The narcissistic obsessions of Samantha Brick may seem irrelevant to investment banking, but as a woman in financial services, I’ve learned the hard way that attractiveness can be both a boon and an encumbrance.
I know that being an attractive woman can be an issue because I had a bad interview experience early in my career. I got into the last round and was assured that this final meeting would be merely a formality, namely to meet the person whom I was replacing. However, she looked at me and immediately decided she didn’t like me. I didn’t get the job. The firm couldn’t give me an exact reason why I didn’t succeed; she just felt I wasn’t the “right person” to replace her.
After that, I learned to modify my appearance depending upon who was interviewing me. If it were a woman, I would change my appearance accordingly, by pulling back my hair, by wearing glass and wearing less make-up.
The fact is that appearance does matter, and it does matter in banking. Women in banking have a history of working as assistants, and men in banking like to have attractive assistants because they work so hard and don’t want to be around dowdy and un-manicured girls all day.
On the other hand, women in financial services have been known to play the attractiveness card for their own benefit. I’ve seen lazy attractive women who can’t keep up and miss deadlines accuse colleagues of sniping at them because of their ‘good looks.’ This is plainly wrong: people will feel annoyed with anyone who doesn’t pull their weight. Appearance has nothing to do with it.
The bottom line is that there is, “looks discrimination,” in financial services. Clients expect a certain stereotype from women in banking. Being well-presented is essential. Being very attractive is helpful. However, the flipside is that an attractive woman can attract discrimination from other women and fall prey to the preconceptions of men. All of this is very hard to prove: appearance-based discrimination is subjective and inconsistent; after all it’s all based upon perceptions of beauty.
A version of this article first appeared on our Australian site.