Workplace Discrimination: Beauty Can be a Beast at Work

discrimination-gender-beauty-studyIt's hard to feel sorry for pretty girls, since numerous workplace discrimination studies have been done that show they have an edge when it comes to getting hired, promoted, elected and evaluated. But there are two areas in which they are at a distinct disadvantage: one is in fields that are traditionally considered to be masculine, and the other is when an insecure and/or jealous wife is involved.

A new study released in the Journal of Social Psychology reveals that attractive women are discriminated against when applying for jobs that many people consider to be more testosterone-infused, such as director of finance, mechanical engineer, prison guard, tow-truck driver, construction worker and hardware salesperson.

The manly job syndrome

"In these professions being attractive was highly detrimental to women," said Researcher Professor Stefanie Johnson of the University of Colorado Denver Business School. "In every other job, attractive women were preferred. This wasn't the case with men, which shows there is still a double standard when it comes to gender."

The study determined this by giving participants a list of job titles and photos of applicants. They were then asked to determine which applicants would be suitable for each position. There was a stack of 55 male and 55 female photos to chose from. They frequently ruled out good looking women for positions considered to be more masculine, but attractive men were not subjected to same discrimination.

"One could argue that, under certain conditions, physical appearance may be a legitimate basis for hiring," Johnson said. "In jobs involving face-to-face client contact, such as sales, more physically attractive applicants could conceivably perform better than those who are less attractive. However it is important that physical attractiveness is weighed equally for men and women to avoid discrimination against women."

This is where employment services such as Spirited Sales come into play. They basically focus on placing former cheerleaders in pharmaceutical sales positions, and have recently expanded to include former student body officers and athletes. Their website states they have "a database of thousands of self-confident, outgoing, responsible and enthusiastic young men and women from around the United States." Looks are not mentioned, but it's assumed that you don't often see an unattractive cheerleader, either male or female.

The jealous wife syndrome

However, there's another area where attractive women are often discriminated against and attractive men are not: That's in positions where the female will be working closely, or perhaps even living with, a married man. These include jobs such as personal assistant, assistant manager, nanny and au pair.

"I'm not jealous, but I'm not stupid either," says Charlotte, a San Diego executive who prefers not to use her real name in an effort to keep from offending her husband's current assistant. "You're just asking for trouble if there's a beautiful woman in your husband's life, spending more time with him than you do and attending to all his personal needs. The same thing goes for our nannies. It's understood that the gorgeous Swedish girl is not going to be living under our roof with us."

Charlotte's husband supports her in this, "I love my wife, and I don't need the distraction a beautiful assistant or nanny would cause both of us," he says. "It's just not the same with a handsome guy."

In fact, there's a growing demand for male live-in child care workers, and looks don't seem to be an issue with them, according to Lee Rappaport, childcare coordinator with Cultural Care Au Pairs. "Those families who want male au pairs have specific reasons -- maybe it's a single mom with sons, or families with athletic children -- and they never mention looks," she says. "On the other hand, many of those families who want female au pairs do have specific appearance preferences."

Preferring less attractive females in these positions may be understandable, but that doesn't make it fair or easier to swallow, especially for the attractive women being passed over for the jobs. "My boss flat out told me that I wouldn't be receiving the promotion we both knew I deserved, because his wife had been in the office, met me, and told him she didn't want him working closely with me," says a woman we'll call Lisa, who is still working for the same company. "We both agreed that if I wanted to get ahead, I should transfer to another department, so I did."

Beauty is as beauty doesn't

In a recent article titled "The Beauty Advantage," Newsweek surveyed some 202 corporate hiring managers and 964 members of the public to find out how looking good affects everything from hiring to office politics and promotions. The results are astounding and prove Johnson's findings that beauty is no longer just skin deep but a double-edged sword that can help or hinder your career depending on how it is used -- a hindrance that researchers have coined, the "beauty is beastly" effect.

Here are the findings from the Newsweek study, in all their beautiful glory:

  • Fifty-seven percent of hiring managers said that "qualified but unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time landing a job."
  • Half of hiring managers advised spending as much time and money on making sure they look attractive as on perfecting a resume.
  • Sixty-one percent of hiring managers ( most of them men) said it would be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure at work.
  • Newsweek also asked the hiring managers to rank the top nine character traits they sought in an employee in order of importance, appearance came in third, right behind experience (No. 1) and confidence ( No. 2).

