Earlier this year employment agency Portico was lambasted after it was revealed it required female employees to wear high heels to work.1http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/12/firm-accused-of-sexism-in-high-heels-row-forced-to-change-its-dr/

Social media erupted in anger at this sort of expectation being imposed on female employees in 2016 – a year which has otherwise seen so much progress for women in the workplace, including the government introducing legislation to require employers to disclose their gender pay gap,2https://www.gov.uk/government/news/nicky-morgan-nowhere-left-to-hide-for-gender-inequality and high profile examples of women leaders in politics and business.

But is the blurring of traditional gender roles in society affecting day-to-day experiences and attitudes towards appearance and personal grooming?3https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3777/Women-still-face-more-pressure-to-look-groomed-new-poll-finds.aspx Or are women still held to a different standard than men?

Most women (77%) and men (58%) disagree with the principle of women being required to wear high heels as part of a uniform code. Portico has since abandoned a policy that was lagging far behind the curve of public opinion, where the majority take a dim view of employers policing their workers’ appearance without legitimate cause. After all – as the worker involved said – there is no possible argument that a woman could do her job better in heels than in more comfortable, and equally smart, flat shoes. Looking at an equivalent measure for men, the result is similar – 58% of men and 65% of women disagree with employers banning their male staff from having a beard.


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Our research found that, on a theoretical level at least, the vast majority of us (81%) believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities in society. However the study also suggests that, in practice, equality of the sexes does not yet extend to issues like appearance and grooming. Large majorities of both sexes (90% of women and 77% of men) think that society still puts more pressure on women to be well-groomed.

This is reflected in women’s attitudes to themselves and the amount of time they spend on personal care. Women are typically harder on themselves, reporting more personal worries about their body or appearance than men on average (4.3 to men’s 3.5 worries), and they use more products (10.2 to men’s 6.4) and spend more time on their beauty regime – roughly ten whole days every year compared to men’s eight.

Looking forward in time, it is easy to see a future where men and women’s beauty regimes converge. Covergirl magazine recently announced their first ‘Coverboy’ 4http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/fashion/meet-covergirls-new-cover-boy.html?_r=0 YouTube is full of male make-up vloggers who know how to wield a mascara wand as well as anyone, and one in five men think that in the future it will be normal or unremarkable for men to wear make-up.

Despite this, people don’t see the future as a utopia of unisex products.

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Even though more and more men are reaching for the concealer to cover dark circles or stubborn blemishes – YouTube vlogger Beauty Boy5https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_xJuxUjo5vLsf8W7vYdSvghas more than 15,000 subscribers – it doesn’t look likely that they will be sharing a make-up bag with the women in their lives. The general consensus among the public is that personal care products, such as cosmetics and toiletries, will in fact be (even) more gender targeted in future.

A word of caution, though, for personal care brands; we found significant numbers of both men and women use products designed for the other gender, and primarily for reasons of convenience (who hasn’t reached for a random razor in the bathroom when theirs is blunted beyond use?). However, women are much more likely to say they’ve used a man’s product because they think it works better. So while clearly targeted products are what consumers expect, brands need to ensure that those marketed at women are not seen as inferior to the male version. Rather than just making products pink or floral-scented, brands need to make a straight-forward, practical case for why women should choose their product.

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