Attractiveness Factor In Hiring: How to Avoid Beautyism in the Workplace

Jan 6, 2022 4:40:42 AM | Attractiveness Factor In Hiring: How to Avoid Beautyism in the Workplace

When it comes to hiring decisions in the workplace, does appearance matter?

When it comes to hiring decisions in the workplace, does appearance matter?

Are looks and image behind people’s decisions to hire or promote others? Do you automatically disqualify someone who doesn’t fit your preferences? If so, are you suppressing your business success?

At one time or another, we've all heard someone say "Looks don't matter; it's what's inside that counts."

It's probably because we love the idealism of this phrase. However, the fact is that our society values beauty as a trait that reflects positively on other traits, such as intelligence and professionalism.

Some organizations even use an attractive candidate as their main marketing tool.

Should employers be permitted to discriminate based upon attractiveness?

Unfortunately, people are often treated differently or are not considered for certain jobs, promotions, or other opportunities based on how they look.

This type of discrimination is referred to as appearance discrimination, or as beauty bias.

Workplace discrimination based on looks and image is often hotly debated. Many advocate for change in this area, saying it is an increasing problem in today’s workforce.

Employers often face the question of whether to hire a talented person who appears "unpresentable" for a job.

In today's image-conscious business world, many business people contend that this practice is valid when the person in question meets performance standards. However, we are seeing that this is phasing out- especially with the more nomadic and modern shift in the working world’s environment.

However, there is still some beauty bias in the workplace, and while it may be subtle or even a subconscious reflex, it is still present. The first step for removing it is understanding exactly what it is.

The Beauty Bias: What is it?

The beauty bias, also referred to as beauty hiring, is an appearance bias in the workplace, and while hiring based on looks is understandable for jobs that require good looks, it often becomes discrimination based on physical appearance in industries where looks and image have nothing to do with the skills required.

This is often a conscious and unconscious bias that is rife throughout the hiring committee, and attractive candidates will often get the upper hand throughout the hiring process.

When it comes to hiring, there's no doubt that the image of the person is important. From dress to mannerism, to how well remembered they are, image is critical in hiring decisions. But this issue has come under much more scrutiny than ever before over the last few years.

There are now numerous lawsuits focusing on gender discrimination in hiring processes, and there is still considerable debate regarding what information should be used in the workplace.

And considering that media portrayals regarding beauty showcase unattainable ideals, this debate seems likely to draw out for quite some time.

Hiring Based on Looks: What Does the Law say about Attractiveness Discrimination?

The practice of discriminating against individuals on the basis of their physical attractiveness or personal appearance is subtle, but certainly not uncommon.

Even in the United States, which places pride on providing equal opportunities for all citizens, such discrimination can operate without governmental interference. The U.S. Congress passed the legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that protects against discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and other minority factors.

However, aesthetic preferences may overlap with these but are often unprotected biases. Some states have enacted their own laws that expressly protect individuals from hiring based on image, but no federal statute currently exists that specifically bans employers from making employment decisions and hiring practices based on criteria that include physical attractive people.

Inappropriate discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, or ethnicity can result in a lawsuit. Physical attractiveness or a good personal appearance is a protected factor only in limited circumstances, such as specific stats in the U.S.

Avoiding unlawful discrimination in hiring, promotion, and termination practices is the goal of every employer. No one may be discriminated against for race, religion, gender, age, disability.

But these protected factors often overlap with physical attractiveness or personal appearance.

When it comes to hiring, HR professionals should be aware of the array of possible legal issues that may arise in the process.

While much debate exists about when it is appropriate to consider job-related factors that are not strictly related to the work environment, there is general consensus as well as legal parameters that employers should avoid using certain factors in their hiring processes.

Appearance is the outer (and sometimes only ) impression someone makes when they walk into an interview. So, hiring based on personal appearance could be problematic if it disproportionately impacts a protected group in violation of employment laws.

Personal Appearance Standards VS Beautyism in the Workplace

Many studies show that you hold first impressions of another person within seconds of meeting them, impressions that typically are lasting and profound.

