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Webgrrls Wisdom » Sexonomics – women should use their looks in the workplace

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Welcome to Webgrrls Wisdom, a blog to find commentaries about women's careers, business, technology, and the industry.

Sexonomics – women should use their looks in the workplace

written by Maria Botta
Maria Botta
Topics: Blogs, Business, Career, How-To, Leadership, Marketing, Mentors & Motivators, Technology
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“Go home, take a paper bag, cut some eyeholes out of it. Put it over your head, get undressed and look at yourself in the mirror. Really evaluate where your strengths and weaknesses are. And be honest.” Mad Men, Joan Holloway

Sexonomics ?

I am NOT talking about the oldest profession in the world here, (although I am sure that is a profession where there is pay parity for women). I am talking about sexual capital in the workplace, as defined by Catherine Hakim, a professor at the prestigious London School of Economics and author of “Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom”. She explains that “sexonomics” is the sexual allure that people use as a commodity for profit and professional advancement just as they would use education or their network. Hakim explains that the “male sex deficit,” is something that women should leverage often in order to attain career advancement or a wedding ring. 

Sexy in the workplace?

As the pendulum is sure to swing – are we starting to see a time where women will no longer be repressed in the workplace and be able to flaunt their sexuality and femininity without the repercussions of being labeled as “prissy”, “distracting” or worse yet suffer unwanted sexual advances…. I sure hope so!

The TV character  “Joan Harris” on Mad Men – reminds me of the very good lessons that the legendary Ariel Allen, VP Creative Services, Global Advertising at Colgate-Palmolive taught me very early on in my career – Always apply lipstick before and sometimes during a meeting, and touch up your make-up before going to battle in the boardroom.

She was not only brilliant, sharp, fearless and a no bullshit kind of lady, but she was also beautiful, and never missed an opportunity to show the world.  She was completely contrary to what I had learned in college – we where taught that to be non-sexual was important, by not wearing heels or showing cleavage, we could level the playing field and be equal to men (needless to say that spawned a number of very poor wardrobe choices, including wearing those stupid tie things in the 80’s……) 

If I could go back, I would have been bolder and sexier in the workplace and used my looks and youth to get ahead! (my apologies to Gloria Steinem) Especially in light of a recent British report, which states that women will not reach pay equality for 100 years!!!! Ladies, we need every advantage we can get! 

But not every woman would agree with this – there are those feminist like Steinem, that took up the fight to give women the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that guarantees “equal pay” under the law – which to this day still does not exist, AND we work twice as hard for our pay – what’s equal about that? In fact women ONLY make .77 cents to each dollar that men make,and it decreases significantly for minorities.

“The world today is vastly different than it was in 1983, but sadly, one thing that has remained the same is the pay gap between men and women….. If this continues, the only guarantees in life will be death, taxes and the glass ceiling”  US Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York

Should we use our looks in the workplace – Hell Yes!!!!!

Consider these statistics 

  • Women’s wages have increased just half a penny on the dollar for the past four decades. 
  • Women earn less than men consistently in all industries and occupation groups surveyed by the US Census Bureau.  
  • According to the GAO (General Accountability Office) Report GAO-04-35, weekly full time earnings for women where about three-fourths of men in 2011.
  • Men with children generally get a pay boost, while women loose earnings.

Consistent with this information is a 2008 study by University of Chicago sociologist Kristen Schilt and NYU economist Matthew Wiswall “Before and After: Gender Transitions, Human Capital, and Workplace Experiences”, people who underwent a sex change –  men who transitioned to women earned, on average, 32% less post surgery, women who became men, earned 1.5% more.

What to do???

I say embrace your inner “Chonga” and get yourself to Banana Republic where you can outfit yourself in fetching 60’s fashions like “Joanie” from Mad Men….. walk into your office, with a beautifully made up face, head held high in a tight dress, push up bra (don’t forget the Spanx) while balancing on your 5 inch leopard stilettos, sashay into your bosses office, lean over his desk and get that promotion or pay raise that your male colleague already has!!!!!

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Did you enjoy this post? Comments (12)


Comment by Andrea
2011-09-09 11:18:44

Women should do whatever they want to do. Some women will use sex appeal, some won’t. The point is that you get to do whatever the hell you want.

Comment by NN
2011-09-09 11:26:51

Most attractive people–men and women–use their looks to get ahead. Even if they don’t try to, their looks help them. But note that your advice is inapplicable to a significant percentage of less pretty, less slim, less young women.

Comment by Maria
2011-09-09 11:30:40

Amen to that! And that was kind of the point of the piece, a little”tongue in cheek” to generate some good discussion about the fact that today we have a choice AND that maybe some of the tactics that feminism taught us where not always so great….

Comment by Maria
2011-09-09 12:21:45

Looks, weight and height matter to both genders – In Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, half of the companies on the Fortune 500 were polled about the height of their CEOs -male CEOs were just under 6-feet tall, or 3 inches taller than the average man. For women, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research – 1% increase in body mass as measured by the body mass index results in a 0.6 percentage point decrease in family income.

