El momento que las voces habían estado esperando

Ethical dilemma of recruiting and hiring based on physical attractiveness

It is no secret that companies and organizations hire their employees based on their experience, skills and attributes,  in search of a great fit… but is this a hundred percent true? Evidence suggests that there is another factor that greatly  influences the recruiters hiring decision: attractiveness. But what exactly is attractiveness? It is a common appeal of  certain characteristics; this can be firm breasts, facial symmetry, and the portrayal of health and fertility in a biological  manner. Daniel Hamermesh, an economist and expert in the economics of beauty, points out that attractive American  employees earn an average of $230,000 more than colleagues who are considered unattractive, a phenomenon observed  in many other countries as well (Hamermesh, 2011). In another study conducted by Stefanie K. Johnson, it was proven  that being physically attractive is advantageous for both men and women when applying for a job, as it leads to higher  ratings of employment suitability. Also, managers opt to not hire conventionally attractive people for less desirable jobs  (warehouse worker, housekeeper and customer service representative). They assume attractive people would find  themselves unhappy and not performing well with positions that are not glamorous enough and are on the lower  end of the salary spectrum. It appears that Aristotle was right when he said that “personal beauty is a greater  recommendation than any letter of reference”. The mentioned data represents a significant injustice due to the  fact that physical attractiveness should not be a valid criteria to take into consideration for hiring an individual.  Employing someone solely based on their good looks entails a disadvantageous treatment for people who are  not considered good looking despite their skills and experience. This article argues about how hiring practices  based on non-job-related criteria, such as physical features, constitutes a form of discrimination (Gardner,  1998). “What is beautiful is good.” From childhood and until adulthood, less attractive people are less likely to  be regarded as happy, interesting, likable, smart, well-adjusted and successful; beliefs and judgements that end  up internalized in the individual’s psyche, leading them to take corresponding actions. Deborah L. Rhode points  out how it is logical for people to be concerned and investing significant effort in their physical appearance.  

There is enough evidence of the disadvantages of not meeting society’s beauty standards in the workplace,  and life in general. Obesity, for example, can represent a significant impediment to individuals as it is often  associated with more negative aspects and are sometimes unfairly viewed as less likable and as lacking self control, self-discipline, effective work habits, and ability to get along with others or interpersonal skills (Rhode,  2009). Surprisingly, research has revealed that many people would prefer to marry a drug user, shoplifter, or  embezzler than someone who is obese. In the professional arena, there is clear evidence of discrimination  against obese women, whereas obese men do not face the same bias. Obese women would need  to submit 37% more resumes to receive the same number of callbacks as their non-obese  counterparts, even when content and the quality of their resumes is identical (Campos Vazquez, 2020). 

On the other hand, attractiveness can also be detrimental to women in certain situations. It was found that when women apply for masculine sex-typed jobs, they might experience sex discrimination due to the fact that their gender role expectations are not a fit for the job. In fact, attractive women would be ascribed as negative traits when applying for a masculine job (Johnson, 2010). This points out the big problem of not considering someone’s intelligence, skills, education, and other important aspects of their personal life (Rhode, 2009).

An additional downside of attractiveness is that it can  lead to heightened same-sex competition from others,  which can have detrimental psychological, emotional and  ego effects (Agthe, 2008). Fosterling’s research revealed  that people often attribute the achievements of same sex  others to luck rather than competence or ability, compared  to unattractive same-sex others or attractive opposite-sex  others (Fosterling, 2007). 

While it is true that hiring and treating employees based on  their physical appearance can be considered unethical, it  is crucial to acknowledge the complexity of this topic and  therefore try to have an open perspective and evaluate  other points of view. The relevance of one’s physical  appearance for a particular job should be a factor in  determining how attractiveness affects the suitability of  both male and female candidates for employment. 

A few investigators argue that an employee’s appearance  can significantly influence how a company and its products  or services are perceived (Cavico, Muffler, and Mujtaba,  2012), hence various employers hire attractive individuals  as a marketing strategy. Many companies, such as the ones  engaged in the beauty market, that seek to sell products  promising to increase someone’s beauty, attractiveness  or to look a certain way, may prefer to hire good-looking  sales assistants as “brand representatives”, because  they enhance the credibility to the brand’s promises to  customers (Greenhouse, 2003). 

