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Why Sexy Isn't Better: How Sexual Behavior Can Submarine Your Career


Why Sexy Isn't Better: How Sexual Behavior Can Submarine Your Career
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Women who wear short skirts that display a lot of leg may be overlooked for promotion and pay increases. So says a recent study conducted by Tulane University. Overt sexual behavior at work, whether men and women are consciously aware of it, or not, can submarine your career.

Tulane professor Arthur Brief and colleagues Suzanne Chan-Serafin, Jill Bradley and Marla Watkins searched recent studies and literature and found little about the consequences of sexy dressing and sexual behavior at work. (Most available research studied sexual harassment.) So, they conducted their own study that will be presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting.

The study sought to measure whether sexy dressing and sexual behavior negatively impacted the careers of women - and the researchers found that they did. According to the article in USA Today, "in the first study to make plain the negative consequences of such behavior, 49% of 164 female MBA graduates said in a survey that they have tried to advance in their careers by sometimes engaging in at least one of 10 sexual behaviors, including crossing their legs provocatively or leaning over a table to let men look down their shirts."

Consequences of Engaging in Sexual Behavior and Sexy Dress

The researchers found that the women who claimed that they never engaged in such sexual behavior had earned an average of three promotions. Women who stated that they had engaged in flirting and other overt sexual behavior had only earned two promotions. Women who did not engage in the sexual behavior earned, on average, in the $75,000 to $100,000 income range; the women who did earned, on average, $50,000 to $75,000.

While these results are new and the study may not reflect the results of additional research, the results are striking for two reasons. First, the percentage of women who admit they have engaged in sexual behavior such as sending flirty or risqué emails; telling a coworker that he looks “hot;” and emphasizing their sexuality while at work by the way they dress, speak, and act, is remarkable. Second, the negative impact of the behavior on the women’s careers taps into the gut feeling I have held for years.

Recently, in a sales office, a young woman wearing low rider pants and a short, tight, stylish top leaned over her briefcase to remove her computer. Half of her back was displayed to the whole office, and the people surrounding her cubicle had all eyes focused on her. My entrance caused several to look away with guilty expressions and all were noticeably embarrassed.

In another office, an applicant for a managerial position, asked me why several young women were wearing lingerie to work. A newly hired manager, in the same office, came to me and suggested that a dress code would be a good idea. She had been embarrassed taking a customer to her office.

What can you do about sexual behavior and sexy dress at work?

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