What's a girl to do?

"In general, American law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, age and disability, but not appearance," says Dr. Deborah L. Rhode in her book 'The Beauty Bias -- The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law.' "Appearance discrimination is deeply rooted and widely practiced, and there are obvious limits to how much the law can affect it. But the same has been true for other forms of discrimination and consumer fraud, and the last half century leaves no doubt that legal prohibitions can help reduce, remedy, and raise awareness of injustice."

Want to add your own two cents to the subject live on the air? Lisa Johnson Mandell and Janet Powers of Diva Toolbox will be discussing this article on their radio show Work It, Girl! Thursday, August 12 at 7:30 am PST, 10:30 am EST. Comments are welcome at (347) 426-3398. Listen to the show any time at

Next: Shocking Truths About Beauty Bias at Work >>

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Np Ms. Mandell- I've never heard of any studies that have shown results that "pretty girls" have a hiring advantage over ugly girls. When Newsweek and other studies refer to appealing looks or appearance, they are referring to the professionalism or appropriateness of one's attire and grooming. In addition, the Newsweek study doesn't differentiate between lookism advantage for men and women, but rather blended the results. It is wrong to use the Newsweek study results to speak to the female experience only as if Newsweek was excluding men from the study. Any "advantage" good looking people in the Newsweek study were gaining in the workplace were very likely being experienced by the men way more so than the women. You seem to want to have readers believe, with no basis in fact or support for the belief, that pretty girls get and advantage. Seems to me you are trying to fan the flames of envy and hatred against attractive females. Jealousy yourself huh?

Readers- any threat to a man's marriage as a result of the presence of a good looking woman lies between HIS legs. Marriage is a contract between him and his wife. HE is the threat to it and HE is the only one who can make good on that threat to destroy the marriage. The mere presence of a good looking woman is irrelevant. And by the way, if a man is willing to cheat, he is NOT going to make good looks a contingency on the act. It will only be OPPORTUNITY that will enable him. How many men have had affairs with unattractive women? Millions. Looks don't so much matter. Making oneself available for sexual affairs does. And unattractive females are no strangers to making themselves available for sexual affairs. I would argue that there are many many more unattractive females who've made themselves available for use to men for affairs. Not just because a lot of these women have insecurities over their looks and seek external validation of their "sexual appeal" (if you look around the workplace and see whose showing cleavage, curve, and leg and being flirtatious, you'll notice its almost always the overweight or ugly woman with low self esteem who goes around spreading gossip and hatred out of jealousy), but also because most women are unattractive. A very very small percent of our population is good looking. Its really unattractive women who are more likely to make themselves available to married men. There's just way more of them out there and their morals and self-respect where men go are often compromised by their low self esteem and quest for appeal validation from men. Even with unattractive females, no threat exists to a marriage. The husband's willingness to cheat is the ONLY threat to the relationship.

Pretty females are the last "minority" that society has yet to acknowledge as a class in need of protection. They know better than most people what it is to be discriminated against and exist as receptacles of hatred and labeling ("threat", "ho", "slut", etc.)

April 14 2014 at 6:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's ridiculous for people to NOT expect some form of discrimination! This is human nature! We judge people based on appearances ALL the time, because we have a primal brain stem. It's that simple. It doesn't matter if that beautiful woman is kind-hearted and virtuous, our jealousies come out! And it doesn't help that porn has SATURATED the culture, as well as feminism, which has definitively put women at a disadvantage. If a woman wants to have a happy marriage, she has to make herself attractive, be soft and kind to her husband, and marry someone who is conservative and won't cheat on her.

July 11 2012 at 12:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am finding that after searching for a job for almost 2 years after a layoff I'm having zero luck getting hired after the 'women' of the company interview me. When I met with an unemployment counselor she told me that "mean girls" syndrome and this sort of discrimination against attractive people is common. She told me I'm probably not getting the jobs because I'm too attractive and I should downplay it (ponytail and glasses anyone)? So getting the job for being good looking certain isn't working for me.......