Attractive women suffer too – there is the recent case of Banker Debrahlee Lorenzana, a Citibank employee who claims her boss thought she was “Too Hot To Be a Banker”- Village Voice http://bit.ly/pZfeXM

Comment by Liane Sabina
2011-09-09 17:40:12

My comment to my beautiful sisters out there is that most of you don’t realize how beautiful you are. We have the advantage over men in the looks enhancement department. They are expected to be taller to be attractive to be considered attractive, we don’t and they can dress well and lose weight but thy can wear makeup. :) I know many out there are busy Moms with barely enough time To brush your teeth & comb your hair but my firm belief after seeing so many makeover shows, not necessarily extreme makeover shows is that 90% of us women, of all shapes and sizes can be truly beautiful and just don’t know it. Take on a class in makeup application and dressing for your body type as a professional continuing education. Very importantly visit a really good hairdresser and be open to changing your hairstyle to something more modern, flaterrig and youthful. Then tell me that you don’t feel attractive. We have one life toivr ladies, you might as well look as good as possible living it, you never know what might happen. What do we have to lose? I think I’m on to something, Mari I may need your help in starting a new business.

Comment by Maria Botta
2011-09-09 20:37:54

I have gotten an incredible amount of response from this blogpost from women all over the world – some agree others didn’t get my point.

Here is one response from a woman named S. Clay:

“This is such a powerful issue! Sex is power, if men use it to repress women (Mad Men) why shouldn’t we use it as women …. I have starved myself to not have breasts on wall street and had to grow them back when I went into sales.

I think that the men that I want to do business with are not afraid of gorgeous women, if they dress and act with class. (a black suit and a strand of pearls has taken me far.)…. If a woman is “sexy” she will attract attention anyway. (corporate world) We are underestimated and the chauvinistic overestimate themselves. This can become a great advantage, Women need to empower themselves and if we are confident and COMPETENT it may be empowering; or if ignored it can be very disempowering….

Comment by Empty Sack
2011-09-18 16:59:15

I am afraid your advice (to my female colleagues) would not work on me. Unfortunately.

Comment by Kay
2011-12-09 17:49:26

Maria, I am a woman, but I am appalled at your selfishness and your lack of common sense in this area. Cleavage and thigh involuntarily distracts a man from his job. Even the prostitutes know that dressing sexy distracts a man.

Yes, there should be equal pay for equal work, but sexually harrassing one’s innocent male colleaques who have nothing to do with setting the pay rate is not the fair way to attempt to get a pay raise.

Comment by Chris
2012-01-30 21:45:21

At the risk of sounding like a chauvinistic douche, your article honestly sounds as if it was written by a cave woman who just so happens to speak English. Seriously, you may be physically attractive, but you don’t seem to realize 2 things:

1. Sex appeal as erotic capital
What is the core value that traditional feminism has fought so hard to establish? That is the equality between sexes. And now here you are saying that in order to be somehow “equal” to men, you need to stoop down to the position of a high-class prostitute. And you expect men to respect you? If you want true equality, you should be campaigning for equal pay based purely on MERIT.

2. How this harms men (and less attractive women)
Well the fact that for every woman out there who relies on her sex appeal to get her way, there is always a man who works hard and takes pride in his work in order to get what he wants. If the boss favors you over the genuinely hard-working man, how is that not discrimination? Two wrongs don’t make a right, and in order to combat discrimination against women in the workplace, it is hypocritical to direct that discrimination against men due to the fact that straight male bosses aren’t turned on by them, and the fact that men are assigned to a more rigid dress code, which makes the playing field uneven. Besides, many people (men and women) are uncomfortable with showing off their bodies (think Ellen Degeneres), so what advice would you give them? And this doesn’t help the significantly less well-endowed women as well; it only helps a certain segment of the population. The reputable, self-respecting male bosses I know hire people on the basis of merit. They enforce dress codes fairly, meaning that if men cannot expose 2 inches below the neck, women are also expected to button up or be told off by their supervisors. And there is a time and place for skintight revealing clothing: The strip club. Maybe you should consider getting a job at the strip club, if you’re so eager to use your sex appeal to get what you want. Finally, suppose you get transferred over to a female boss. Then what?

Comment by Maria Botta
2012-01-31 00:42:31

Men are not distracted by attractive women – even without showing cleavage or a thigh – it is nature.

Comment by Maria Botta
2012-02-08 23:32:22


Feminism has failed us – after almost 50 years, women aren’t even close to equal pay. Can you tell me exactly WHAT feminism has done for equality? Snap out of it! the world is NOT a meritocracy and both men AND women are judged by the way we look.

Your assumption that I suggest that a women rely solely on her looks is wrong, a woman should work hard and excel as well as look great. By the way, in my experience, women bosses are much fairer than men, therefore sexual leverage is not needed.

Thank you so much for the career suggestion, if I was younger, I may have considered it, those ladies really make great money!

Comment by Ross
2012-05-15 06:23:23

according to research showing cleavage at the office is on the increase – why do women feel it necessary to show it if it distracts men in the office trying t concentrate on their work

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