How Does The White House Think Women Dress for Work?

How Does The White House Think Women Dress for Work?

Women work in a variety of different industries and because of that, there isn’t just one way to depict women in the workplace. But that’s what the White House recently tried to do, and the move was met with plenty of criticism.

Last week, the Obama administration sent out an email containing a graphic with statistics about the wage gap as part of its campaign for equal pay for women. Instapundit first drew attention to the story. The graphic contained a depiction of two female professionals in dresses (seen above).

Nia-Malika Henderson of She The People explained why some have issues with the graphic:

“It pictures two women, one in a pink dress carrying a handbag, the other in an orange dress, and both are wearing oh-so-practical stilettos. This is exactly what working women wear to work every day, right?  All those women who are lawyers, and doctors, and cashiers, and investment bankers, and biochemists, and nursing assistants and architects and engineers and cashiers at the Piggly Wiggly?  Perhaps this is why Obama was so focused on dry-cleaning bills at the White House signing ceremony? This is just not great messaging or symbolism for a White House that wants to also focus on women in minimum wage jobs.  It screams “Sex and the City,” not “9 to 5.”

What do you think of the White House’s depiction of women in the workplace? Do you consider it to be a huge misstep or a simple artistic choice that doesn’t truly illustrate the White House’s point of view?

It doesn’t show a very diverse view of working women, to be sure. Women don’t just work as secretaries for Mad Men-esque companies as the graphic might suggest. A dress and stilettos wouldn’t exactly be practical for a surgeon, factory worker or restaurant manager. The average female business owner doesn’t dress this way either.

However, some women do choose to wear pink dresses and heels to work and they should be taken just as seriously as those who don’t. Perhaps the White House’s graphic was trying to suggest that women shouldn’t have to hide their femininity to be taken seriously in the workplace.

Women might hold all of these diverse jobs, but if they are still depicted as they were 50 years ago, then attitudes that typecast women as high heel-wearing secretaries haven’t changed as much as they should. There is no problem with a woman choosing to wear a pink dress and heels to work and there is no problem with showing that in a graphic. But it’s far from the only way to depict working women.


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Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

33 Reactions
  1. I think they’re making a mountain out of a molehill here, but I wonder about the message of the ad. If I’m not mistaken, discussing your compensation with other employees can be in violation of employment contracts (or at least it was with my last employer).

    • I think part of what they’re trying to change is having more (legal) transparency in that area – but I’m not 100% sure on that as I don’t have the full infographic in front of me at the moment.

      • Blah, blah, blah … transparency… blah, blah, blah.

        Right. Transparency. Because the Obama administration is the most transparent administration in history.


      • “more transparency”…from THIS administration? PUHLEEZE, my sides are hurting from laughing so hard…

    • Same here. I think they just created that picture just because (1) it looks like a woman and (2) pink is the easiest way to convey that that person is a woman. Think about it. Would it be obvious if a short-haired woman who is wearing a lab coat (because she’s a scientist) be better than this image? I don’t think so.

      • I tend to agree. I think they were just trying to make it obvious that the image depicted two women in an office. Probably could have been done differently, but space could have been an issue as well.

    • I’ve owned several businesses over the years. I always had a clear policy. All wages and salaries were posted, in public, for everyone to view.

  2. This irritates me, and I don’t mean the White House’s perhaps slightly non-diverse art. Would it have been better if the artwork had a more inclusive set of working women? Of course. But that doesn’t negate the message about equal pay.

    Focus who criticize the dress-and-stiletto attire seem more intent on diverting attention from the real economic issues affecting women in the workplace in favor of a much-ado-about-nothing made-up controversy. And, as you point out, there’s nothing wrong with wearing dresses. Or stilettos.

    • I agree for the most part. I think that it’s always worth having a conversation about the way women are depicted in media, but I don’t think that it should overshadow the bigger issues. And I don’t think there’s anything inherently offensive about the image in the first place.

  3. Interesting. The White House made a series of e-cards, and they’re not all white women (or women in stilettos):

    • That’s good to see! Maybe the not-so-diverse infographic could have been more an issue of space (not enough opportunity to depict many different types of working women).

  4. LOL. You people cropped your version of the graphic to … wait for it … eliminate the shoes.

    Do you people have even a shred of self-awareness?

    By the way, Feminism is a culture of gender hatred.

    • All of our images have to be the same size. I believe that is why the shoes didn’t make the cut. They are mentioned several times throughout the post, and a link to the full image is included – it is not a secret.