February 01 2011 at 11:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Maria Aguilar

It is incredible to see how even though we live in the 21st century, this type of discrimination is still around. I believe that this issue will linger with us until we begin to see females breaking the glass ceiling theory.
This article reminds me of a saying that talks about being able to find a beauty with brains. Women are becoming more educated than ever before. More women are graduating with PhD's and other degrees as time keeps passing. This includes women who are attractive and who are not. The intellectual capacity of a woman is not measured by her beauty but by how much effort and dedication she puts into her work.
Since more women than men are pursuing a higher education, time will put more of these women in executive positions. It is all a matter of encouraging more women to strive for more in their professional lives and working harder to achieve it. Hopefully this will happen within our lifetime.

September 21 2010 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Beauty can actually be a "curse" Being pretty in not always an advantage, especially in the work place.. "Some" woman envy the pretty ones almost to the point of hatred.. Men are often afraid to approach good looking women. Especially if the woman is confident. Males lack of self confidence. By the way, not all pretty ladies open their blouses to gain attention..

Unfortunately, we live in a society where moral values have created a war between men & woman.. Men think woman are bitches & golddiggers. Woman think men are self centered jerks.. Sad.. More youth today are testings the same sex looking for companionship.. Men with men, woman with women sexually.. I am not judging gay nor lesbian relationships.. I am not a judgemental individual.. never have been.. I want the war to stop between men & woman.. This world is full of beautiful people.. We are all God's special creatures.. We are unique..your own speciaL "Blue print" !! With all the billions of individuals on this planet there is a mate for all.. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF..ACT WITH CONFIDENCE, SMILE.. Your true love is waiting. You must open yourselve up to others to receive love...and love yourself first! Accept "you" one of God's special creatures, Happy thoughts to all..Keep on smiling!! READ THIS! One of the best opening lines to meeting a mate is "Are you involved" ?
If they say no.. Ask "Do you wanta be"? This famous line caught my attention,
lead into 8 years! Best time in my life.. Learned alot. Try it!

August 12 2010 at 5:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Women will never be equal to men. Women cannot be men. When given managerial or supervisory responsibilities, women try to behave the way they think men behave as managers or supervisors. Women, in positions of responsibility, are usually overbearing and unnecessarily imperious or bitchy. Most women hate working with other women. Most men hate working for women. Sorry ladies but everything you're doing or trying to do is unnatural. You shouldn't believe what the old, jewish feminists wrote so many years ago. It applied to them only. You were sold a bill of goods and got shortchanged.

August 12 2010 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cecil Jones

This article opens up several different cans of worms. Let's admit the fact that hiring beautiful people is good for business-period. The problem with hiring beautiful women is climbing the ladder wearing open blouses and dresses. The temptation for inappropriate relationships to develope always exists when dealing with beauty. The integrity of the individuals involved comes into question on a daily basis. Relationships in the workplace are strained by the constant temptation to go beyond the 9-5. Beauty can be a beast if it is permitted to get out of hand. What beautiful woman is going to give away this natural advantage? This article is very misleading. Beauty is an advantage, not a liability.

August 12 2010 at 6:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

For those with the silly comments about the poor little pretty girls, I did not read the article as a complaint that pretty girls can not get ahead. It was a factual article displaying the results of a study.

I have my own thoughts about why attractive women are not wanted in the more male roles. It is men being protective of women; good, bad or otherwise, it is in our nature to protect women. As a building contractor, I would hire a woman for a construction job but the more attractive she is the lighter duty I would give her. I know how sexest this sounds and I might not do it intentionally, but I know my nature and I would want to protect her from all of that heavy lifting and dirty work. I am certian that the same holds true with many of the other occupations that you listed.

(forgive any spelling errors, spelling was not my best subject)

August 12 2010 at 6:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"The pretty girls know who they are" my Grandma said. She was right. I was a pretty girl ~ and a downright beautiful woman! My 'babe' days are long gone but my memories of those years are still with me. I don't recall any outright favoritism in the workplace, though. I earned every dollar and promotion with nothing more than good secretarial skills and dependability.

August 12 2010 at 5:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It says when considering important qualities in hiring a person, that 'appearance' was ranked third, but I imagine what most of those hiring managers were thinking of was that the person arrived well-dressed and presentable, not sexually alluring. From some interview stories I've heard, people don't always think looking your best at an interview is necessary.
I agree that confidence may be an issue for some people who think they are not hired because they are 'unattractive.' I would like to see a similar study done where the same 'attractive people' apply for similar positions but with different confident & shy attitudes.

August 12 2010 at 5:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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