The art of playing the sex-kitten card at work

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The current issue of Psychology Today asks: Are you too sexy for your job?

This article has good information about managing your image. Here are the nuggets I liked best:

1. Wear short, low-maintenance hair.
“Both sexes perceive women with long, straight, blond hair as being sexy and those who have short, highlighted hair as smart and confident, but not sexy. More hair equals more femininity but also less intelligence. Likewise, high-maintenance hair makes others suspicious about a woman’s competence.” (From Marianne LaFrance, psychologist at Yale University.)

2. Wear a little bit of makeup.
“Women who wear excessive makeup are seen as trying too hard. But both sexes rate women who forgo makeup as less committed to their jobs.” (From Sherry Myaysonave, author of Casual Power.)

3. Don’t dress like the guys.
“When male executives are asked what holds top women back in the workplace, appearing too masculine is always in the top five. Most men think women should be business-like, but should not try to join the club.” (From Debra Benton, author of How to Think Like a CEO.)

29 replies
  1. Your HR Guy
    Your HR Guy says:

    I think medium-long hair can be done right but it is certainly more difficult. It can’t be too flashy or trendy but you really can’t go ultra-conservative either. Short hair makes sense for a lot of reasons though but if it doesn’t work for you personally, you probably shouldn’t try it.

  2. bauhaus_sea
    bauhaus_sea says:

    I suspect it may be more nuanced than that, actually. For example, at my prior job, which was heavily male and technology dominant, the less a woman looked “feminine”, the more she was treated as a colleague. In general, the more a woman looked like a woman, the less comfortable they were around her. I am painting with broad strokes, but as a woman who likes to dress stylish (read not just jeans and tshirts like the males in that environment), who does wear makeup, and who wears her brunette hair just below the shoulder, well this was how it was for me.

  3. Robert
    Robert says:

    I think the sexier the better…Most REAL men LOVE to hang around women who look like women….What red-blooded male doesn’t want to hang around women who look and dress that way?

  4. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    To answer Robert: Those of us who have discovered that the “sexy” girl is just that, a sexy girl, not someone who can be counted on to get the job done right. Send her over to marketing where they all seem to be nothing more than booth bunnies, but keep her out of my IT department!

    • p.random.1234
      p.random.1234 says:

      Misogynistic and offensive, jrandom! Shame on you for being so insensitive. Being beautiful and being smart are not mutually exclusive.

      • jrandom42
        jrandom42 says:

        If she’s trading on her sex appeal rather than her technical skills, it’s her own fault if I don’t take her abilities seriously.

  5. Diana Maus
    Diana Maus says:

    “Most men think women should be business-like, but should not try to join the club” What club? Can we please retire this tired phrase? It implies that women should stop trying to belong on an equal footing.

    And what is business-like, if not looking as asexual and as little like an individual as possible? Trying to keep sexuality out of the office clearly has not worked so can we give up the act and be ourselves again? Wear your hair how you want. Lots of sterotypes reinforced in the comments here! Come on you guys, women with long hair are not as smart? really? Amazing.

  6. Jen
    Jen says:

    Hear, hear, Diana!

    From the perspectives of being female and having had short and long blond hair….

    I have no problem coming across as intelligent in the workplace, regardless of hair length. (FWIW, I wear conservative makeup and live in Florida.)

    However… I’ve found it a little easier to get along with men in the workplace with longer blond hair and a slightly sexy image. Maybe it lowers their defenses — who knows?

  7. Veterinarian
    Veterinarian says:

    The points you’ve mentioned are all simply true. Especially the third. I was working at a company few years back and that was one of the things women did there. Trying to join the club :) Your blog is really awesome Penelope. Keep it up.

  8. Ellie
    Ellie says:

    I have long, brown hair and I have never dressed masculine, but I’m not perceived as unintelligent, I have recently got a new job over plenty of men in business development and am already on track for a pay rise!!! I think your just looking at the stereotypes of women and not the reality!!

