Purpose - This study set out to explore employees' experience and understandings of gender and age in higher education to identify if women in higher education experienced the double jeopardy of gendered ageism. Further the role of physical attractiveness and appearance in higher education is explored. Design/methodology/approach - Rich data were afforded by the qualitative method of in-depth interviewing of 48 employees in a matched by gender, age grouping and academic status design. The recorded transcripts were subject to content and interpretative phenomenological analyses. Findings - This study supports previous findings in different workplace settings that women, both academics and non-academics, experience the double jeopardy of being discriminated against on the grounds of their age and gender in a way that men do not experience. Emergent themes are women: question they experience age discrimination as any perceived discrimination may be gender related and not only age-related (uncertainty); are socialised to tolerate acceptable levels (tolerance); grow to love the perpetrators (identify with the status quo). Physical attractiveness and appearance are seen as relevant to the workplace in higher education. Non-academics see academics as being career driven by their lack of attractiveness and or poor appearance. Male academics perceive women academics as unattractive and dressing down in appearance. Young female academics play down their "looks", i.e. attractiveness and appearance so the effect is minimal (minimisation) as they perceive these be a disadvantage in their careers. Male academics do not report such considerations. "Lookism" thus presents a further prejudice that female academics experience beyond gendered ageism. Research limitations/implications - One experienced interviewer was used to enhance consistency of interviewing but there may be concerns about possible interviewer effects and the generalisability of the findings within higher education. Practical implications - Having identified and elucidated "lookism" as a concern for female academics, its extent and sequalae in higher education may be addressed. Originality/value - This is the first study to show female academics experience the triple jeopardy of gendered ageism and how they look i.e."lookism".