April 9, 2012

Physical Appearance and the Workplace

Women benefit more than their male counterparts from being considered good-looking by their employers.

This is one of the challenges women face in the work world, according to a new study by Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle, Beauty and the Labor Market.

Attractive employees are asked fewer questions at job interviews, are more likely to be promoted, and earn typically 10% more than “average” or unattractive peers, the study further notes.  More than 7 in 10 hiring managers say beauty is an asset to women in the workforce, compared to 63% of managers who believe attractiveness enhances men’s careers.

In the 1970s, women focused on their achievements, not their looks.  The challenge now is that beauty is not even discussed in the workplace, says Dr. Vivian Diller, therapist and author of Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change.  “We need to accept that it’s a fact and talk about it openly.  Those who are clever or quick-witted are also more likely to get jobs.  Do we devalue them because they are funny?”

Much of the challenge exists today because Millennial women have always mingled beauty and the workplace, the report continues.  Not only has this generation grown up in a world that exploits women’s looks, but these practices are encouraged by “prominent” business women.  In a career guidance article in Cosmopolitan magazine, Ivanka Trump urges women to “emit sex appeal on the job,” and “evoke sensuality by talking about ‘passion’ for a project.”

The downside to this practice is that beauty fades with age, and if a woman believes her looks define her, this can become a challenge to her success  in the workplace.  In fact, the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports that among all age groups, women ages 18 to 24 are the most likely to consider plastic surgery for themselves.  Women under age 34 account for 20% of all Botox procedures and chemical peels, neither of which is covered by insurance.

And unfortunately, appearance is not federally protected, so a plaintiff seeking legal assistance must sue under a protected characteristic such as race, sex, or religion.  Even if the case gets to court, plaintiffs are likely to lose, notes University of Texas sociologist Samantha Kwan, citing her analysis of more than 200 federal cases.  Why?  Because employers can make a case for “occupational qualification,” meaning that consumer demand (for attractive sales persons, etc.) necessitates the choice of more attractive workers in an endeavor for a more profitable business.

What’s the recommendation?  More often than not, it’s the wisdom we gain with age, and the knowledge that there are other qualities we have that require attention.  Even as women we need higher self-esteem.

To learn more about how the quest for beauty has created challenges for girls and women of all ages, plan to join us as we host a screening of MISS REPRESENTATION, a 90-minute documentary exploring how the media has failed to present images of women in power and leadership positions.  The film explores how the media message is that a woman’s value is in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, not her leadership capacity.

Chrysalis is co-hosting the film presentation on Tuesday, April 17 at 7 pm at the Bulldog Theater on the Drake University campus.
(We will be showing the film to Chrysalis After-School participants at 4 pm in the same location.)  We’ve invited Drake University Sociology Professor Laurie Linhart to facilitate a brief discussion following the film, to explore how we can gain a new perspective,
and take action, to mitigate the overpowering messages of our media.

There is no charge, so please invite your friends and family.  We’ll be happy to see you.

To learn more about MISS REPRESENTATION and to watch a preview:  http://vimeo.com/18985647