Lookism: Why does magnificence nonetheless trump brains within the office?


“Corporations assume that paying better consideration to staff’ look will make them extra aggressive.” Picture / Getty Photographs

Universities place themselves as locations the place brains matter. It appears unusual then that college students at a US college would price enticing teachers to be higher lecturers. This was the finding of a recent paper from the College of Memphis, which concluded that feminine teachers suffered most from this.

It raises an uncomfortable proposition, that magnificence trumps brains even in 21st-century workplaces. It could definitely be supported by veteran feminine broadcasters such as radio presenter Libby Purves, who just lately complained about the way in which the BBC dispenses with girls of a sure age.

Another survey, this time within the UK, gave a deeper sense of the issue. It reported that employers have been asking feminine staff to decorate “sexier” and put on make-up throughout video conferences.

Printed by regulation agency Slater and Gordon over the summer season, and based mostly on a ballot of 2000 office-based workers working from residence throughout lockdown, the report discovered that 35 per cent of ladies had skilled not less than one sexist demand from their employer, often referring to how they dressed for video conferences. Ladies additionally reported being requested to put on extra make-up, do one thing to their hair or costume extra provocatively. Causes supplied by their bosses have been that it will “assist win enterprise” and be “pleasing to a consumer”.

It appears as if the shift to extra digital working has not eradicated what Danielle Parsons, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, described as “archaic behaviour” which “has no place within the trendy working world”. When staff’ efficiency is judged on the idea of their bodily look, probably shaping their pay and prospects in work, it is called lookism. It isn’t unlawful, however arguably it needs to be.

Magnificence and the boss

The Slater and Gordon survey findings affirm that many tendencies that we describe in our latest e book, Aesthetic Labour, are widespread and persevering with regardless of distant working. Our e book experiences greater than 20 years of analysis and serious about this downside. Though our analysis began by specializing in frontline work in hospitality and retail, the identical subject has expanded into a various vary of roles together with teachers, site visitors wardens, recruitment consultants, interpreters, TV information anchors and circus acrobats.

Corporations assume that paying better consideration to staff’ look will make them extra aggressive, whereas public sector organisations assume it’ll make them extra preferred. Because of this, they’re all turning into ever extra prescriptive in telling staff how they need to look, costume and discuss.

It occurs each to women and men, although extra typically to girls, and is commonly tied in additional broadly with sexualising them at work. For instance, whereas Slater and Gordon discovered that one-third of women and men had “put up with” feedback about their look throughout video calls, girls have been a lot likelier to face degrading requests to look sexier.

After we analysed 10 years of staff’ complaints about lookism to the Equal Alternatives Fee in Australia, we discovered that the proportion from males was rising throughout sectors however that two-thirds of complaints have been nonetheless from girls. Apparently, the University of Memphis study discovered no correlation for male teachers between how their seems have been perceived and the way their efficiency was rated.

Society’s obsession

After all, workplaces can’t be divorced from society generally, and inside the e book we chart the growing obsession with look. This aestheticisation of people is partly pushed by the ever-growing attain and significance of the sweetness trade and an enormous rise in beauty – now more and more labelled aesthetic – surgical procedure.

These tendencies are maybe comprehensible on condition that these deemed to be “enticing” profit from a “magnificence premium” whereby they’re extra prone to get a job, extra prone to get higher pay and extra prone to be promoted. Being deemed unattractive or missing the suitable costume sense could be causes to be denied a job, however they aren’t unlawful.

Some researchers have described an rising aesthetic economic system. Clearly this raises issues about unfair discrimination, however with out the authorized safety afforded to, say, disabled individuals.

Not solely has this development continued in the course of the pandemic, it would even have been compounded. With the primary real indicators of rising unemployment reported this month, analysis already suggests a 14-fold increase within the variety of candidates for some job roles. For instance, one restaurant in Manchester had greater than 1000 applicants for a receptionist place, whereas the upmarket pub chain All Bar One reported greater than 500 candidates for a single bar workers position in Liverpool.

Employers are actually clearly spoilt for selection with regards to filling out there positions, and people perceived to be higher trying will possible have a greater probability. We all know from research by the College of Strathclyde’s Tom Baum and his colleagues that the hospitality trade was precarious and exploitative sufficient even earlier than Covid.

All of it means that lookism shouldn’t be going away. If we’re to keep away from the archaic practices of the outdated regular permeating the brand new regular, it’s time to rethink what we count on from the office of the longer term. One apparent change that might occur is making discrimination on the idea of seems unlawful. That might be certain that everybody, no matter their look, has equal alternative on the earth of labor to return.

Christopher Warhurst, Professor of Work and Employment, University of Warwick and Dennis Nickson, Professor of Work, Employment and Organisation, University of Strathclyde

• This text is republished from The Conversation beneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.

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