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.
Honey Birdette came under fire last week after employees went public about what they claim to be inappropriate work conditions at the retailer.
In an interview with The New Daily, former employee Jess Duff, 22, claimed she was fired from her job as a “Honey” for “not being sexy enough” when a medical condition prevented her from complying with strict dress codes.
When asked for a response to the allegations, the retailer told SmartCompany the claims were “mistruths”.
— Young Workers Centre (@YWCVictoria) December 13, 2016
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 is what they’re 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 8pm 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 the company made contact via phone.
“It was when they called me that they told me what to wear,” she said.
“They said, ‘go and have a look at the Honeys and see what they wear’.”
@HoneyBirdette I was sent home because my heels weren't "red enough and high enough". Worked with no breaks. Judged on my looks at interview
— VERA CHIMERA (@vera_chimera) December 13, 2016
The applicant said she was told she had to attend the interview in specific attire: “The signature red lip, they kept saying, stilettos.”
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 7000 signature target.
— Melinda (@MelLiszewski) December 12, 2016
SmartCompany contacted Honey Birdette on Monday 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
Workplace lawyer Peter Vitale said video applications like the one for Honey Birdette were fraught with danger.
“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 said.
“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.”
— Lady Bellentina (@bellentina) December 13, 2016
However, Mr 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 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 said.
Mr Vitale said it was unlikely the video application process could be considered a form of sexual harassment.
This story first appeared on SmartCompany. Additional reporting by The New Daily.