A new alarming study from Frontiers in Psychology finds that women will be perceived as more successful in their careers if they are wearing business attire while in the presence of men.
The research looked at ratings of economic status and attractiveness in both men and women. To test this out, the researchers asked 1,359 male and female participants (over the age of 18) to rate male and female subjects in stock photos that were pictured either by themselves or with only one, two, or at most four other people of the opposite sex.
The photos had some of the subjects in business attire and some casual. Business attire was defined as “dark, angular, traditional business suits whereas casual attire referred to light, informal, everyday wear. There were four business and five casual attired target males and five business and four casual attired target females. “
The people viewing the photos of the subjects were then asked to rate them for attractiveness and economic success. The viewers found that men’s attractiveness levels and business success were not impacted by the presence of a female in the photo. However, this was not the case for the ladies. When men were present with the women the participant believed the woman made more money, but only if the woman was in business attire.
The female subjects were also rated as less attractive when they wore business attire (by male participants) then their casually dressed female counterparts. But the men in business attire were considered more attractive than their casual counterparts.
The authors concluded that the economic success of men was not impacted by the presence of women in photos while women were looked at as more successful as long as they had men in the photos. This does contrast with studies from previous years which found that women were perceived as inferior to men when it came to productivity with tasks, economic prowess, and social status by simply being in the presence of a man. This indicates that business attire sends a signal that the woman is more capable in her career and because she is in the company of men, she must be powerful.
However, what this study also shows is that on a level of attraction a woman dressed in business attire is not as attractive as her counterpart in more casual and traditionally feminine clothing. The authors of the study wrote, “Based on mate choice copying theories (Waynforth, 2007; Gouda-Vossos et al., 2018), we hypothesized that males would attain high ratings of physical attractiveness and economic status when presented in high status attire (i.e., business attire) regardless of the attire the opposite sex other. As economic status may not have had strong effects on female reproductive success during human evolution (Betzig, 1986), we did not predict a positive association between attractiveness and economic status with target females. Based on the results of Study 1, we predicted that female economic status will be limited to the ratings of males when in casual but not business attire.”
The results of this study are somewhat predictable but not completely depressing. Overall both men and women benefit from being in high-status positions but men benefit more. Previous studies have also shown that both men and women benefit in their careers from being more attractive.