The "Femme Fatale" effect: Researches say attractive women face a bias in business. (Credit: Max Pixel)
The Femme Fatale Effect: Researches say attractive women face a bias in business. (Credit: Max Pixel)

Women cannot seem to catch a break.

A recent study from researchers at Washington State University shows that classically beautiful women in business are thought by supervisors, colleagues and employees alike to be less trustworthy and more expendable. This phenomenon has been deemed the “Femme Fatale Effect” — a term usually reserved for a seductive, yet manipulative, woman (think Cersei Lannister from the hit series “Game of Thrones.”)

The prejudice is not exclusive to male managers, either. People of all gender identities, in any position, hold this biased view toward attractive women. The study suggests that the stance springs from primal feelings of sexual insecurity and jealousy. “Attractive women can be perceived as dangerous,” the study’s co-author, Leah Sheppard, told The New York Times.

[Related: Check out advice and tips for women entrepreneurs]

This affects the way people choose to trust and believe attractive women in the workplace. Far too often, men and women unjustly believe attractive women have used their sexuality to get ahead in business, researchers also found.

While this study is new, the bias behind it is anything but. In 1974, psychotherapist and educator Dr. Ella Lasky warned of the hardships attractive women would face in the business world. She blamed “America’s monolithic standard for physical attractiveness” for the struggles women had to face.

We still struggle with the same problem 45 years later. Society places physical attractiveness on a pedestal, and the results can be seen in almost every industry. Some may be hesitant to admit that women are stereotyped in this way, but that doesn’t change the great pains women go through to look the part they believe they must play. It seems doubly unfair, then, that being physically attractive can actually hurt women in business in the long run.

[Related: Meet 7 Women Helping Women on Our ‘Resist List’]

That said, we have profiled women who have not let the pressure of society’s double standards keep them down as entrepreneurs. Earlier this year, The Story Exchanged talked to Dominique Reighard, who finished in fourth place on “America’s Next Top Model” in 2008 and later established herself in the worlds of modeling and performing.

Reighard chose to leave it all behind and try her hand at entrepreneurship with her husband. “I wanted to explore, evolve, and use other gifts and talents that were lying dormant,” she told us. Now, she is managing over 50 employees for her husband’s moving company, E.E. Ward. She also launched her own clothing brand, 1881 Apparel. Reighard models for both E.E. Ward’s and 1881 Apparel’s social media pages. By doing so, she is able to use her physical attributes to inspire customers’ interest and trust in her and her companies.

Attractive business women face an uphill battle to receive the full trust and respect they deserve, the study found. But hope is not lost. “They are going to be challenged in terms of building trust,” Sheppard said. “That’s not to say that they can’t do it. It’s just that trust is probably going to form a bit more slowly.”

Are you a woman over 50 who started up later in life? Enter our Fearless Over 50 competition.