‘Lookism’ What Is It and Does It Exist?

By Anne-Marie Orrock

Lookism is a form of discrimination in the job hiring and selection process that is a stereotyping, or prejudice based on how people look. Preferential treatment of the physically attractive, some how translates into ‘they can do the job better’. Lookism is even more insidious than the other competing forms of prejudice such as racial or gender prejudice, that a job seeker needs to hurdle first, as it is the last axe to fall within these alternative forms. It comes down to beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

How does lookism happen? More increasingly we have been conditioned through ever increasing sophistication around marketing in media and TV that dominates the view of what is beautiful or attractive. It has created a societal bias around appearance.

One of the most popular dating shows in the 1980’s in Australian TV was ‘Perfect Match’, hosted by Greg Evans,  that basically hung off the premise of lookism. Each night viewers were glued to the TV screen to watch the stunned reaction on the face of the contestant as the screen slid back to reveal whatever hot ‘raging‘ siren, or awkward, ‘fugly’ was on the other side. We loved it and couldn’t get enough.

Some studies on Lookism reveal that the physically advantaged even command higher salaries, enjoy faster career progression, and are privy to certain information to the exclusion of other, not-as-attractive employees.

Lookism, however is not limited to your bodily appearance, but also can extend to what you are wearing. According to Nancy Lubin, founder of Dress for Success, a non-for-profit that helps job seekers with business attire for interviews, says that judgement on the type of clothing you wear can also bear heavily on decision makers selection process.

Unfortunately this just demonstrates a lack of competence and experience in interviewing and selection on the part of the hiring manager. Studies prove that less than 23% of managers are adequately trained in formal interviewing and selection methodology, leaving problems of prejudices, such as lookism unmanaged.

However if you feel you are having a bad hair day today, and may be overlooked for that important meeting invite, take heart. Being too attractive may back fire on you.

Iowa dental assistant, Melissa Nelson 33 was terminated from her job for being too attractive. After 10 years of working with her, her boss found he was too distracted by her presence due to his attraction to her.

Lookism certainly exists in various forms, however by using stronger and more valid methods of candidate selection such as behavioural profiling and assessment tools you can reduce the risk of discrimination, and hiring the wrong person. Hiring based on physical appearance, either way, is just poor practice.

What are the critical ‘unseen’ factors that hiring managers should be focusing on, other than personal appearance?

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