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Why A Physical Attractiveness Stereotype Crushes Opportunities

Nearly everyone understands by the time they’re adolescents that appearances matter.  You see beauty and sexuality emphasized consistently in ads, movies, television shows, and social media.  Dating services portray people on their sites as attractive and eager to meet you.  Anti-aging products are hocked to women by twenty-something-year-old models with no spots or wrinkles.  Viagra ads suggest to men if they take the pill they’ll be able to bed a gorgeous woman, just like the one in the commercial.  We’re barraged with messages that reinforce the notion looks trump substance.

The pressure to be attractive extends to your professional life as well. But, landing a job you’re qualified for or getting the promotion you’ve earned shouldn’t depend on the size of your waistline or the prominence of your nose.  After all, you don’t comb your hair with a fork or require a formal introduction to dental floss!  However, growing evidence supports the theory that looks play a significant role in your career development and income.  Therefore, it’s imperative to learn why a physical attractiveness stereotype crushes opportunities for most people.

Who’s The Fairest Of Them All?

Let’s say you’re in the market for a new job.  You get your resume reviewed and edited by a professional and eagerly apply for several positions.  This, along with a snazzy cover letter ought to secure you a few interviews.  Beauty isn’t a consideration at this point, right?  Alas, most companies have been using ‘social screening’ for years to evaluate applicants.  It’s a process where hiring managers use your social media accounts to determine if you’re a viable candidate.  And unless you have picture-free profiles, your appearance is part of the package.  According to a recent poll conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder, sixty percent of employers surveyed used social networking platforms for hiring purposes.  Maybe this is old news to you.  No biggie.

Well, there is an abundance of research that emphasize the advantages of being good looking.  In a field experiment conducted by the University of Buenos Aires, researchers found that resumes submitted with photos of attractive applicants were 36 percent more likely to be given a callback.  If that’s not discouraging enough, studies by economist Daniel S. Hamermesh found that beautiful people are often offered higher salaries.  In fact, Hamermesh wrote a fascinating, yet disturbing book on the topic, Beauty Pays.  In it, he explains how companies can justify and afford to pay a premium for attractive employees.



Eyes Without A Face

Obviously, hiring based on a person’s looks is wrong.  The practice squanders human resources and reinforces stereotypes.  We can only wonder how often brilliant applicants are passed over for eye-catching mediocrity.  You also have to wonder how it affects office morale.  How can we reduce this type of discrimination?

Both businesses and governments have shown increasing interest in implementing blind or anonymous processes to review applicants.  This means more companies are attempting to reduce cues for conscious or unconscious bias in hopes of hiring more women and minorities.  It stands to reason this approach will also benefit older and less attractive prospects as well.  Current trends and strategies used include:

  • Omitting name, gender, and photos from resumes

  • Offering online questionnaires

  • Conducting telephone interviews

  • Positioning a candidate behind a screen during an interview

  • Eliminating social screening from the hiring process

Perhaps these tactics bring more diversity to the workforce and result in better positions and more money to those who have previously been discriminated against based on their looks.  However, instituting these procedures is purely voluntary on behalf of companies.  There are currently no laws mandating blind or anonymous hiring practices in the United States.  Also, businesses may be reluctant to change existing systems based on the added expense.  As a result, progress in the area is bound to be slow.

Related Reading: 11 Breathtaking Cindy Gallop Quotes About Equality

It’s easy to see why a physical attractiveness stereotype crushes opportunities for job seekers.  Pretty people continue to have the upper hand for now.  Perhaps in time, the statistics will change.  In the meantime, we’ll have to continue keeping up appearances to receive the highest pay possible.  Just like Mom always said, “Life isn’t fair.”

What are your thoughts?  Should companies be legally obligated to use blind interviewing to reduce stereotyping and increase fairness in hiring practices?  Share your experiences.

38 thoughts on “Why A Physical Attractiveness Stereotype Crushes Opportunities

  1. I wish I could say that the information presented here is a big shock – but it’s not. It leads me to the question of what can be done to combat the bias?

    1. I agree, Shelley. I was shocked more by the YouTube video by Daniel Hamermesh than the stats in the infographic. I don’t think there is a quick solution to this problem either. At least some companies are trying to change hiring practices to improve the situation.

