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Appearance-based discrimination against young women in the workplace

Anna-Maija Lämsä (Faculty of Communication and Kaunas Faculty, Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania) (School of Business and Economics, University of Jyväskylä, Jyvaskyla, Finland)
Merle Ojasoo (Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia)
Marjut Jyrkinen (Department of Cultures, Gender Studies, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)
Raminta Pučėtaitė (Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 15 June 2023

Issue publication date: 19 June 2023




Appearance-based discrimination in workplaces based on an employee's physical appearance is a legal and ethical problem. This study provide important research findings concerning such discrimination in Estonia.


A qualitative case study strategy and narrative inquiry were used. The information which was gathered for the research consists of three cases which concern appearance-based discrimination against young women. Information for two of the cases was gathered together by means of open interviews. Information for the third case is based on articles which were found in Estonian daily newspapers.


Covert and overt discrimination based on an employee's physical appearance can occur in Estonian workplaces, even though discrimination and inequality are not tolerated in public and all forms of discrimination are illegal in Estonia. The appearance norms, which frame perceptions of attractiveness and unattractiveness, may at times be rather narrow and stereotypical in Estonian workplaces. The attempts by employees to resist such discrimination in an early phase of the employees' careers are generally not successful.


Through real-life cases, this study makes empirically visible a problem at the workplace related to employees' physical appearance in Estonia. This study makes suggestions for preventing this kind of discrimination in organisations. Narrative inquiry offers a fruitful approach for how researchers can address a sensitive problem, such as the appearance-based discrimination against the employees discussed in this study.



Lämsä, A.-M., Ojasoo, M., Jyrkinen, M. and Pučėtaitė, R. (2023), "Appearance-based discrimination against young women in the workplace", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 125-141.



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