Honey Birdette demands job hunters upload “sassy” videos, wear lipstick and stilettos to interviews

Honey Birdette

The application process for roles at lingerie chain Honey Birdette asks job seekers to put their “best stiletto clad foot forward” in a video instead of submitting their resume, and prospective employees are asked to observe the “Honeys” in store to ensure the outfits they wear to interviews are in line with company standards.

According to one employment lawyer, video applications like the one used by Honey Birdette raise a number of questions for employers around discrimination when hiring.

Last week Honey Birdette came under fire after employees went public about what they claim to be inappropriate work conditions at the retailer. When asked for a response to the allegations, the retailer told SmartCompany the claims were “mistruths”.

However, one job applicant who completed the first stage of the Honey Birdette recruitment process earlier this year told SmartCompany she did not attend an interview after the tone of the process completely changed her opinion of the “empowering” brand.

The company careers page says “we are always looking for red pouted bombshells to join our exclusive Honey fleet”, and asks job hunters to upload a one-minute video that is “sassy and snappy”.

“They ask in the video to say what it means to be a Honey and I said things like “empowering women”, which I don’t think that’s what after,” says the applicant, who spoke to SmartCompany on the condition of anonymity.

The job hunter had never been inside a Honey Birdette store but was familiar with the brand, which she believed to be about women taking charge of their sexuality.

She uploaded a video at 8:00pm one evening, and by 9:30am the next morning had received a phone call from Honey Birdette inviting her in for an interview.

The speed of the response sent “alarm bells ringing”, the candidate says, because she had never received such a quick response from a job application.

Her hesitations about the role intensified after company made contact via phone.

“It was when they called me that they told me what to wear,” she says.

“They said, ‘go and have a look at the Honeys and see what they wear’.”

The applicant was told she had to attend the interview is specific attire: “The signature red lip, they kept saying, stilettos,” the applicant says.

It was at that point the job seeker started to revaluate the company’s messaging around empowerment. Her family and friends advised her against attending the interview, saying they had never heard of such specific requirements for appearance being enforced in an interview process.

“My family and friends happened to be in Melbourne and said ‘do not go to that interview’. All my friends were shocked,” she says.

“I’ve never been told what to wear [to an interview] before, and I’ve never been told ‘be a honey’.”

Public pressure continues to mount on the Honey Birdette brand, with a petition from the Young Workers Centre, which calls for the company to end its dress code and enforce policies for dealing with bullying and harassment, close to its 7,000 signature target.

SmartCompany contacted Honey Birdette this morning to clarify whether the company asked for retail experience or to see a CV when interviewing candidates, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

Companies must show “a look” is needed for a role, says lawyer

Workplace lawyer Peter Vitale says video applications like the one for Honey Birdette highlight a number of important questions around discrimination in the recruitment process.

“The first and obvious thing is whether or not it amounts to sex discrimination, because it may well have the effect of excluding men from applying,” he told SmartCompany.

“That might be overcome if they can demonstrate a particular need for them to employ women only, for instance, for reasons of decency. For some roles, it seems like it would be a legitimate thing for them to do.”

However, Vitale says if a company was to refuse to hire an individual on the basis of what they looked like, it could be found to be unlawfully discriminating.

“In terms of whether or not it might otherwise constitute discrimination, for example, on the basis of appearance—which is a basis of discrimination under Victorian law, and we know there have been other womenswear retailers who have gotten into trouble for advertising for employees with a certain looks— if they refused to employ someone on the basis that they didn’t look right, it would be necessary to show that a particular look was necessary for the purpose of the role,” he says.

However, as for whether an application process itself can be seen as sexual harassment, Vitale says this area is complicated for job ads.

“In terms of sexual harassment, I hesitate to say there is any action there,” he says.

“The ad is not directed to any particular individual. It’s not behaviour that’s imposed on any one [individual]. In itself, given that it’s before any employment actually occurs, you’d query whether it’s capable of constituting sexual harassment.”

The issue for companies like Honey Birdette in these cases, however, is they need to prove that a particular appearance is necessary for employees to complete their jobs to avoid the request being discriminatory, Vitale says.

“I guess you can understand it in terms of if they were employing models, but employing shop assistants might be more difficult,” Vitale says.

“The difficulty that they face is demonstrating why a particular look or a uniform is appropriate for their operation.”

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JD Ryan
JD Ryan
3 years ago

Why is this news? I think their branding makes it obvious that you’re not going to be put in a customer service role unless you meet the company expectations. It’s part of their marketing. Go pick on a boy business for making people do things that seem not ok, at first glance.

