Geek at computer wearing red glassesI applied and interviewed for a position at Victoria’s Secret once. The original position was for “customer service associate,” i.e. the store was looking for someone to fold clothes and setup displays early in the morning before all the customers arrived.

After my second interview, one of the hiring managers told me he was actually going to put me at the register instead of the listed position. Upon telling a friend this, he said, “I assumed they would end up putting you at the register; stores like to put the attractive people up front.”

Having never worked in retail (besides two months at a shoe store while in high school) I thought nothing of his comment. That is, until I recently came across an article in the Huffington Post.

Have you ever heard of Beautifulpeople.com, a dating site matching beautiful men and women together? Well, apparently, this site is now offering companies a way to find “beautiful” job candidates—a beautiful people job site.

The article (via Mashable) said:

Employers will have a dedicated business profile and be able to pursue other members who are looking for a job. Members will also be able to look through job listings and apply directly to companies.

“An honest employer will tell you that it pays to hire good-looking staff,” said Greg Hodge, managing director of BeautifulPeople.com, in a statement. “Attractive people tend to make a better first impression on clients, win more business and earn more.”

Seeing this news led me to go back and ask my friend about his comment years ago. He, having worked in retail before, said that it’s true: Stores (especially clothing stores) tend to 1) hire more attractive people and 2) put those workers on display, i.e. as store models and cashiers, as opposed to having them work behind the scenes.

Now, everyone knows many industries, like fashion and entertainment, prioritize this (false) standard of beauty and attractiveness, but this it’s-all-about-how-you-look mentality has seeped into corporate America as well? A study, “Physical Attractiveness Bias in Hiring: What Is Beautiful Is Good,” found that although most assumed physical attractiveness only mattered in “high exposure” roles (actors/actresses, politicians, musicians, etc.), biases for applicants considered physically attractive also affect roles not considered high exposure.

Researchers call this the “what is beautiful is good” stereotype. If something is beautiful, society deems it “good;” if something is ugly or unattractive, society deems it “bad.”

A Workplace Psychology cited a study on this issue, saying:

Whether researchers studied business school students or real-life HR professionals, the results were almost identical. The majority of the candidates hired were more attractive.

This recruiting practice led me to question its morality: Is hiring based off attractiveness a useful, and fair practice, or is it a form of discrimination?

Most companies pride themselves on being equal opportunity employers, but if one filters out candidates based on who’s good looking and who isn’t, has that business ruled out the “equal opportunity”?

When sourcing candidates to fulfill a role, employers look for certain skills, background and expertise. Most also look at an individual’s character and personality to determine if he or she will fit in with the company culture. If someone doesn’t have the qualities the employer is looking for, he or she is excluded from the candidate pile. This is a normal process. Yet, how does adding physical attractiveness factor into the mix?

I think it boils down to the age-old phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Whether or not a candidate has the right skills to perform a required task is pretty black and white; what makes someone a “beautiful” person is not. Hiring based off physical attractiveness is such a slippery slope because physical features often have a lot to do with discriminative classifications: race, sex, creed, color, national origin, and even religion (for instance, how a person dresses, head garments. etc.).

What are your thoughts recruiters and employers? Should some part of the recruitment-to-hire process be based on a candidate’s physical attractiveness?



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