Purpose: This study aims to examine how variations in the perceived gender (a)typicality of front-line staff impact on consumer spending. Gender typicality is defined here as traditionally masculine-looking men and feminine-looking women, whereas gender atypicality, in contrast, refers to feminine-looking men and masculine-looking women.
Design/methodology/approach: Using an experimental design, the authors use simulated consumption scenarios across two separate studies, one in the USA and the other in South Korea. In each study, the authors investigate main and interaction effects in relation to front-line employees’ race (white vis-à-vis Asian) and baseline gender (originally male vis-à-vis originally female).
Findings: Across the two studies, consumers spent more money with gender-typical female front-line staff or, alternatively stated, less money with more masculine-looking female front-line staff. The effect of the male service staff was more complicated. In both countries, the authors found a significant consumer preference for gender-atypical (i.e. more feminine-looking), Asian male employees, compared to more masculine-looking Asian men.
Research limitations/implications: The experimental design strengthens claims of not only good internal validity but also weakens the generalizability of the findings. Field research is needed to explore these effects in various workplaces and sectors. The authors also acknowledge the limitations of operationalizing the gender (a)typicality of front-line staff by manipulating facial structures. Future research should manipulate gender (a)typicality using sociological and performative indicators.
Practical implications: The authors contribute to ongoing debates surrounding the legality and ethics of regulating employee appearance in the workplace. Employers must consider whether this type of “lookism” is legally and morally defensible.
Originality/value: This is, to the knowledge, the first-ever study to examine the effect of front-line employee gender non-conformity on consumer behavior and decision-making. The authors show how variations in perceived gender (a)typicality can, variously, promote or retard consumer spending. The study is original in that it shifts the debate from traditional studies of between-gender differences to a focus on within-gender differences. The key value of the research is that it shines a much-needed light on the changing role of gender in the workplace.
- Front-line staff
- Non-binary gender
- Race and ethnicity
- Services marketing
- Sexual dimorphism