Michael Ratner
Michael Ratner
3 years ago

Is there anywhere else in the world who adopt this politically correct, level playing field, equal opportunity bullshit.
I’d never heard of Honey Birdette before this thread started. Surely they have every right to employ who they want to and to a standard that suits their business.
Doesn’t common sense indicate that hairy blokes in singlets and work boots need not apply. I mean the same thinking if you took your car to an auto shop and the mechanic arrived in lipstick and high heels, singlet of course – I wonder how long they would have customers.
We have to allow employers to employ to their standard and if we don’t fit in with that, stop complaining and go and find something else to do.
If you apply for a job as a personal trainer and you happen to be an overweight slob with a cigarette dangling out of your mouth the employer has to lie to you when the truth might be a wake up call.
Come on everyone we have to learn to go responsible for ourselves instead of looking to blame the system.
Good on ya Honey Birdette. Stick to it.

Ashley
Ashley
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Ratner

The concern is allegations of certain required behaviour and a sexist dress code that likely creates sexual objectification of employees. This clearly does not promote a healthy retail work environment for young people. The other article linked states that these issues have been raised by a number of the companies store assistants previously.

It’s almost always the case that someone calls equal opportunity or a level playing field politically correct ‘bullshit’ until they or a loved one end up disadvantaged. If you’ve ever seen the hugely damaging effect of a workplace unfairly stacked up against an individual on their livelihood, health and family you would understand why it’s important for protections.

Michael Ratner
Michael Ratner
3 years ago
Reply to  Ashley

Ashley – I take you very valid point on board and hard to argue with those sort of implications. I suppose by allowing employers to be more specific in their choice of employees, whilst it might be disillusioning in the first instance, it might help with the disappointment of the inevitable rejection usually with facile reasons.
Fortunately or unfortunately applicants are not invisible possibly unless working in a call centre. Possibly the consumer is thought to be influenced by who they are dealing with …remember the car hire ads which were notorious for the birds .. you know the sexy and pretty ones….
Times have changed and the media and social media have fostered this indignant way of looking at everything. Hell more power to those who have this strong feeling of wrong or right … in a perfect world it might go down better. But this insidious idea of the rules actually make openings for some sort of what I perceives as blackmail actually waters down some of the real honesty that is needed.
Employers are shackled by bureaucracy.

Ashley
Ashley
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Ratner

I totally agree an employer should be free to choose the candidates who will be right for their business. They’re perfectly entitled to set standards of their employees, including dress and some aspects of personal presentation for example. However, everything they do must be done in accordance with law, and the laws are not overly burdensome.

I haven’t researched the business, but given what they sell they probably have a sex discrimination exemption in their hiring. They very likely do not have any grounds to discriminate based on physical features for a store assistant position though. They would probably have an exemption here if they were hiring models for example.

I think the other linked article probably lists some of the more troubling allegations regarding their workplace culture that may be informing their hiring practices.

Michael Ratner
Michael Ratner
3 years ago
Reply to  Ashley

I’m a firm believer in Walk in Other Peoples Shoes.
Life is not fair and it is certainly challenging.
They have every right to discriminate based on sexual discrimination and whilst legally they might not be able to ask for only attractive and sexy people, surely as an applicant you’d do a bit of research about the advertiser and sort of realise that you don’t tick all the boxes.
This isn’t a reason to start screaming discrimination. It’s not. It’s certain criteria by the way you’d have to say expected by your customers. And believe it or not many staff need guidance and training. Don’t cry foul when you are given a training manual and it says you should always be well groomed, maybe pout your lips or some other nuances that are applied by every retailer who trains staff. Comes to mind “Do you want fries with that?”
It’s a simple request disguised in an upsell but needs a lawyer because you were discriminated against because the salesperson insinuated you were under nourished.
This is not a police state, it’s not a work gang. The dole recipients have made it clear that nobody can force them to work and even the government have introduced some arduous compliances to let people be eligible.
BUT – the employer just about doesn’t have the discretion to populate their workforce according to the best chance of success. It’s stacked against employers.

T.J . Antipodes
T.J . Antipodes
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Ratner

It sure is stacked against the employers

So many OS companies wont pick australia as a base as its expensive and too much hard work.

Backward, stupid, stupid country that is falling fast from being first world.

People will judge us in history, how did a place given so much, do so little with it.

Miss Moneypenny
Miss Moneypenny
3 years ago

Seriously, if you don’t like the dress policies…simply don’t apply!
If you don’t like the job….quit.
Why do the Moral police feel like they owe society the favour of dicta ting what can or cannot be done. The bleaters here are the same wingers who complain about programs like the footy show and Sam Newman etc, and then continue to watch.
We live in a free society(changing weekly) you don’t like it, vote with your feet, dollars or engagement, and for all those mysoginist “outers” ifs a lyngerie store, your not going in to buy staple items so neck to knee is not a requirement!!