Zoom Ethics: “Your Boss Should Not Be Asking You To Wear Makeup On Zoom”? Your Boss Should Not Be Asking You To Wear Makeup, Period…

From a woman’s lament on Refinery29:

While Caroline was trying to establish a strict work-life balance — despite rarely leaving her apartment — she still found herself mindlessly checking her emails ahead of the week. That’s when she noticed a message pop up from her executive director. In the email, which was addressed to the entire company, her boss provided tips and resources for “looking good on video calls” — from lighting and backgrounds to personal hygiene. While his advice to invest in an advanced webcam setup infuriated Caroline (because of income disparities within her company), she was most bewildered by his suggestion to wear makeup. “While it’d be bad advice at any time for playing into sexism, it just felt incredibly tone-deaf during this particular time,” she tells Refinery29. “It was demoralizing. It’s not appropriate to be talking to women about their appearance and much less so during a crisis.”

Caroline isn’t alone. On social media, you’ll find many women sharing their frustrations of being told they look tired or less engaged, and some have even reported managers who flat-out ordered them to wear makeup for video calls. “I’ve had more than one Zoom meeting where my boss has asked if I’m tired. This is just my face without makeup,” wrote one Twitter user. “First day we had a meeting, my boss said, ‘You guys didn’t put on any makeup!”

Whoa! A male superior telling a woman she has to wear make-up in the workplace is potentially sexual harassment. It’s also just plain wrong. Don’t we know this by now? Imagine  a fat, bald boss demanding that his female employees need to pay more attention to their appearance. As my wife has told me more than once, she wears make-up for herself. I have limited sympathy for radical feminist claims that “if men can go barechested , so can we!”, but in the matter of make-up, there’s no valid argument for the convention that women are obligated to wear it. If a woman chooses not to use make-up, that’s her choice to make.

Incidentally, here is how one online video says that the woman above should appear in Zoom meetings…

Moving the venue to home merely makes such a request—or demand—more ridiculous, but no more offensive. Looking presentable in Zoom meetings is a matter of professionalism, respect, and personal taste. It is ethical to appear awake, groomed and clothed, and appearing in pajamas or deliberately provocative clothing is obviously—at least it should be obvious— inappropriate.  If you are going to appear like this, ostensibly to lighten the mood,

…you better be certain of your workplace culture, or ask the meeting-holder’s permission first.

Would a supervisor be justified in pointing out that a female employee should not be Zooming in a bikini, or other garb that would be fairly labled poor taste? Sure, though that conversation is always a metaphorical tightrope-walking exercise. I have  told female subordinates—actually one—that her total lack of professional dress and grooming would likely handicap her advancement in a Washington, D.C. professional association setting in many subtle and unproveable ways, but it was her choice whether to acknowledge this in practice or not.

If we accept supervisors telling women to wear make-up, then we must accept it when they express their preferences for the kind of make-up. If they can tell women to wear eye-shadow, they can tell men to ditch the bad toupes. Meetings using Zoom require some minimal  presentability, but that’s all; I’ve had no pants on in all of my Zoom seminars. just as a matter of principle. I’ve worn a tie while addressing lawyers, because it helps suggest seriousness and authority (but still no pants.)

I have NOT worn make-up.

The fact is, everybody looks lousy on Zoom.

13 thoughts on “Zoom Ethics: “Your Boss Should Not Be Asking You To Wear Makeup On Zoom”? Your Boss Should Not Be Asking You To Wear Makeup, Period…

  1. So now, do we have the makings of a “Poorly Groomed Zoom Participant Principle?”

    Of course I am a minority of men who holds this conviction:
    More men should wear makeup.

  2. Asking that employees on Zoom look or dress professionally is all right with me: after all, even remotely, a business is being run, and standards for professionalism that were obvious in an office should hold for remote meetings, etc.