These first impressions are governed by the "beauty bias": good-looking people are assumed to be more intelligent, healthy, capable, and trustworthy than less attractive people (according to research by Cornell HR Review).

Aside from jobs that do require specific beauty parameters and standards (media, models, etc), how can one separate beautyism in the workplace from personal appearance standards?

Having a look policy or guidelines for physical appearance is common- many companies, especially corporates, will have a specific set of standards when it comes to personal grooming and attire.

Management teams need to be careful not to overlap these guidelines with beautyism, but we are seeing this becoming less common in the more modern-day workplace.

Is a “Look Policy” part of Beautyism in the Workplace?

A "look policy" that details specific styles, colours, and cuts of clothing to be worn by employees in order to create a professional image sends a message to all employees that they will suffer adverse consequences if their clothing fails to fit the parameters of the company's image.

A look policy is a set of rules for employees to follow when they are dressing for work. Even though everyone loves to express his or her own unique style, an employee needs to look professional to represent their company in the best way possible.

A simple dress code allows an organization to make it clear to employees how to dress professionally.

Employers and employees alike benefit from this, as it allows employees the flexibility to express themselves through their attire while maintaining a professional environment.

An appropriate dress code fosters an environment of professionalism and respect. It provides employees with guidelines on what to wear and what not to wear, maintaining a level of comfort and confidence in the workplace.

Therefore, it may be a fine line, but a looks policy or a dress code for the workplace is not necessarily part of beautyism in the workplace.

That being said, Abercombie and Fitch did come under fire for their “Looks Policy” and ended up settling a court case with $50 million. A class-action lawsuit was filed against the company for discrimination.

The court found that the “All American” look was not necessary for the actual job in which the company hires and thus determined this to be a discriminatory policy and the company settled the case and changed its policy to hiring those who are qualified regardless of their appearance or race.

However, the company still places importance on beautyism in the workplace- and have changed their “Looks Policy” to a “Looking Good” policy that includes attractive candidates based on all races and ethnicity.

Tips for a Balanced and Unbiased “Look Policy”

  • Organizations should make their requirements 
  • Qualifications should be easy to understand 
  • Standards should be relevant to the position requirements.
  • Organizations should ensure that they are not discriminating against protected groups and types of people
  •  Requirements should be reasonable and not too high that it’s difficult for employees to reach or maintain

Should Employers Hire Based on Looks?

What Does the Research Say?

Regardless of their qualifications, attractive job candidates are more likely to be hired and make a higher salary than those who are equally well-qualified but less attractive.

This research examines an important psychological mechanism responsible for attractiveness discrimination in the workplace. According to Cornell HR Review, attractive candidates are considered more favourably than other candidates.

Research indicates the reason for this is more than just skin deep, whether consciously or unconsciously, the hiring team considers attractive candidates to be more sociable, likeable, and be able to contribute to a more positive workplace environment.

However, the above research details more about the perception of employers. Extensive research from the same Review, HR Cornell, shows us that these types of discriminatory hiring practices are not an effective way to hire the best candidates for the job.

No evidence supports the perception that less attractive candidates will be weaker candidates, whether it has to do with social skills or intelligence.

Hiring Based on Looks Statistics

We hate to say it, but more than 51% of surveyed employers will hire based on looks- or at least their hiring decisions will be impacted by beauty bias or at least physical attributes. 

And while the United States may not have explicit regulations for physical attractiveness as a hiring factor, the UK seems to be a bit more firm with its stance on discriminating against candidates due to personal characteristics.

However, despite this, the following UK statistics show us that employers will frequently hire candidates based on their physical appearance.

According to the stats, 2 in 5 hiring managers avoid a candidate with a visible tattoo or a candidate that wears clothes they deem as “unappealing”.

The statistics from Greene King give us the following information:

Out of 1000 hiring managers;

  • 51% discriminate knowingly against candidates based on their physical appearance. 
  • Out of that 51%, 43% admitted they did not hire a candidate due to a tattoo that they could see
  • 40% based their hiring decisions on the clothes a candidate wore
  • And 30% avoided candidates because of the applicant’s hair colour. 

