The firing of 33-year old Debrahlee Lorenzana and her pending lawsuit against her former employer, Citibank, not only raises a lot of questions about appearance -- Is showcasing a great figure in pencil skirts, turtleneck sweaters, and high heels asking for trouble? -- but it also suggests the following, says small business expert, Susan Solovic:
Discrimination is alive and well
Although women have achieved workplace parity (currently, women account for about 50% of the workforce, and could, in fact, surpass the number of men for the first time in American history), we haven't exactly achieved workplace equity. "Women still struggle for respect, equal pay and for the right to be themselves," says Solovic, who adds that while we all need to be cognizant of the image we project, this is a prime example of workplace injustice."If a man wore tailored, tight-fitting suits and had this incredible washboard stomach, no one would say anything."
Curves are a curse
Research shows that if you're attractive, you're more likely to be hired and promoted (Lorenzana, who reportedly underwent a series of cosmetic procedures to move toward her goal of looking like a cross between Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra, landed a job at Citi during the height of the Wall Street crisis; she reportedly earned close to $70,000 a year), and have greater opportunities for success in business. But the traditional beauty bias ends there, says Solovic, and you're up against a whole new set of issues, like credibility."People in the office become resentful and start saying things like, 'Who is she sleeping with?'"
Beauty and brains don't mix
If you're 'hot,' you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself and gain respect, says Solovic."It's the whole double standard: if a man is attractive and smart, he's considered 'charismatic'; if a woman has these attributes, she is considered a you-know-what."
When women speak up, they lose
While Solovic applauds Lorenzana's courage for taking a stand, the bottom line is that women who sue financial firms (or any large corporation, for that matter) are taking on a high-risk project regardless of the circumstances.Lorenzana may never work again, and certainly not in banking (next stop: magazine spread? television gig?)."It will mark her for the rest of her career, and no one will want to touch her because she will be branded as a 'troublemaker,'" says Solovic.
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