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Study: Women in heavier makeup are less likely to be seen as leaders

For women to be taken seriously by their colleagues at work, they may have to hold back on the mascara. According to new research from psychology researchers in Scotland, women get taken less seriously as competent leaders when they wear too much makeup.

To test the effect of makeup on our ability to see women as leaders, Abertay University researchers recruited more than 150 participants to look at multiple computer-generated versions of the sixteen women’s faces — one version with makeup used for a “a social night out,” one with moderate makeup, and one with no makeup.

Regardless of the gender or race of the participants, they all judged women with the heaviest makeup to be less effective leaders.

Past makeup studies have shown pros and cons

Previous studies found that makeup on women can make them appear more desirable to other men and more dominant compared to other women. That’s a trait that may help them on a night on the town, but not in the office, the study concluded. “Makeup enhances perceptions of traits that are important for successful female mating competition but not other components of social dominance such as leadership,” the study states.


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Makeup’s ability to get women ahead in their careers is limited. A Harvard/Boston University study found that women with makeup were overall judged as more competent than women without makeup, but women with “glamorous” looks were seen as less trustworthy than those with “natural” or “professional” makeup looks.

The stakes of what your face looks like are high in the workplace. Your face can appear on job applications, author pages, and websites. You want to make sure what you are projecting is aligned with your professional ambitions.

In an ideal world, your leadership ability would be determined by job performance, not your smoky eyeshadow. But these studies remind us that we are not yet in that world.

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