    • The translator
      The translator says:

      Ellie, you mean to say “I think YOU’RE just looking at the stereotypes of women…”? Yeah, spelling counts when trying to be perceived as intelligent!!!

  9. Lap dancing jobs
    Lap dancing jobs says:

    Interesting article indeed. In my earlier job being the sex kitten type got me lots of things done in less trouble. Certainly helpful at times. But you have to make sure you done over do it.

  10. LMS
    LMS says:

    True, it can definitely get you up the ladder, whether you are enjoying it in the process is all up to you :D But I guess it is always good to be prepared!!

  11. matchmaker
    matchmaker says:

    I love making these! When I was growing up my brother and I would help my gma and gpa decorate their tree every year. We'd listen to Christmas Music, make dinner, and do a craft. Usually the craft was orange and clove pomander balls. I still enjoy making them today and will continue the tradition with my kids when that day comes. They not only smell heavenly, but they always make me think of my grandma and grandpa.

  12. Laser Hair Removal Liverpool
    Laser Hair Removal Liverpool says:

    Interesting article indeed. Well this might work most of the time but you need to make sure you do not overdo it. If you do it can cause some trouble and people around you can come to really disturbing conclusions about you.

  13. even-star
    even-star says:

    The fact that a man admits that a woman’s appearance is one of the main things that stops her from progressing her career, in spite of her competance, is frankly, pretty pathetic.

  14. Jonha
    Jonha says:

    Hi Penelope.

    I sure need this piece of advice, more than anything else.

    Most men think women should be business-like, but should not try to join the club.” (From Debra Benton, author of How to Think Like a CEO.)

  15. airsun
    airsun says:

    Right on ladies! Enough talk about this so called “club”. Women should be able to dress up the way they want at the office as long as it is not offensive. Men are able to do that, why not us? If men can dress up as if their pants will fall off any second, why do people make a big deal about long haired or short haired women. Women who dress up like men at work are afraid of their sexuality and men who are afraid of women who dress up as WOMEN are the same.

  16. Jalani
    Jalani says:

    I am A young women that is 5’4, has long blond hair and blue eyes. I have had lots interveiws with with both men and women. I have a degree in Buisness Management and working towards a degree in Teaching as well as Child Developement. I have been turned down after I’ve given many professional interveiws. I always dress professional and I have A wonderful resume. In all honesty, I believe that when A women is giving the interveiw she may feel intimidated,jealous and may feel like if she were to hire me then I would be unwanted competition. When A men gives the interveiw, I believe that he may have one or two problems. One, he may feel that if he were to hire me then I may not be smart enough or have good enough work habits. Secondly, he may not trust him self to have a attractive, intelligent women working with them. I feel that it is so wrong to judge people based so much on their appearance. I mean if a women comes in wearing a mini shirt and a blose that is see through or her breast are hanging out then, yes, maybe it is not a good idea to hire her. However, If A women comes in for an interveiw and she seems to have the education, experience and has great work habits then you should think twice about not hiring her. If she is dressed to sexy or flashy but does have an amazing resume, then Maybe it would be best to remind her of the office dress code and mention to her that she does have a great resume but is not properly dressed professionally as the company requires. Tell her that if she will be able and willing to change her appearance then you will be willing to consider hiring her. There is alot of pressure on women these days in the work force. A lot of women think that if they dress sexy then their chances of getting hired will be higher. Thats because in some cases thats the truth. I presonally have a problem with women thinking they have to dress in a sexy manner to get a job. I can’t say enough that if a women who dresses prfessionally and has the experience and all the right work habits she should be given a chance. I shouldn’t have to cut my long blond hair to my ears or change the color or even wear brown contacts. I shouldn’t have to change what god gave me, just to get a job. If an emploryer is going to be so judgemental then I truely feel like thats not the job or the right manager or boss that I want to work with anyway.

  17. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    It’s just really depressing as a woman to think about all of the rules that could possibly confine me in the workplace, and none of them actually concerning the way I work. And this is double disturbing because being a Black woman, I don’t have blond hair or whatever. What happened to looking clean and well dressed in a normal manner and having good work experience?

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