    But make-up? Totally inappropriate, offensive, and wrong, wrong, wrong. In a regular workplace it would be wrong as well. Many women do not wear make-up: that’s their choice. And a office director cannot, cannot, even address this. They are professionals, not actors.

    If I had received an email about make-up, I would have expressed how offensive that suggestion is, and would have found ways to turn the tables on him, like suggesting my boss either lose weight, shave better, cover up that bald spot, stop the comb-over and get a toupee, wear better ties, or wear shirts that “photograph” better. Or, that he cover up those bags and make himself look less like himself. If he wants me to wear make-up, I want him to as well. This situation is close to creating a hostile work environment: make-up is a choice, and none of his business.

  3. Our rule is just to do as you would for a meeting or court live. Most female lawyers I know wouldn’t dare appear in court or meet with a client without makeup, sometimes minimal makeup, but makeup nonetheless. I wouldn’t dare do a zoom session with no pants on, but I do sometimes wear just my “home” pants instead of my suit pants if working from home.

  4. I agree on the discrete topic of makeup, but disagree on the approach you took to get there.

    I still think that you approach Zoom meetings backwards. The company is not intruding in your home, it didn’t request to be in your living room. It is employing you, it is requiring you, and allowing you to work wherever works best for you in these circumstances. Whether that’s a home office or your root cellar. Workplace standards don’t fly out the window the moment you work remotely, in fact, I think it’s critical to put more attention into standards when working remotely, because working remotely is an arrangement of trust, and abusing that arrangement by throwing standards to the wayside violates that trust.

    Not wearing pants is a meme, but in reality you should, especially if your job requires video calls, be as presentable as you would be in the office. I think that even not wearing pants is a bad idea, because if you had to walk across the room to grab a file or something, you risk having to turn off the cam or shuffle off sideways to avoid embarrassment (literally. Hah!). I’ve said this before…. Remote learning is new to a lot of people, but it blows my mind that people don’t get this…. This isn’t some kind of paid, half-time vacation… You’re at work. You should probably be doing everything you were doing before for work, with reasonable accommodations for reality.

    The thing is, workplaces requiring makeup is not, and has not been for as long as I’ve been in management, appropriate. I think the confusion is, again, this is new for a lot of people, and the women who are being talked to about this were wearing makeup at work, and their supervisors had probably never seen them without makeup before. This is probably a shock to them and they aren’t quick enough to think on their feet what the correct response is (or, they’re an idiot and they’ll never figure it out). I have the feeling that in five years, when remote work is more normalized, we’re going to see less of this, because people will slowly figure it out and policies will tighten up, but in the meantime, people are going to have to deal with awkward interactions and figure out how to get along.

    • I keep repeating this, but, in agreement with you, the novelty of working remotely is going to wear off and, when this is over, companies will start investing more in remote technology and begin setting guidelines for work-at-home expectations.

      Prior to the pandemic, the work-at-home guidelines for my company were stringent. You had to keep your work computer in a room with a door that could be shut instead of in common areas, you had to keep childcare and eldercare arrangements the same (as opposed to yanking the kids out of daycare since you were at home); you had to dress in business casual; those working in a call center had to keep pets quiet and absolutely no television or radio was permitted during working hours. Some of the rules were intended to keep the employee from being distracted, but also promoted professionalism. Would any of us feel assured that our personal information was being kept safe if we called a company and heard someone’s kids yelling in the background?

      I’m sure some of the rules haven’t been enforced as harshly during this unique situation as they would normally have been because of the closure of schools and daycares, but this is an exception.

      It would not surprise me if companies began enforcing dress codes for videochats after learning some valuable lessons during the pandemic.

      As for wearing pants, I also have to agree. Too many employees have had their boxers caught on camera when they didn’t realize how far the view actually extended.

      • I remember when Social Media first became a thing, and companies started disciplining people for online behavior, having some really hot conversations with some family member irate that businesses would intrude on their employee’s private lives. I chuckled as I wrote that, how quaint it seems not to assume anything you put on a public forum to be private. I think in the last five years we’ve mostly figured it out. We’ll do that again.

