Why gender inequality and ageism run more than skin deep


As the year draws to a close and we grapple to make sense of the #metoo movement, there are still other troubling cultural attitudes around gender and age in the workforce that need to be addressed.

Women’s looks continue to factor heavily in their employment, and adding age into the mix certainly doesn’t help. It seems like we need to delve much deeper into societal attitudes about gender before we can hope to solve issues like sexual harassment, the gender pay gap and the absence of women in leadership roles.

Last year, HRM reported on the “beauty bonus”, and how our unconscious bias towards attractive people had a real-world effect. Namely the better looking you are, the more likely you are to earn a better wage and be further on in your career (it also helps to be tall, and blonde). Physical qualities that our culture considers undesirable (such as being overweight) tracked in the opposite direction.

Perhaps not surprisingly, only women were also punished for being beautiful. Studies show that they were less likely to be hired for certain jobs considered “masculine”. Attractive men faced no such bias in any industry or career.

In a recent article, the Sydney Morning Herald posed that age old question “Is botox good for your career?” Both banking head Anna Bligh and actress Rebecca Gibney have confessed to getting jabs in the past, with Gibney likening the procedure to “having a facial”. And it’s not just women. “Brotox” appears to be growing in popularity, with men such as Simon Cowell known to have had the procedure. Around three quarters of Australian men say they are not averse to the idea of cosmetic enhancements, according to  a 2016 study by the Cosmetic Physicians College of Australasia (CPCA). This is up from 50 per cent in 2014.

In fact, Australians spend an estimated $1b on plastic surgery per year, which is 40 per cent more than in the US, per capita.

One of the driving factors for the change in attitude to cosmetic surgery is worries about looking old and how that impacts on careers and job interviews, promotions etc.

Neat vs plastic

While looking presentable and taking care of yourself are no doubt positive things that make a good impression on employers, do the recent trends in plastic surgery use suggest that we are taking things a bit too far? Is an obsessive focus on looks playing into troubling cultural ideals about age and gender? Bill Thomas, a geriatrician based in the US says people who get work done to stave off old age are inadvertently perpetuating ageism by rejecting the features of their own older age and buying into the notion that they are unacceptable as they are. Thomas says that it’s understandable, however, in a society obsessed with youth and good looks. “People are making a calculated decision, trying to escape the stigma of ageing and buy a little time, be in the world and not be sidelined because of their appearance,” he says.

Women seem to feel that stigma especially harshly.

Gender inequality becomes more sharply focussed when women age, with 34 per cent of single women over 60 reported to be in “permanent income poverty” (as opposed to 29 per cent of single men).  Continuing to equate women’s worth with their youth and appearance is a root problem that should be tackled if we want to get anywhere with achieving gender equality.

What do you think?

Better understand how you can help address sexual harassment in your organisation or university, with AHRI’s new eLearning modules for organisationsuniversities and managers.

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Why gender inequality and ageism run more than skin deep


As the year draws to a close and we grapple to make sense of the #metoo movement, there are still other troubling cultural attitudes around gender and age in the workforce that need to be addressed.

Women’s looks continue to factor heavily in their employment, and adding age into the mix certainly doesn’t help. It seems like we need to delve much deeper into societal attitudes about gender before we can hope to solve issues like sexual harassment, the gender pay gap and the absence of women in leadership roles.

Last year, HRM reported on the “beauty bonus”, and how our unconscious bias towards attractive people had a real-world effect. Namely the better looking you are, the more likely you are to earn a better wage and be further on in your career (it also helps to be tall, and blonde). Physical qualities that our culture considers undesirable (such as being overweight) tracked in the opposite direction.

Perhaps not surprisingly, only women were also punished for being beautiful. Studies show that they were less likely to be hired for certain jobs considered “masculine”. Attractive men faced no such bias in any industry or career.

In a recent article, the Sydney Morning Herald posed that age old question “Is botox good for your career?” Both banking head Anna Bligh and actress Rebecca Gibney have confessed to getting jabs in the past, with Gibney likening the procedure to “having a facial”. And it’s not just women. “Brotox” appears to be growing in popularity, with men such as Simon Cowell known to have had the procedure. Around three quarters of Australian men say they are not averse to the idea of cosmetic enhancements, according to  a 2016 study by the Cosmetic Physicians College of Australasia (CPCA). This is up from 50 per cent in 2014.

In fact, Australians spend an estimated $1b on plastic surgery per year, which is 40 per cent more than in the US, per capita.

One of the driving factors for the change in attitude to cosmetic surgery is worries about looking old and how that impacts on careers and job interviews, promotions etc.

Neat vs plastic

While looking presentable and taking care of yourself are no doubt positive things that make a good impression on employers, do the recent trends in plastic surgery use suggest that we are taking things a bit too far? Is an obsessive focus on looks playing into troubling cultural ideals about age and gender? Bill Thomas, a geriatrician based in the US says people who get work done to stave off old age are inadvertently perpetuating ageism by rejecting the features of their own older age and buying into the notion that they are unacceptable as they are. Thomas says that it’s understandable, however, in a society obsessed with youth and good looks. “People are making a calculated decision, trying to escape the stigma of ageing and buy a little time, be in the world and not be sidelined because of their appearance,” he says.

Women seem to feel that stigma especially harshly.

Gender inequality becomes more sharply focussed when women age, with 34 per cent of single women over 60 reported to be in “permanent income poverty” (as opposed to 29 per cent of single men).  Continuing to equate women’s worth with their youth and appearance is a root problem that should be tackled if we want to get anywhere with achieving gender equality.

What do you think?

Better understand how you can help address sexual harassment in your organisation or university, with AHRI’s new eLearning modules for organisationsuniversities and managers.

Leave a reply

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Notify me of
More on HRM