David Whitten, partner of Whitten and Lublin was recently quoted in a Toronto Star article by Morgan Campbell titled, “Too sexy for the cubicle”.
The article explores a study published by University of Ottawa professor Tracy Vaillancourt that suggests women in the office act aggressively towards peers they perceive as physically attractive.
The experiment recorded the reactions of women awaiting an interview after they had been approached by an assistant wearing either khakis or a miniskirt.  The study found that 97% of the women involved felt hostile towards the assistant in the miniskirt, whereas they hardly noticed the one in conservative attire.
Vaillancourt believes that this hostility is hardwired in women as an evolutionary competition for a mate.  Whitten, an expert on workplace bullying, believes that these reactions can be explained in a different way.  He says, “It’s not a conflict for a mate. The proverbial mate is the job”.  Particularly when opportunities are scarce, competition for advancement can cause hostility.  Two solutions Whitten suggests are sensitivity training and a comprehensive dress code.
Whether it’s competition for a mate driving this hostility or competition for advancement, there are some clear lessons for employees.  Be ready for potentially negative responses to provocative clothing, and mindful of the impact it can have on relationships with colleagues.