Poor Samantha Brick. You pen one little piece for The Daily Mail in which you opine about the pros (free drinks!) and cons (haters!) of being beautiful and you set yourself up as an internet laughingstock. In addition to being left out of bridal parties and bullied in photo sessions, Brick contends that being pretty has been a career killer for her, blaming female bosses for standing in the way of her success and citing one particular supervisor for refusing to recommend her for a training course out of jealousy over Brick’s good looks:
“All I needed were two personal recommendations to be eligible. As everyone in the office agreed I was good at my job, I didn’t think this would be a problem. But while the male executive signed the paperwork without hesitation, my immediate boss refused to sign. When I asked her right-hand woman why, she pulled me to one side and explained that my boss was jealous of me,” she writes.
But wait. Isn’t being beautiful supposed to be a workplace plus? Isn’t the world set up to reward the comely? I decided to do a little digging to figure out whether attractiveness is a workplace boon or burden. Here’s what I found:
We believe looks matter
In a 2010 Newsweek poll, 63% of Americans surveyed thought good looks were a factor in a male employee’s hiring and 72% believed beauty played a part in helping women land a job.
It’s better to look good on paper than in pictures
While including a photo with your resume is a no-no for most jobs in North America, it’s common in parts of Asia and Europe. Researchers in Israel found that good-looking men who included photos with their job applications were more likely to be called for interviews than their less attractive counterparts with comparable skills and work experience. For women, the opposite was true. As The Economist reports:
“Attractive females were less likely to be offered an interview if they included a mugshot. When applying directly to a company (rather than through an agency) an attractive woman would need to send out 11 CVs on average before getting an interview; an equally qualified plain one just seven.”
Thin is in, but only if you’re a woman
Researchers at the University of Florida discovered that white-collar women who weighed 25 lbs less than the average weight of the study participant group they looked at took home about about $16 000 more per year. Women who were 25 lbs above the average earned approximately $14 000 less than peers of average weight.
As for men, those weighing 25 lbs less than average had salaries that were $9000 lower than their beefier counterparts.
A bright smile affects your salary
It might sound like a stretch, but researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research discovered that women who grew up in areas that used fluoride in their water supply earned an average of 4% more than women who grew up guzzling non-fluoridated water. There was no effect for men. Their conclusion?
“We find little evidence to support occupational sorting, statistical discrimination, and productivity as potential channels of these effects, suggesting consumer and employer discrimination are the likely driving factors whereby oral health affects earnings.”
If you’ve got it, flaunt it?
In her op-ed, Brick makes an off-hand mention of flirting with male superiors as a means of advancing her career, but Catherine Hakim devoted an entire book – that would be Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom – to encouraging women to leverage their ‘erotic capital’ to achieve career and social success. She claims that men want sex more than women do, so women should exploit this desire gap to get ahead in the world. In other words, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. As Hakim puts it in an interview with Slate:
“Having erotic capital isn’t something you sort of turn on and turn off like turning on a tap or faucet, in the same way that intelligence isn’t something you either switch on or switch off. It’s there as part of the sort of person you are: in your style, in the way you talk to people, in the way you dress every day, in the hairstyle you wear every day. And it’s really a change of perspective that I’m recommending, that women should know that all of this has value.”
And, as you might have guessed:
Good-looking people earn more
Or so says Daniel Hammermesh, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. According to his research, attractive people earn an average of $230 000 more over the course of their working lives than those who are less genetically blessed. There’s even a premium/penalty system at play whereby those judged most attractive earn a bonus over those of average beauty and the least attractive get docked compared to the norm. The most disadvantaged? Homely men. They earn 13% less than their average-looking colleagues