  2. What an eye opener!

    1. Hi, Melissa. Yep, this is a jaw dropper…for all the wrong reasons. Hopefully, this will change over time.

  3. This is very interesting! I read a statistic somewhere that a majority of the top CEO’s have perfectly symmetrical faces. There can definitely be subconscious biases that can’t be avoided!

    1. Hello, Jennifer. The statistics fascinate and horrify me. I really hope we can get rid of some of the biases over time. Thanks for contributing. I always appreciate that.

  4. I like the infographic at the end of the post – Willy looks like my kind of guy. 😉 And who knew that more money is spent on beauty products than on televisions?

    This post made me think of a Saturday Night Live fake commercial for a soap that “washes your brain, as well as your face” – definitely check it out at:

    1. Howdy, Andrew. I love your sense of humor. This is one of those posts that will either make you laugh at the absurdity or cry. I’m glad you chose to laugh. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great article and unfortunately oh so true… I was in a sales role for 15 years. Your appearance becomes less critical as your relationships with clients grow but first impression was critical. Thus the suits and focus on grooming. There are other factors like race and age which will also impact opportunities. At the end, I worked with a lot of younger people so I had to put more effort and $$$ into remaining “youthful” without looking like I was trying too hard.
    Glad to be out of the rat race and in my sweatpants with no makeup.

    1. Oh, Marian. It is so sad that we can’t just be who we are, especially in sales. It seems the focus should be on your work, but looks do matter in this society. Glad you got out of the rat race too. I LOVE the days when I can wear sweatpants and no makeup.

  6. Also not a shock, but you presented it in a very interesting and readable way. Shareworthy!

    1. Hi, Shari. I have to say, I was shocked by the stats in the infographic. I knew beauty pays, but I was surprised by how much. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I assume your salary rates are based on the private sector as pay grades tend to be “set” in the public sector.

    It is sad that people are paid a more attractive salary based on the fact they happen to be blessed with good looks.

    Harrods request passport photographs when you apply for their roles. I guess they only want persons of a certain calibre working in their stores.

    1. Wow, Phoenicia. I’ve never heard of a company requiring a passport photo before. I wonder, what do you give them if you don’t have a passport? I suppose you don’t get an interview. Thanks for sharing that. I learn something new every day.

  8. I’ve sat on interview panels and the idea of blind interviewing would be acceptable in initial rounds to weed down the number of candidates. There’s a lot to be said for for face-to-face interaction and how to read a person’s responses though. Too many people who conduct interviews are trained well enough in how to best assess all the info given and how to ask the right questions. There are times I’ve come up against the “You’re too pretty to be intelligent” vibe and it is quite frustrating.

    1. Hi, Jeri. I don’t suppose anyone likes to be stereotyped, including prettier people. It does seem that blind interviewing would get tougher to manage the further you got into the hiring process. Training is imperative. Thanks for your perspective. I appreciate it.

  9. Lovely post!
    I agree with you on it and must say, love the way you have spread the information across the article and presented it.
    This is one thing, among many which must be changed!

    1. Thank you, Sushmita. I sincerely hope companies and societies can find ways to reduce this waste of human resources. It is shortsighted to keep hiring processes the way they are. I am grateful for your input!

  10. For many years I worked as a manager so I’ve been through the mill in terms of interviewing. Personally, I would opt out of blind interviews because (to me) personality and attitude are nearly as important as experience and education and a blind interview could potentially give an advantage to anyone who happens to be able to put a little better spin on their information. I’d like to think that I never fell into the trap of hiring for looks, but on the side of harsh reality, my field was in sales so you have no choice but to think in terms of what kind of a first impression a candidate will make with potential clients. Great post!

    1. Hi, Marquita. I think most hiring managers are honest, decent people. We all have biases, though. It’s reflected in the hiring statistics. Pretty people get more interviews and higher starting salaries without having better qualifications. I think it would be awfully hard to have the entire interview process be ‘blind’, but it seems that at least the initial screening should be. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. I love to get different perspectives!