  5. LOVE LOVE LOVE the defense of Obama’s little ad. Obama can’t be wrong because, well, because he’s OBAMA!
    However, if a Republican had put out the same ad, the Daria Steigmans of the world would be OUTRAGED at the sexism, the throwback to the 50s, the overt symbolism of women as sex objects (dresses and high heals for crying out loud!!!! Who dresses like that!!!!) in the work place.

    By the way, was Monica Lewinsky earning the same pay as an intern as the male interns?

  6. “Perhaps the White House’s graphic was trying to suggest that women shouldn’t have to hide their femininity to be taken seriously in the workplace.”

    I could have sworn they were talking about getting women higher pay. Perhaps they were trying to suggest that most woment don’t have a dog’s chance of ever coming close to looking that good, whatever they are being paid.

  7. Why did they have to show any women in the graphic at all ?

  8. So when will the Whitehouse start paying the sexes equally?

    Perhaps this is more of the “if you like your health plan you can keep it” lies?

    • I have heard about this and find it interesting. I know that federal employees are on a set pay scale based on job title and years of service. So I’m not sure if those factors are taken into account here (not sure if they are in other wage studies either, to be fair), or if there are contractors or others who aren’t federal employees who make up the wage discrepancies. Worth looking into for sure.

  9. It’s my understanding that equal pay for equal work has been the law since 1963 when JFK signed a bill to do just that. This 77 cents bs is based on apples and oranges – if you earn the same hourly wage but work fewer hours, you’re going to have less money. Duh! The three major factors in annual wage differences are occupation, education, and marital status/children. Those account for most, but not all, of the gap.

    • I know the 77 cents statistic has been in question for years. I’m not a political analyst so I couldn’t tell you all the specifics about what factors are taken into account. I do believe there are still discrepancies other than those you mentioned, but it would be interesting to learn what all is considered when completing these studies about equal pay.

  10. Following up on Robert’s point, it should be 100% (not just 51%) of women and men who feel that they are discouraged or forbidden about discussing their pay. I have not held a private sector job where it was OK to discuss compensation for either men or women so this is not discriminatory in and of itself. The reasons for this are quite obvious.

    In any case, haven’t the facts debunked the equal pay issue?

    • I know that many employers don’t allow discussions about pay, but I think it definitely allows for more discrepancies (whether intentional or not), not just between men and women either.

  11. Discouraging gossip about salaries is one strategy that employers use to mask their uneven compensation packages — and it’s not only male vs. female. When I worked for the largest employer in California at the time, my raises were at times double or more than others in my department. I earned more than several of my male colleagues, some of who were married with children. Part of the salary and raise negotiation algorithm is not just merit, but one’s negotiation skills. The wage gap statistics do not reflect this factor.

    For those of us who had to fight gender sterotypes, the ad graphics thumbs its nose at our achievements. I’m saddened that some young people today do not notice its subtle snub at how far women have come in this country, where women are treated more fairly than in most other countries. Not until one travels around the world and experiences other cultures (i.e., not just staying in the resorts and posh hotels), does the experienced traveler encounter how very differently women are treated outside of the USA.

  12. As far as the point of view of the administration, I think that, if the ad works, then they think it’s fine – there’s no ethical aspect for them at all. As far as the reason, I’d say artistic choice. The same reason that women’s restrooms have pictures of ladies with dresses on them, so they don’t look like men.

    • I do think it was probably just an artistic choice as well. Probably could have been done better, but I think they were just trying to make it obvious that it depicted women in an office.

  13. “Would it have been better if the artwork had a more inclusive set of working women? ”

    I see….the women in the graphic are talking about their “fair pay at work”, but they’re not “working women”.

    Oh wait! They should have included stereotypical uniforms and symbols for nurses, teachers, librarian (dorky glasses!) and the like.

    Got it.

  14. I’ve been trying to figure out which jobs have unequal pay between the sexes, so I started with:

    The entire public sector (Military, federal gov departments and their offices, State gov depts and their offices, police, fire, schools, public universities),

    all entry level jobs in retail,

    mid level jobs in retail,

    all wage jobs everywhere (seemingly, at least, of publicly traded companies),

    all union jobs in this country (trades, holspitality, skilled, unskilled).

    all professional jobs in the medical field, as well as entry level jobs in medical.

    So which jobs are unequal pay? high end jobs/corporate mid to high level, artisans, and actors/musicians, small businesses, sole proprietorships… and interns. What am I missing?

  15. Hey, women who work on restroom doors need a voice, too.

  16. The one on the left looks like Laura Petrie,the suburban housewife played by Mary Tyler Moore on the Dick Van Dyke show.

  17. Well just to talk about women from clothing or dressing point of view may not that relevant idea. Rather we should talk their calibre to achieve the designated target.

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