Is It OK to Be Sexy at Work?

Emily - Skip On BoardroomA confession: I entered the workforce basically throwing blazers over the sequined shirts I used to wear out dancing in college. No one told me I looked completely out of place and inappropriate. Looking back, I wish they had.

Over the years, I have wised up on my own but I became interested in this question again after a recent post on why businesses want “face” men and women to represent them out in the field. I also caught some personal flack for adding the photo above in publicity stills for my book. (It has since been removed.)

The fact of the matter is that, yes, looks matter at work. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to be Tyra Banks. It means you have to be pulled together and professional. (See related post: Image Building on a Budget)

But don’t take my word for it. CareerBuilder.com cites a London Guildhall University survey of 11,000 33-year-olds which found that unattractive men earned 15 percent less than their attractive colleagues, and “plain” women earned 11 percent less than their prettier counterparts.

I could give you countless anecdotes of how appearance has helped people I know land new (better) opportunities. From a colleague who walked in to a magazine interview and was hired on the spot (“You look like you’d fit here”) to a friend who asked her boss if he had a second only to be told “For someone who looks like you, I have all the time in the world.”

This raises an interesting point. If being attractive can open the door to perks like events, more personal attention from higher ups, and new jobs, is it wrong to lean on your looks … even a little?

No and yes.

NO, as long you bring more to the table than just a pretty face and have the technical knowledge and skills to back up your, err, assets. When you’re already a highly-competent player in the workforce, there’s no doubt that being attractive is an edge. Cry foul if you want, but that’s the truth.

And, YES, it is wrong to lean on your looks if that’s all you’re using to stand out. Besides the fact that others will catch on quickly, they will also begin to resent you for it.

But there’s also the question of how sexy is too sexy? The answer lies in exposure. For women, exposed cleavage and short skirts are never OK – not even if you’re in costume for Halloween. For men, your clothes have buttons for a reason. (A good rule of thumb is that if you question whether something is appropriate at work, it probably isn’t.)

My next post will focus on behaviors in the workforce that could be deemed too sexy or over the top. Until then, don’t be afraid to be attractive on the job. As long as you’re not violating any of the above, feeling good about how you look translates into an aura of confidence that WILL help you in your career. Just stay off the boardroom table. ;~)

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