  11. Fascinating post, Jen, and well done infographic! I am amazed at the stats! I’d never thought about it before and hadn’t realized that better looking sales staff are often better producers, and that that nugget seems to give employers justification in paying better looking sales people more. Such a shame that so many people are being judged on their appearance vs their capabilities and intelligence.

    1. I am grateful for your kind words, Doreen. It is a shame that so many are judged on appearances. Hopefully, the process will improve over time. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Interesting post.
    It seems unfair, but I do understand some reasoning for it.
    You own a company, your employees are that face of that company. As a boss, You might, even if not knowingly, want those who would reflect your company better as that face.
    I also must say, it is also the employees job to be that representative. I wear a suit to work, I don’t have to, but I do. It is for the reasons of being the face of that company that I do this. I do not think I am wrong for doing this.

    1. Hi, William. I completely agree that you should be well groomed at work. Employees do represent a company. However, if you are well qualified for a job, you should be able to secure the same starting salary as a better looking, equally qualified candidate. Thanks for being part of the conversation!

  13. Very interesting post, Jen. Unfortunately, it is true that we are attracted to and impressed by beautiful people. But I’ve also interviewed job candidates who did little to improve their appearance. First impressions do count. You don’t have to be a beauty, but you do need to wear clothes appropriate to the interview, comb your hair and polish your shoes. I once interviewed a young woman for the job as my secretary and she came to the meeting in sneakers. This was before the advent of the casual office. She didn’t make the cut.

    1. Oh my goodness, Jeannette. I can’t believe anybody would show up to a job interview in tennis shoes! Some people have no common sense. It doesn’t sound like she missed out on the position because of her looks. Good grief. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  14. I really think it is part of life, as unfair as it may seem. But then again, every person has a different opinion of what ‘attractive’ is.

    1. Hi, Michele. Nobody ever said life was fair, right? In my opinion, though, I think companies should do their level best to hire the most qualified person rather than the most attractive. Thanks for your input. I respect that!

  15. Great article Jen. I hear every day at least one patient talking about hating the way they look — and of course, it can get quite out of hand, earning the diagnosis of “Body Dysmorphia.” And on the other side of the fence, really attractive people — I mean downright gorgeous folks by cultural standards — doubt that people want to be with them, to be with them.

    1. Hi there, Doctor. I personally know how damaging ‘body dysmorphia’ is. All the outside pressures from social media, magazines, Hollywood, and work only exacerbate the problem. Not to mention that you might be paid less if you don’t put more effort into your appearance. It’s all so wrong! Thanks for your expert insight. I appreciate it, as always.

  16. Sadly, we have not progressed much when it comes to this issue. It is incredibly frustrating and disappointing statement about our society. Perhaps it will change one day……….but I am not too hopeful.

    1. Hi, Ellen. I am hopeful hiring practices will more often incorporate ‘blind interviews’ and other methods to make the process fairer. Although, I don’t think the change will come quickly enough for women over forty. Perhaps future generations will benefit from our struggle. One can only hope. Thank you for your feedback.

  17. It is a sad state of affairs that in this day and age this kind of thing still exists..but it does. I have been at companies where I know the boss hired the “pretty” one…

    1. Hey, Renee. I think we have all worked at companies where bosses hired people based on looks. It is frustrating to watch undeserving coworkers advance past more qualified candidates based on appearances. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  18. I feel like I want to say, “if only.” Handsome, tall, beautiful people have had the upper hand in being hired, probably since the first person was hired. Studies have shown for years that taller men make more money, handsome men make more money. This sometimes works against pretty women as they are seen as not as smart or capable, although the same is not true for good-looking men. UGH. I would love to live in a world where people are rewarded for their work and their accomplishments, but as long as we reward people like the Kardashians for being just pretty, how is there hope in the work place? Great article. Should be required reading for HR.

    1. Greetings, Cathy. I would love to live in the world you described too. It sounds like a lovely, equitable place to be. I will keep a positive thought for future generations. Maybe they will be fairer. I’m grateful for your comments. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  19. Wanted to let you know I’m sharing this in a roundup post to publish on 8-26-17. Just too interesting not to pass along.

    1. Hey, Shelley. Thank you so much. Email me and I’ll share your post when it’s published. We female entrepreneurs need to help each other when we can, right?

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