The Power of Beauty
The uncomfortable competitive advantage of beauty in the workplace
Posted Jul 24, 2010
Economists have recently confirmed something most of us have known since the third grade, the power of beauty to influence our judgment. Not a real surprise. But it is interesting how easily we seem to forget how our third-grade minds persist into adulthood, and how much they still control our reactions.
Newsweek notes: "Handsome men earn, on average, 5 percent more than their less-attractive counterparts (good-looking women earn 4 percent more); pretty people get more attention from teachers, bosses, and mentors; even babies stare longer at good-looking faces (and we stare longer at good-looking babies)."
It's good to have the exact numbers, but, I recall all too well how much attractiveness had to do with who was popular in school, who got elected class president, who got more dates, etc. It was painful, then, for those of us banking on the less compelling virtues of intelligence and hard work to get ahead. And, clearly, many of us are still uncomfortable with that reality. We would like to think that our assessment of a person's intelligence and skill will trump appearance. But, according to economist Daniel Hamermesh: "over his career, a good-looking man will make some $250,000 more than his least-attractive counterpart." (See, "The Beauty Advantage.")
Newsweek surveyed 202 corporate hiring managers, as well as 964 members of the public: "from hiring to office politics to promotions, looking good is no longer something we can dismiss as frivolous or vain."
"Fifty-seven percent of hiring managers [said] unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time landing a job, while more than half advised spending as much time and money on ‘making sure they look attractive' as on perfecting a résumé. When it comes to women, apparently, flaunting our assets works: 61 percent of managers (the majority of them men) said it would be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure at work."
So why is this bias so true throughout our lives? The answer has to do with the fact that consciousness tends to dispose of information threatening to our self-esteem. We couldn't escape certain painful truths growing up, but we could forget them. And we can still forget them or dismiss those truths as adults, even as we continue to be biased in favor of beauty.
In other words, it's not that we don't know that we are attracted to beautiful people or, even, that we are predisposed to favor them when it comes to hiring or other choices we make. What most of us dispose of is the awareness that we allow our bias to trump our better judgment.
Worse, we don't usually include ourselves in that favored group. That's the really painful part.