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Attractive Women Can Be Disadvantaged

August 2010 - Attractive women may experience discrimination when applying for jobs traditionally considered "masculine" and where appearance is not considered important, according to research led by the University of Colorado Denver Business School published in the Journal of Social Psychology. This includes positions like manager of research and development, director of finance, mechanical engineer and construction supervisor. No such discrimination was experienced by attractive men.

Lead author Stefanie Johnson, assistant professor of management, said:

"In these professions being attractive was highly detrimental to women. In every other kind of job, attractive women were preferred.

This wasn't the case with men which shows that there is still a double standard when it comes to gender."

The researchers reviewed numerous studies that conclude physically attractive individuals enjoy considerable advantages such as:

  • higher salaries
  • better performance evaluations
  • higher levels of college admissions
  • better responses from voters when running for public office
  • more favorable trial outcomes

They cite a Newsweek survey of 202 hiring managers and 964 members of the public that concluded that looks are important in all aspects of the workplace, especially for women employees. Looks ranked third out of nine 'character' attributes above education and sense of humor.

Researchers identified two studies that found that being attractive made applicants for most jobs seem more suitable irrespective of gender. However, women experienced greater benefit when applying for feminine sex-typed jobs compared to less traditional roles.

In one experiment, volunteers were asked to assign photographs of 55 male and 55 female applicants according to their suitability for a variety of jobs. Appearance was considered unimportant for jobs like director of security, hardware salesperson, prison guard and tow truck driver. Attractive women tended to be overlooked in these categories, but were linked with positions like receptionist or secretary.

Researchers caution against allowing stereotypes about physical appearance to influence hiring decisions at the expense of the overall characteristics of the applicant.

Stefanie Johnson commented:

"One could argue that, under certain conditions, physical appearance may be a legitimate basis for hiring. 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."

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