Did you know that during lockdown, 1 in 3 women have been asked by their employer to wear more make-up on video calls? And even more have been asked to ‘dress sexier’ for their work calls. This stat comes from research carried out by the law firm, Slater and Gordon.
For some, this is a given and something they do anyway. But for others, it could be quite damaging to their mental health.
When I worked for a PR agency 10 years ago, I was struggling with anxiety and depression and trying not to let it show in my work. After a few months, I told them about my mental health struggles and they wanted to see a doctor’s note to ‘prove’ that I was having issues. This upset me and gave the impression my employer thought I was lying about my situation. So, I went to my GP who begrudgingly provided a note. She didn’t want it to go on my official work record and said that most times, a note wasn’t necessary.
I never felt like I fitted in
I always felt different being in the PR industry. I never felt like I fitted in. I wasn’t like the other women there who were always so pristinely turned out and were so confident in themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously made an effort to dress smartly because it was a professional workplace. However, I didn’t leave the office unless I was going on the daily post office run so I didn’t wear make-up.
People who know me will know I don’t wear make-up often. It feels suffocating and, having a condition where I keep touching my face, isn’t great for a made-up face.
One day, I was pulled aside by my female manager for a ‘chat’. I immediately went into panic mode. She asked me how I was feeling and ‘are you better yet?’. I explained what was happening and she started to tell me that my work was slipping, then presented me with a verbal warning.
Not wearing make-up doesn’t mean you’re not professional
After that bombshell, she added ‘oh yes, and just another thing. If you could make more effort and come to work wearing make-up that would be great. We need to look well turned out for the clients’. Bearing in mind I never left the office or saw anyone, this was a major blow. I could feel the tears coming so I quick-stepped to the toilet to cry.
I understand being smartly turned out but why does that always imply having to wear make-up? Men are never asked to ‘put their face on’ for a meeting so why should women be expected to do it?
Slater and Gordon lawyer Danielle Parsons said: “It is categorically wrong for a manager or anyone in a position of power to suggest, even politely, for a woman to be more sexually appealing in the workplace.
“This is a powerful form of coercion which makes women feel as if they must adhere to the manager’s request and be more visually pleasing to be successful at their job. This is demeaning to women.” (Source)
I lasted 18 months in that role and then felt I needed to get out; out of the job and out of the agency industry. From there, I went into charity PR where my work and my mind were valued more than the way I looked.
For me, wearing make-up is a special treat
I’m not saying I don’t ever wear make-up because I do. I put my face on when I’m going to a meeting or doing a presentation or for special occasions to make me feel nice. But it’s my choice to do that. No one tells me I have to do it. And that’s the best thing about your appearance, it’s your call and your choice.
I take my hat off to those amazing ladies who commit time every morning to apply their make up for work and who look fantastic doing it. For me, I choose not to wear make-up to work but for many, it’s what helps them to leave the house on a morning. For some people it helps them to exude confidence and it’s like putting their professional face on, ready to take on the world.
It’s not OK, you deserve better
If your employer ever makes these kinds of comments to you, remember that it’s not OK. Talk to someone and let them know it’s going on and that you feel uncomfortable with it. You deserve to be treated with respect because you’re a professional person whether you’re wearing make-up or not.