This is hiring for the organization, not the job. In other words,  some positions in the market take into account what the  organization or company represents, and they expect their  assets to look the part and reflect company values and  

culture with the goal of achieving a significant boost  in their economy; that is why physical appearance  may take part in the recruitment process of  these institutions (Bowen, 1996). 

While looks-based hiring may be a subject of debate, it cannot and should not be justified solely on its economic advantages alone. I would argue that although there are neurological traits that typically represent beauty, such as facial symmetry, gestures, health, familiarity, etc. (Rhodes, 2006), beauty remains in the eyes of the beholder: inherently subjective. Besides the fact that beauty standards are significantly dependent on the ever evolving social norms and constructs; it is not a definitive nor constant concept and it is malleable and frequently shaped by the marketing strategies based on commercial interests.

I am convinced that the ultimate way to sell a product to a thousand people is to tell them they need it because they are ugly: the majority of companies often strive to convince consumers that their products are indispensable to fulfill a major area in their life. Therefore, this argument, in my opinion, is superficial and not enough of an excuse to discriminate against anyone.

I Valentina, firmly believe that discrimination is not merely an ethical  dilemma, it is intolerable, as it is a genuine form of oppression  that countless marginalized groups, including those labeled as  “unattractive”, are forced to endure on a daily basis. As Janet  Radcliffe said in her article on discrimination, “in choosing one line  of action we exclude another”. Thus, I am personally glad to see  that lots of companies are leaning in the right direction by opting to  include and embrace diversity in terms of race, gender, body size  and sexual orientation –probably as a marketing approach too, but  I insist, in the right direction and signifying progress. 

Discrimination is unacceptable, it is not up for discussion.

  • Altman, A. (2020). Discrimination. En E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. Bowen, D. E., Ledford, G. E., Jr, & Nathan, B. R. (1991). Hiring for the organization, not the job. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 5(4), 35–51. https://doi.org/10.5465/ame.1991.4274747  
  • Campos-Vazquez, R. M., & Gonzalez, E. (2020). Obesity and hiring discrimination. Economics & Human Biology, 37, 100850. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ehb.2020.100850  
  • Cavico, F. J., Muffler, S. C., & Mujtaba, B. G. (2013). Appearance discrimination in employment: Legal and ethical implications of “lookism” and “lookphobia”. Equality,  Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 32(1), 83-119. https://doi.org/10.1108/02610151311305632  
  • Heckman, J. J. (1998). Detecting discrimination. The Journal of Economic Perspectives: A Journal of the American Economic Association, 12(2), 101–116. https://doi.org/10.1257/jep.12.2.101  
  • Johnson, S. K., Podratz, K. E., Dipboye, R. L., & Gibbons, E. (2010). Physical attractiveness biases in ratings of employment suitability: Tracking down the “beauty is beastly”  effect. The Journal of Social Psychology, 150(3), 301–318. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224540903365414  
  • Lee, M., Pitesa, M., Pillutla, M. M., & Thau, S. (2018). Perceived entitlement causes discrimination against attractive job candidates in the domain of relatively less desirable  jobs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(3), 422–442. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000114  
  • Mercat-Bruns, M., Holt, E., & Kutz, C. (2016). The multiple grounds of discrimination. En Discrimination at Work (pp. 145–246). University of California Press. Rhode, D. L. (2009). The injustice of appearance. Stanford law review, 61(5), 1033–1101. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40379704 
  • Richards, J. R., & Lucas, J. R. (1985). Discrimination. Supplementary volume, 59, 53–83. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4106751  
  • Wang, L. C., & Calvano, L. (2015). Is business ethics education effective? An analysis of gender, personal ethical perspectives, and moral judgment. Journal of business  ethics, 126(4), 591–602. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24702771  
  • Watkins, L. M., & Johnston, L. (2000). Screening job applicants: The impact of physical attractiveness and application 
  • quality. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 8(2), 76–84. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2389.00135