Most of us are aware of the salary disparity that women have to deal within fact, according to LinkedIns Opportunity Index 2021 report, 37 per cent of India's working women claim to have received fewer opportunities than men due to gender and 85 per cent of them believe they missed out on an opportunity because of their gender. Apart from this salary discrepancy, there is another gap that puts women at a disadvantage: the grooming gap. There is a stark difference in the amount of time, effort and money that women are expected to put in in grooming themselves for the same designation in a company. As women, we are judged by how much we weigh, how we look, what/the brands we wear, our body hair, the make-up we apply and more, explains Rhea*, a 32-year old content manager based out of Mumbai, India.To a certain extent, the way you groom yourself does depend on the field you are working in. Some occupations like public relations or media-centric roles require employees to comply with a set of rules. In some cases, these directions are silent whereas in others, a handbook or an email with a list of expectations is sent out. As a woman and specifically in the industry I work in, if youre not dressed well then people do not take you seriously, explains Simran*, a celebrity manager who has been working in the talent management industry for over seven years. Your hair must be done, clothes have to be branded and more often than not, you have to be formally dressed. But, the same rules do not apply to male talent managers, she elaborates. Of course, if you have a client-facing role, your dress code can have some common standards for men and women both but when it comes to grooming, it is a different ballgame altogether, she adds.Appearance AchievementTime and again, working women are sold this idea that their appearance will be valued and highlighted over their accomplishments and so, there is always inherent need for women to take that extra time and effort in grooming themselves. Popular culture reinforces the idea that women will be remembered for their beauty over their endeavours and a classic example of this is Cleopatra. The Queen of Egypt is celebrated for being one of the most beautiful women in the world but few know that she could speak over nine languages, was highly intelligent and one of the most popular rulers of the country. Similarly, Maharani Gayatri Devi is popularly known for being beautiful over the fact that she was probably one of the most unconventional Indian queens ever although she rose to the occasion time and again and proved she was so much more than a pretty face. She ran for Parliament in 1962 and won the voters in the Lok Sabha by what was the worlds largest landside, winning 192,909 votes out of 246,516. She started a number of schools in Jaipur that are today, are self-reliant. She was also an enthusiastic equestrienne, an excellent rider and a brilliant polo player. However, these facts about her arent as widely and enthusiastically discussed as her signature chiffon saris and her coiffed, cascading hair.It goes without saying that the pressure to groom yourself as a woman is something that has survived centuries and today, continues to thrive as women internalise that grooming themselves will take precedence over their accomplishments.The time gapAs I sifted through the 12 women or femme-identifying folks responses to my questions for this story, I found that they all said they spent at least 39 minutes or more on average every single day getting ready for work. 39 minutes each day, five days a week amounts to three hours and 25 minutes a week and close to 170 hours a year. This doesnt include the time women spend on a bi-weekly or monthly basis at the salon getting expensive treatments that include but are not limited to manis, pedis, facials and waxing. For most of these treatments, women schedule a whole day whereas men can get by with 20 minutes to an hour, depending on if theyre just going in for a haircut or something like a pedicure or facial.The cost gapGrooming costs for women can be extremely high and the global market is estimated to be worth $532 billion worldwide. Beauty products and treatments are aggressively marketed to women to convince them that they absolutely need to get in on the fad, otherwise they wont be as well-liked as their counterparts who conform. Almost all the individuals I interviewed all reported back to me and said they spend five to 10 per cent or more of their cheque on grooming themselves. This included the products they use, treatments they opt for and more.Hidden financial costsCheck out any financial expert/influencers page on Instagram and youll find that they give you a rough breakdown of how you should save or spend your salary. No one talks about the hidden cost of the grooming gap or the little things that women have to fork out their hard-earned money for. Women are expected to pay more money for services that are marketing and specially aimed at them. This discriminatory gender tax can include everything from shaving foam, razors, shampoos, body wash, conditioner, and deodorants and is purely based on the belief that women are ready to fork out more money for their appearance and grooming.More grooming = Better work opportunities?Going back to my interviews, 75 per cent of the folks I spoke to said that spending more time on grooming is linked to getting a promotion/higher wage. A 2016 study published in the Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that physically attractive workers have higher wages than average-looking employees. According to the study, if you dress the part and purchase the right clothes, you can get higher wages. Men need to stick to these rules too but of course, their routines are much less complex and expensive. In short, if you do not play by the rules, you could lose out on a better salary and if you do, you could be perceived as vain or have to then use your income for your upkeep.What can women do?Closing the gap isnt easy and were not here to tell you to throw away your entire beauty cabinet, but we cant give up this fight, can we? Begin by correcting people who immediately ask you if youre unwell on the days when you dont want to put on make-up. Weve all experienced the Oh no, you look sick comments first-hand on the day when you dont wear kajal or any make-up at all.If your job requires you to wear make-up and you do not enjoy dabbling in it, speak to your superior about it. If you do have fun with it and want to wear it but purchasing it drains your finances, ask for a compensation.Rally around your people, your sisters at work, ex-colleagues, family members and friends and remind them that the ideal womenthe thin, hairless, fair woman with huge dark eyes and naturally pouty lipsisnt real. The more we feed the monster of the grooming gap, the more it will consume you and your self-worth.