Wage Gap and its Dependency on Beauty Standards
By: Yusra Adil
It is common knowledge to dress appropriately and “look the part” at a workplace, casual yet professional equally, but what that means for women is more sophisticated than it is for men since a lot more is at stake; money is. The reality is that if women, especially in customer service and interaction jobs, don’t conform to beauty standards, they will be paid less. This wage gap is often known as the “grooming gap” which refers to a set of social norms regarding appearance and grooming for women. This gap is highly experienced by women in customer service jobs such as restaurant and hospitality, including flight attendants, bartenders, waitresses as well as female product/service representatives.
For the same amount of work, the expectations for men and women are completely different. For men, professional clothing just means business casual clothing and a short haircut. For women, it can mean hours spent each week on makeup, hair styling, and curating an outfit that’s both attractive and professional. Our society has pressured women to believe that makeup is required at work even when it is not mandatory, for example, an average working woman spends 55 minutes a day on makeup, which is 2 full weeks a year, a ridiculous amount of time wasted not only to feel accepted and conform to society’s expectations but also to earn more money. In a study, Sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner found that physically attractive workers have higher incomes than average-looking workers. Thus, wearing the right clothes, hair and makeup will get you more money.
Agreeably, men also conform to certain grooming expectations, but the expectation for a man is less complex, less expensive, and less time consuming. This is demonstrated by the huge billion-dollar skin and makeup companies whose main earning are due to social pressure and norms for women to appear beautiful and successful. In general, women’s purchases account for 80-90% of an estimated $500 billion market for beauty products. A survey from a beauty retailer, Skinstore, estimated that women spend $300,000 in their lifetime just on their faces (this is based on their customers than the average woman). Even so, the average woman’s daily facial routine consists of 16 products.
The grooming gap is experienced the most by restaurant and hospitality workers, as they depend on tips as their main form of income. CBC Marketplace investigated some of Canada's top restaurant chains and heard from dozens of female staff who say they felt pressured to wear revealing outfits. In a CBC Forum, a female individual stated “It's not just the chains. I worked at a well-established local pub in Ottawa where the predominantly female staff were expected to 'look pretty,' meaning wear make-up, and 'be friendly,' meaning accept the inappropriate comments from male patrons with a smile.” In another restaurant, a female worker said that their manager told them personally to dress pretty, and “spend time on appearances” to earn more tips. In the restaurant and hospitality industry, tips are not based on the service given by the worker, rather the appearance of that worker.
Research studies and surveys support the fact that “better-looking” people receive a wage premium, while those with “below-average” looks incur a wage penalty. This is represented by the two charts, in which we analyze the wage effect between men and women based on beauty specifically in Canada and the US. Comparing Figures 1 and 2, we can see that the wage penalty is a lot higher for women and men compared to wage premium. Therefore, our society harshly penalizes those with “below-average looks” but offers a low incentive for those with “above average looks.”
In addition, the grooming gap also poses further challenges for women with color, and those who don't fit into societal norms. For instance, Black women spent $473 million on relaxers, weaves, and other hair care in 2017, because of racist ideas that natural Black hair is not professional or attractive. Black workers annually spend nine times more on hair and beauty products than other workers. Furthermore, present stereotypes related to jobs also pressure women, such as the fact that women and STEM are not meant to be together. This underestimates a woman's ability. In turn, women engineers are significantly lower than men engineers in the world, increasing male domination in science as well as making it harder for women in STEM fields as they have to prove themselves to earn the same wage as men.
Women all over feel the need to conform to societal laws of attractiveness and femininity in order to prove their intelligence and professionalism. Appearances are validity to judge the true intellect of a person, man, or woman.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the the organization as a whole.
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