And if you’re interested in statistics about hiring based on discrimination, here’s a few more to stoke the fire:

  • Let’s kick this list off with a more positive stat, despite the rampant bias still present in hiring, 85% of hiring managers describe themselves as being “open-minded” when considering new applicants.
  • 37% of hiring managers will discriminate based on a candidate’s social class
  • 21% will not hire a candidate that has a criminal record
  • 38% of hiring managers will typically pass on a candidate that has not finished school
  • And 30% will generally not hire a candidate without a college degree
  • 25% of hiring managers will not hire an individual that did not even attend college
  • If you’re under the age of 24, then you’re more likely to get some slack: 57% of hiring teams and companies will be less judgemental on physical appearance if the candidate is under 24years old
  • 90% of companies place heavy importance on a good professional appearance during the hiring process
  • Two-thirds of hiring managers will avoid candidates that have a tattoo showing
  • 28% of companies will not hire an employee with visible piercings

When it comes to beautyism in the workplace, two key factors are playing a large role:

1. There is a Perception that Physically Attractive Applicants are Stronger Candidates

Qualified candidates that are considered as more physically attractive people will typically receive more consideration in the workplace. This discrimination based hiring influences the overall interview process and may even influence the management perspective.

It is up to the HR manager or human resources management team to develop strategies and implement procedures to avoid this- as it is often an unconscious bias.

2. This Discrimination Does not Give an Advantage

Discrimination based on personal appearance does not give a company an advantage. More physically attractive candidates will not be more socially adaptable, intelligent, nor will they be stronger candidates based on their looks alone.

These discriminatory perspectives are unfounded and can often do more harm than good, especially when other qualified candidates are overlooked.

Although it is important for management to know what the physical appearance of their employees will be like, they should be more concerned about their personality, personal skills, and work skills.

This type of discrimination is highly detrimental to the success of any company because it may eliminate qualified candidates based on something as meaningless as physical appearance.

So, how can hiring teams avoid hiring on the basis of looks but still maintain their professional image?

Biases are unavoidable, but hiring managers can take steps to mitigate them.

No matter how well designed the selection process is, cognitive biases are inevitable. While these biases are common, they can lead to hiring decisions that go against what we know about the candidate.

Realizing that we are subject to these biases and taking steps to minimize them can help avoid making biased mistakes in the future.

Employers should be aware of the many cognitive biases that may affect a hiring decision. For instance, a halo effect may occur when one trait or performance is used to evaluate another trait, such as their physical appearance.

A halo effect occurs when an employer evaluates a trait based on one positive aspect of a candidate without taking his or her natural skills into account. This occurs more frequently in employee appraisal processes, but may easily occur during a job interview as well.

To reduce the likelihood of a halo effect occurring, employers must take into account all forms of evidence—not just interviews or appraisals—when making hiring decisions.

While an employer can legally ask an applicant if he or she has a driver's license, it is illegal to make hiring decisions based on the applicant's race, ethnicity, gender, age, or disability.

Recruiters need to ensure that they are staying on the right side of the law by only asking questions that are relevant to job performance.

Interview and screening tools can be used to help filter out illegal questions. Employers can choose to gather additional information about the applicant's character and competency on their own.

Recruiters should endeavour to ensure that questions are accurate and relevant so as not to infringe on an applicant's rights. This is made easy with candidate screening tools like VideoCV.

How VideoCV can Help

Hiring and screening tools are a necessity for employers as it can help eliminate employee turnover by helping gain insight into a candidate's skills, background, experience and more.

Pre-employment assessment tools can be used as part of your job application to help you make informed decisions about hiring the right person for the job from the start.

Find out what a candidate's strengths and weaknesses are, what their ideal job environment may look like and how much it will cost to hire them.

VideoCV’s hiring platform provides full visibility into screening, candidate, and interview performance levels 24/7, with configurable notifications designed to help you make informed hiring decisions.

Don't allow your hiring bias to hurt your company's productivity. By using selection assessments and candidate screening tools, you'll ensure that employees are hired for their ability to do the job—not their ability to look good while doing the job.

Fred-Erik Piirmaa

Written By: Fred-Erik Piirmaa