Glick’s study garners media attention

Kayla Wilson

A new study by a Lawrence professor and student group appeared in the Dec. 2005 issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly and has since received both national and international attention. Written by psychology professor Peter Glick, Sadie Weber ’05, Heather Branstiter ’06 and Cathryn Johnson ’06, the study “Evaluations of sexy women in low- and high-status jobs” focuses on how sexy dress affects women in the workplace. Since its publication, the study has garnered much media attention, partly due to its title, but also because of the implications for women that it presents.
The study was conducted as the final project for Glick’s two-term Research Methods class. The assignment was to come up with an original research project that posed an interesting question, and then to conceptualize it into a workable and ethical venture. The student researchers originally wanted their research to deal with “why men like strippers,” but after deeming this impossible and unethical, their focus shifted to sexy women in the workplace.
The project involved participants being told they were going to watch a video of a woman describing herself and her interests, and were instructed as to her work position, either as a manager or a secretary. They were then shown the video, but while some were shown a woman in sexy dress, others were shown the same woman in more conservative clothes. The sexy clothing consisted of a tight, knee-length skirt, a low-cut top with a cardigan and high heels. To complement this, the actress also wore noticeable makeup and had tousled hair. The conservative dress on the other hand consisted of dark pants, a turtleneck, and flat shoes, with minimal makeup and simple hair.
The script for each video was the same, as were the actress’s mannerisms – the only difference was the clothes. However, the participants had different ideas about the woman’s intelligence and job competency based on her clothing. When dressed more conservatively, the woman was judged to be more competent than the sexily dressed woman. In contrast, this woman was also thought to be less warm and friendly than the woman in sexy clothes. Additionally, participants found sexy dress to be more acceptable on the secretary than on the manager.
The study reveals a lot about the roles women struggle to fill and the dilemmas that working women have to face. Of the roles women have – traditional, nontraditional and sexy – the study poses that it is hard to reconcile the three. Women are often stereotyped as being weaker than men, and in trying to play up their romantic attractiveness by dressing sexy or feminine often run into problems at the office. Many have a hard time walking the line between appearing competent and appearing romantically appealing. The study’s research also gathers that women who are in low-status, traditionally female jobs are able to get away with dressing more alluringly. “With the receptionist, the idea is to seem sexually available,” Glick said, making the woman’s sexy dressing more acceptable, much the same way that stewardesses were once viewed. However, as the study shows, while the sexy receptionist is viewed as being warm and friendly she is also viewed as being less competent, whereas men do not face this same pitfall. “Women are held to a higher standard than men, and warmth can downgrade competence,” added Glick.
Along with these implications for women in the workforce, the study is also important because of its practical message. It shows that people do judge others on their dress, especially when considering them for a job. Both Johnson and Branstiter hope that, as this research has gotten press, it will help change the way businesses select employees. “We are hoping this will help people be more self-aware in their hiring practices,” said Johnson. Branstiter echoed this sentiment, saying, “Hopefully people will hire people based on whether they are qualified, not on how they look.