Workzone: Attractiveness can influence whether a person joins a workforce

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Looks aren't everything, right?

No, but they may be a factor influencing whether someone will be hired or not.

In 2010, Newsweek surveyed 202 corporate hiring managers regarding the necessity of attractiveness in the workforce. Fifty-seven percent said they believed an unattractive job applicant is less likely to get hired than an attractive applicant, and 59 percent advised that job candidates spend as much time and money on perfecting their appearance as they would their resume.

A survey on AOL.com, also done in 2010, found that 57 percent of 2,434 people felt they have either been hired or passed over for a job because of their looks. A similar survey question resulted in 22 percent of 2,277 voters admitting to hiring based on looks once or twice, and 19 percent admitted to hiring based on looks frequently.

This is not a trend, says Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin and author of "Beauty Pays," but a reflection on the health of the economy. During good economic times, managers do not have many applicants to choose from, since fewer people are job hunting. On the other hand, during bad economic times, managers can be more selective because of more people applying for job positions.

"We are in a culture where looks matter, and idealized images of attractiveness are relentlessly present in advertising and the media," said Deborah Rhode, director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford University and author of "The Beauty Bias."

Despite the emphasis on appearance, not much may be able to be done to protect the average Joe who is passed over for a job.

"At this point in time, the employee would have to prove that he/she was discriminated against based on some protected characteristic related to their appearance," said Katherine Loehrke, a human resources editor at J.J. Keller & Associates Inc., a human resources compliance firm based in Neenah, Wis. "I doubt that there will be a law in the near future specifically barring employment discrimination based on appearance, but there are already laws that come into play in this area."

For example, a person would be protected if he is discriminated against because of a physical characteristic because of a medical condition or disability listed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"One problem with implementing a separate law prohibiting discrimination based on an individual's level of attractiveness [in general] is the subjectivity that would come with assessing an employer's compliance or noncompliance," Ms. Loehrke said.

"Namely, if we do that, my fear is that we detract from the protection of other groups," Mr. Hamermesh said.

However, the state of Michigan and six municipalities -- Santa Cruz, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; Urbana, Ill.; Madison, Wis.; Howard County, Md.; and San Francisco -- already have laws in place that protect people against this type of discrimination.

"They are certainly an improvement over jurisdictions with no prohibitions, but they are underinclusive," Ms. Rhode said. "Some bans only discrimination based on height and weight, or have unrealistically limited remedies."

Fortunately, not all hope is lost for the plain Jane.

In the 2010 Newsweek survey, when ranking nine characteristics on importance for success in the workforce, appearance came in third, with experience and confidence in first and second place.

"Looks are only one of the many, many things that affect how well we do in jobs and in life," Mr. Hamermesh said. "If you haven't got one thing, take advantage of another."

datelinepittsburgh

Alexa Bakalarski: abakalarski@post-gazette.com. First Published August 5, 2012 4:00 AM


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