Is There Such A Thing As Being Too Pretty For Your Job? How Looks Affect Advancement In The Workplace

August 1, 2015  |  

When searching for a job or looking to get a promotion from your current position, one would think experience, talent, drive or a certain skill set would be the determining factor in landing that dream job or obtaining that corner office. But have you ever considered what other factors may come into play when hiring managers are looking to fill coveted roles or promote a current employee? Sure, attitude and “likability” are also characteristics that are desirable when considering candidates, but what about personal appearance and attractiveness? Seems superficial, yes, but according to research how you look may be the main factor in determining whether or not you beat out someone else for that special gig you’ve been pining over.

It’s no secret that attractive people tend to get hired more often than their less attractive competition. But for women, how they look is a bigger deal when discussing advance ability and hiring when compared to their male counterparts. Skinny women, or those who are in shape, tend to get the call back, while it is reported that overweight women are often overlooked. According to a study conducted by NYU sociologist Dalton Conley and NYU graduate student Rebecca Glauber, a woman’s weight gain results in a decrease in both her income level and job prestige, while their male counterparts remain unaffected. While I never considered myself obese, after I lost 30 pounds in my office version of The Biggest Loser, I did notice that my coworkers and supervisors looked at me differently–and not just because my waistline was smaller. It was as if they had more respect for me; and if I could show that type of dedication to my health, then surely I could show that same dedication and hard work on the job. At least that was the perception anyway.

Another study found that women who wear makeup were considered more competent than women who wore little or no makeup; and while that seems like a trivial reason to hire or promote someone, subliminal cues like judging how a woman looks has a bigger impact on decision-making than most tend to admit or even realize. Even if a hiring manager feels he or she is choosing someone based on ability, how a person looks–particularly a woman–may have a subconscious baring on if they favor one candidate over another.

However, if you are “overly” attractive, how you look could backfire on you as well. Studies have also shown that if a woman is considered “too beautiful,” she may also be considered incompetent because the perception is that she’s gotten far because of her looks, and not because of her intelligence or expertise in her field. My last boss was a brilliant woman who always got to work before everyone else and was the last to leave. Her Type-A personality drove me nuts sometimes, but she was about her business. Not to mention, she was also drop dead gorgeous. Even still, she never accepted a compliment well unless it had to do with her work performance. She always mentored me to be the smartest one in the room and to go above and beyond every single day. You’d think someone with her drive would be running the show, but she was passed over time and time again for a promotion by her female bosses, while other less qualified and less beautiful women got the job. It wasn’t until her boss was replaced by a man that she was finally promoted to Senior Vice President. One could speculate as to why she was passed over so many times, but it is my opinion that her female bosses were threatened by her looks and her intelligence and refused to advance her.

In order to be taken more seriously or as not to appear inexperienced by their peers, supervisors or clients, some women try to downplay their good looks or youthful appearance. Just as my own personal story exhibits, if a hiring manager is a woman, jealousy may play a part in if she decides to hire a woman she deems “more beautiful” than she is, flexing her authority to keep another woman from moving up– a form of discrimination not as easily identifiable. And if the woman is seen as “sexy,” she might not get hired because one wouldn’t her to become a “distraction” to her male colleagues. So while being considered beautiful and smart would usually be viewed as a good thing, a woman’s beauty can also be a double-edged sword.

Seemingly, being attractive is a bonus when it comes to advancing in the workplace, just as long as you’re not “too beautiful.” While most of us can’t help what we look like, we can do things to make ourselves more attractive in our professions without appearing incompetent or threatening. It’s a matter of balance and knowing your industry and work environment, while branding yourself correctly and strategically so that you not only look good, but look the part as well. There is a way to be attractive, yet professional, beautiful, yet capable. That means no sexy, provocative or tight clothing. No excessive makeup and making sure all of your social media, if public, is representative of an educated, powerful and professional woman. That means no sexy selfies on your LinkedIn profile. Many of these things should go without saying, but you’d be surprised.

At the end of the day, what we all should be doing is dressing for the job we want, and presenting ourselves in a positive manner. You may not be able to change your face or your weight overnight, but you don’t have to be “America’s Next Top Model” to get that job or promotion either. By dressing appropriately, making sure your hair is done, makeup is applied naturally (if you decide to wear it), and truly putting effort into your appearance, all of your other qualities like your intelligence, winning personality and work ethic will have a chance to shine through. Don’t be afraid to be the total package, now go get that job!

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