Professional Prejudice

I’m sure a lot of you folks have been on job interviews. Maybe they went well, maybe not so much. For any men out there: for even one second, did any part of you wonder whether you didn’t get the job based on your clothing/hair choices? Unlikely.

Today’s post is about something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately, especially in a law school, and that’s what it takes for a woman to be seen as a professional. Dressing business-like is already harder for women than it is for men. For the most part, men can pick out a suit or pants and a dress shirt and be done with it. Shower, shave, pick a tie, and walk out the door. Their bodies are entirely covered, likely in a neutral colour, and they probably look great. For women, it’s a much more complex process.

Recently, law firms in my area hosted interviews to hire potential summer students. Although I did not participate in the process, many of my friends did. For the most part, they all prepared the same way. However, in addition to having to prepare actual answers to possible interview questions, my female friends also spent a lot of time preparing their outfits and how they’d wear their hair and makeup. Now, this is where guys might throw their heads back and laugh at a girl meticulously choosing a “look”. It’s no secret that women are judged more harshly than men based on their appearances in almost all situations, including job interviews and other professional settings. When getting ready for an interview or to meet someone important, we constantly struggle with how we will be perceived. How high of a neckline? Skirt or pants? Heels or flats? Jewelry or none? These might sound like inconsequential decisions to many men and even some women, but the struggle to be perceived as competent and powerful yet feminine, as well as to be taken seriously, is SO real. We are constantly told that dressing in an over-feminine manner (which, in some places, could even mean just wearing a stereotypically feminine colour or a skirt of any length) is a distraction and somehow shows that we don’t take our jobs seriously. Yet when a girl rocks a pant suit or wears no makeup, she’s considered to be too masculine and unapproachable, and receives the same criticism.

I want women to be taken seriously when applying for articling positions or summer internships, or whatever other job they want. I hate the idea of my friends stressing out in their rooms the night before an interview, wondering how to put together a sophisticated outfit that will show both professionalism and femininity. I hate that they stressed over whether to wear their hair in a bun or a ponytail, or to straighten it or not. I hate to think about them considering exactly how to apply their makeup so that it’s subtle and “natural”, even though they might not wear makeup at all in their every day life (for more rants on makeup, see Of Makeup and Men (Mar 9)). The unfortunate truth is that many feel the need to make these decisions, in order to be seen as a hireable candidate. Why does this stuff matter? I’m all for looking clean, professional, and competent, but why does so much extra work have to go into this process for a woman? What a waste of brain power.

After the interview process at my school, I learned that the firms hired many less women than men. This is infuriating particularly because many of the women who interviewed this year are at the top of their class. Plenty of genuinely smart and hard working women were not offered summer jobs, and why not? I can’t say for sure. It makes me nervous to wonder whether their gender or their outfits were part of the reason. The world is missing out on some amazing minds because they can’t get their heads out of their asses long enough to realize that women do not play second-fiddle. In the work force, in whatever form that takes for you, men and women should be seen as humans overall, and the best PERSON for the job should be chosen.

I can’t stop the world from spinning the way it does, but know this: ladies, your resumé, your personality, and your carriage all say more about you than anything you could ever wear. I hope none of you spend a single second doubting yourselves and what you’re about, because being sure of that is way more important than what’s on your back.

They say that it’s a man’s world… but it doesn’t have to be.

**Edit: the original copy of this post stated specific statistics regarding exactly how many men and women were hired through the interview process, however, I’ve discovered that the information given to me was false.


– D


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