids spray painting a car while a few black kids were sitting in a car nearby.  They had a pretty blonde girl pass out on a busy sidewalk and a man dressed up to appear homeless pass out on that same sidewalk.  As you may have guessed, the reactions in each situation were completely different.

Obviously these totally bizarre scenarios of prejudice sparked a lot of dinner conversation, which led us down the path of common prejudices in the work place.  Note: the scenarios we discussed were specifically related to women.  Men, I’d love for you to weigh in on these.

Is there such a thing as being “too pretty” at work?

One of my absolutely adorable and fashion forward friends from college (who also happened to be a double major, “Type A” personality and straight-A student) spent a summer of college interning at a very competitive and reputable consulting firm in Chicago.  She often worked through the weekends and late at night.  She went way beyond the call of duty for an intern.  The end of the summer came quickly and she was excitedly anticipating the opportunity to work for the firm after graduation. 

At the end of the summer the firm sat her down and said she was a great intern and a hard worker but they didn’t like the way she dressed so they were not going to offer her a full time position.  They felt she was a bit too fashion forward for the industry and showed too much personality in her wardrobe choices.  They needed someone who “took the job seriously” and would be more conservative for the clients.  Mind you, she wore suits every day (and I’m sure she threw in some scarves, fun earrings, or colored shoes on occasion too).   

When I heard this story I couldn’t even believe it was for real!  This girl has the best professional wardrobe I have ever seen.  She is not revealing in her clothing choices at all either.  Why did being too fashionable or “too pretty” at work hurt her?

Now let’s play a work place prejudice game. 

Rules: Read the four scenarios below.  Share the FIRST word/thought that comes to mind when you read each scenario. 

  1. What do you think when you see a put together, fashion forward female at the office?  She’s wearing a beautiful skirt suit, great perfume, her nails are done, her hair is styled, and she is wearing full make up and heels.  How about when you see an overweight woman, who always wears her hair in a wet slicked back bun, wears tennis shoes with her suit and doesn’t wear makeup?
  2. You’re sitting at a meeting and notice a woman across the table is tilting her head to the side and constantly smiling/ nodding to everything your regional manager says.  When put on the spot she responds immediately and often says sorry for things she didn’t do wrong.  What’s your first impression of this woman?  How would the regional manager’s perception of her change if she kept a straight face, only nodded on occasion and was left a pause before responding?
  3. You work in a business casual environment.  Most people in your office push the limit on “business casual” and go more “casual” than “business” in their wardrobe choices. You like wearing suits every day.  What do you think about a person who chooses to dress “above” the dress code?  Is she alienating herself?  Does she appear to “think she’s better than other people?”  Do her suits make her co-workers uncomfortable?
  4. You have a female manager who is afraid to clearly delegate tasks and projects to you.  Instead she hangs at your desk and tries to start up lame and awkward small talk.  When she finally gets around to asking you for what she needs, she always ends with “if you have time,” “I hope that’s ok…” or “I’m so sorry I hope this isn’t too much!”  Does being too nice as a female manager make you a bad manager?

Perception is Reality

Although we may not think we are “prejudice” about these little details, the exercise above most likely revealed that we all are. 

Now consider yourself.  What do you wear to the office?  How do others perceive it?  How do you respond to superiors during meetings?  Do you constantly apologize for things you didn’t do wrong?  Do you appear to be isolating yourself based on your dress?  Are you petrified of awkward pauses?  Do you respond to every email you get immediately?

How are people perceiving you?

Nicole Emerick

Nicole Emerick founded Ms. Career Girl in 2008 to help other ambitious young professional women thrive in a career they love. Ironically, growing MsCareerGirl helped Nicole transition her own career from commercial banker to digital marketer. Today Nicole leads the social media team at a large advertising agency in Chicago. Nicole also served as an adjunct professor at DePaul University where she helped develop the careers of PR, Advertising and Communications students. Tweet with Nicole @_NicoleEmerick.

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