Does physical appearance really matter at workplaces ?

Whether we admit it or not, people are treated differently based on their physical appearance.

Despite the feel-good cliched phrase ‘beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’, we are prejudiced in certain ways.

Good looks is subjective. We all have a different definition of beauty. At the same time, all of us find certain people more attractive than others, irrespective of which country we live in. I have always wondered how do we grow up exactly like everyone else with the same choice of people whom we think as attractive.

We all know society gives too much importance on appearance. Some people benefit and some don’t. Social media is a proof where attractive people tend to attract a lot of followers automatically. All of us can blame society but we forget that we are part of society and our inherent prejudices are not going to go away soon.

It’s no surprise then that that we have a trillion dollar global fashion and cosmetic industry and the demand is never going to die ever. Personally, I wished people worked on brushing up their inter-personal skills instead of their hair.

The irony of living in this strange world is that even an average looking man/woman themselves expect to be served by an attractive attendant e.g. in aviation industry.

In relationships, most people choose their life partner based on attractiveness, despite claiming that looks do not matter.

At a personal level, this won’t bother people much as they have friends, family and relatives who do not care about attractiveness of a person.

What bothered me during my corporate life was the hidden discrimination based on attractiveness at workplaces, not only in candidate selection, but also in the way they are treated on a daily basis.

Whether hiring managers admit it or not, selection of candidates has partially to do with the attractiveness of candidates. But the discrimination doesn’t end there. While a certain level of grooming and tidiness is expected from every individuals even from those who are not working in customer facing roles, you will always have people who are not known for their attractiveness but their intelligence.

One might assume that in tech industry, people are chosen purely on merit and experience. I have worked with clients who had their personal preferences who they wanted to work with.

I recall my experience of working for a major telecom company in London as a technology project manager.

There were couple of women business analysts in my team.  One of them was a Croatian woman, a mother in in her mid-40s and the other an Asian, very attractive, in her mid-20’s just starting her career.

The Croatian woman had lot more work experience than the young lady but was often sidelined to work on lower priority projects, while the attractive young lady was preferred to work on high priority projects because she was the first choice for many stakeholders in the company.

The excuse given was that the mother of 2 children wouldn’t be able to cope with the project pressure. The truth is there was no real pressure for any of the projects.

There are certain clients who would ask the manager when they did not understand the gender from the CV –  Man or Woman ?   Ans: Woman – Is she good ? . This was prior to the social media days. These days, people can check the profile on social media and make their choice of candidates.

I have also observed that people who are less attractive also get poor customer reviews and the attractive ones get better customer rating. Majority of the times, this has got nothing to do with the performance of the individual

I had this funny experience too, which I laugh about whenever I think about that incident.

One program manager I worked for in the same company used to get some sadistic pleasure in bullying and humiliating me in public. One day, out of the blue, he picked my ID card lying on my desk and remarked ‘The ugliest man in the building’ and each of my co-worked had a good laugh. I joined them too. I did not think the remark was racist though. It was just another comment to make me feel inferior.

While I admit, I am not that attractive, however, God has gifted me with kick-ass attitude. I immediately replied ‘I thought I was hired for my technology skills. I did not know we work for a modelling agency.’

Silence.

All these bullshit happens without the knowledge of the leadership team. It is hard to prove when such discrimination happens. Also, people who are less attractive also tend to have a low self-esteem and self doubt when they are given negative reviews from client. They tend not to raise their voice fearing ridicule.

Most managers in service providing companies will agree with clients, with the choice they want to make regarding people they want to work with just to maintain their business relationships.

This is one of the dark side of the corporate world, one has to live with. It’s an elephant in the room. These prejudice existed ever since humans existed.

Humans are capable of shunning Jesus if they were told that Jesus was actually not that good looking.

We are just humans after all.

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6 thoughts on “Does physical appearance really matter at workplaces ?

  1. That is horrendous that people were ridiculing you. What awful human beings they are. The older woman being sidelined for the younger one. You’d think in the tech industry it’s about how you perform, this was an eye opener that prejudice very much exists.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great topic of discussion. I agree that attractive people often have an easier path to walk on, an assumption of competency, an ability to pull people in towards them. But like you say, it’s a difficult human prejudice to counter because often it factors into our judgement of people unconsciously. I don’t have the source for this but they did a study on the common physical traits of senior management and leaders. They found that people preferred their leaders to be men, with deep set eyes, a square jaw and defined cheekbones. Who would have thought that there’s a prototype!

    Liked by 1 person

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