  5. A. No supervisor should be asking someone to wear make-up unless it’s directly a part of the job. I once made a formal complaint about a woman supervisor who was bullying a co-worker to wear make-up. It was against the religious teaching of her church to wear make-up. The supervisor didn’t care. Fortunately I was able to mention enough FLSA and experiences with workplaces paying settlements that big supervisor took it seriously. It got stopped.

    B. Online meetings are a new world for many and they aren’t done adjusting. I do admit that I use the Zoom filter to make myself look haggard. Without exact lighting cameras tend to create odd shadows. The filter is subtle enough to make me look more like I do in person (a comment from a co-worker). I have also become a master (mistress?) of the no-make-up make-up look.

    C. Not everyone has the same options for working from home. Some have to work from the bedroom while their spouse is in the living room/kitchen. It isn’t too much that if someone is on their bed that it be made and they not be in pajamas. I’ve found that I tend to be the most over dressed in a polo shirt or a tank top with cardigan. Dressing in something more than a t-shirt and shorts helps me be in work mode. I do draw the line at full office dress/suit.

  6. There is a makeup company whose advertisement shows up almost daily in my Facebook feed, shilling eyeliner that can make you look more bright eyed during a Zoom meeting. It’s a thing people! And the cosmetics companies are catching on.

  7. This is why it took so long for video calls. They can call into zoom and more will, so it becomes a non point, or zoom will create “Makeup” skins.

  8. https://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20050102/ISSUE01/100015988/casino-can-compel-female-worker-to-wear-makeup

    SAN FRANCISCO-A casino cannot be sued for sex discrimination for firing a female bartender over her refusal to wear makeup, says the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    In its 2-1 ruling, a 9th Circuit panel in San Francisco held that Harrah’s Casino in Reno, Nev., did not violate Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act when it fired Darlene Jespersen because she refused to wear makeup, as required under the casino’s appearance rules. Ms. Jespersen’s attorney plans to ask the full court to reconsider the Dec. 29 decision.

    According to the opinion, Ms. Jespersen was considered an outstanding employee during the nearly 20 years she worked at Harrah’s. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Harrah’s encouraged-but did not formally require-its female beverage servers to wear makeup. Ms. Jespersen tried doing so for a short time but found it “made her feel sick, degraded, exposed and violated,” according to the decision.

    In 2000, Harrah’s implemented a “Beverage Department Image Transformation Program” that required female beverage servers to wear stockings and colored nail polish and to tease, curl or style their hair. Men were prohibited under the program from wearing makeup or colored nail polish and were required to maintain short haircuts and neatly trimmed fingernails. Shortly afterward, Harrah’s amended its standards to also require female beverage servers to wear makeup under its “Personal Best” program.


    Kozinski: “It is true that Jespersen failed to present evidence about what it costs to buy makeup and how long it takes to apply it. But is there any doubt that putting on makeup costs money and takes time? Harrah’s policy requires women to apply face powder, blush, mascara and lipstick. You don’t need an expert witness to figure out that such items don’t grow on trees.”

    “But those of us not used to wearing makeup would find a requirement that we do so highly intrusive. Imagine, for example, a rule that all judges wear face powder, blush, mascara and lipstick while on the bench.”

    “Finally, I note with dismay the employer’s decision to let go a valued, experienced employee who had gained accolades from her customers, over what, in the end, is a trivial matter. Quality employees are difficult to find in any industry and I would think an employer would long hesitate before forcing a loyal, long-time employee to quit over an honest and heartfelt difference of opinion about a matter of personal significance to her. Having won the legal battle, I hope that Harrah’s will now do the generous and decent thing by offering Jespersen her job back, and letting her give it her personal best—without the makeup.”

    • I think that’s right, though, don’t you? A business that deal with the public, and its employees like waitresses, dealers and showgirls, certainly has the right to dictate terms of employment, including dress and other appearance.

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