Winning Looks, Losing Job

Winning Looks, Losing Job

The Catch-22 of Attractiveness in the Workplace

Earlier we discussed the preferential treatment that attractive professionals receive when it comes to job interviews and compensation determinations  in the post, What Have Looks Got to do With It?  The inequality, we reported, disproportionately affected women and minorities, for whom the cost of meeting expectations was greater.

Then came Debrahlee Lorenzana, the Puerto Rican and Italian woman who claims that she was fired from her position as a business banker with Citibank because she was too attractive.   Ms. Lorenzana's experience highlights the complex double-bind that faces women in the workplace-on the one hand, if she was not attractive, she might not have gotten an offer from a branch that she claims was "pretty much known for hiring pretty girls." (See this post in the Village Voice, "Is This Woman Too Hot to Work in a Bank?")  On the other hand, she claims that because of her looks, male managers berated her for being distracting to other male employees until finally Ms. Lorenzana was fired because she "wasn't fit for the culture at Citibank." Among the marks against her was a disciplinary letter claiming that she arrived at work late on two dates that turned out to be weekends, which Ms. Lorenzana has off.

The Village Voice reports that Ms. Lorenzana was pulled aside and told not to wear turtlenecks, pencil skirts, fitted suits or heels as these items "drew attention to her body in a manner that was upsetting to her easily distracted male managers."  The assumption inherent in this remark is that Ms. Lorenzana is responsible for and should bear all the costs of her male manager's inability to work in her presence. There is the cost of the new wardrobe she is expected to buy, the cost of limiting her freedom of expression, and the cost of dressing in a way that is intentionally unprofessional or sloppy, which may lose her business with clients. It is uncertain whether the "distracted male managers" were ever admonished as Ms. Lorenzana was.

Ms. Lorenzana's case also illustrates the intersection of gender and ethnicity  of gender and ethnicity in episodes of discrimination.  As the Village Voice explained, "her brand of femininity is also cultural."  Ms. Lorenzana told the reporter "Where I'm from women dress up-like put on makeup and do their nails-to go to the supermarket... I was raised very Latin, you know? We're feminine.  A woman in Puerto Rico takes care of herself."  The complexities of negotiating her identity as a woman of color in a workplace modeled on the white male banker ultimately destroyed Ms. Lorenzana's career.   In having to rework her appearance each time a managers told her to revise her looks, Ms. Lorenzana embodied and illustrated the idea of having to "work" one's identity  in order to have work.

Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School.   BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.