5 Steps to Avoid Discrimination Lawsuits from Supermodels

The beauty bias gets turned on its head when companies refuse to hire attractive people

Posted by Dawn Lomer in Code of Conduct, Discrimination, Employment Law, Human Resources on September 12th, 2012

There isn’t a protected class for beautiful people, but some probably think there should be. Apparently some hiring managers discriminate specifically against attractive job applicants for fear of the effect their presence will have on the rest of the staff or themselves.

It may sound ridiculous, but there may be something here. And it’s not gender discrimination when a beautiful woman is passed over in favor of a less attractive woman. I’m sure many would say it’s time for the tables to turn. Give the normal, plain, unattractive candidates a chance, right?

But, as attorney Jon Hyman pointed out in his blog earlier this year: so called “reverse” discrimination is still discrimination, isn’t it?

Same-Sex Beauty Bias

In an article in the Toronto Star last July, writer Debra Black refers to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in which a German psychology professor, working with colleagues at the University of Munich and Florida State University, found that when being evaluated by a same-sex peer in workplace or academic circles, attractiveness was seen as a negative.

She also cited two studies conducted by a researcher at the University of Munich that revealed that attractiveness stopped same-sex peers from awarding a job or a scholarship to applicants.

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The researcher, Maria Agthe, had found in earlier studies that being attractive meant people often received better evaluations than their less attractive counterparts, and that more attractive people tended to have advantages in the work place. She wanted to see if there were exceptions.

Agthe conducted a study entitled Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful in which she tested two sets of students in different experiments.

In the first experiment, researchers were unsurprised to find a pro-attractiveness bias in opposite-sex choices, but the same bias wasn’t found in same-sex selections.

Agthe found that men weren’t impressed by the good looks of other men, and that women actually discriminated against beautiful women, selecting them only 11.7 per cent of the time while they selected moderately attractive same-sex candidates 55.7 per cent of the time.

Beautiful Hirers Exempt

In a second study, Agthe found that a subject’s own level of attractiveness also affects their bias.

The same pro-attractiveness bias remained for opposite-sex candidates and participants again discriminated against highly attractive same-sex candidates, however, the bias held only for average-looking participants. Highly attractive participants tended to not discriminate against highly attractive same-sex candidates.

Humans are less objective in their selections and evaluations of others than they often think they are, concluded Agthe, and, as a result, they might not always hire, select or recommend the best candidate.

5 Steps to Fair Hiring

How can employers ensure that these biases don’t creep into their organizations?

  1. Make anyone in a hiring position aware of all the different types of biases and train them to judge candidates solely on their ability to do the job.
  2. Have both genders represented in assessing employment candidates.
  3. Eliminate photos from early selection procedures to ensure that attractive candidates aren’t discounted before they get a chance to be interviewed.
  4. Ensure that only very attractive employees in your company are in positions to make hiring decisions (just kidding).
  5. Review profiles of rejected candidates periodically to see if a pattern emerges (note, you may want to do this on the sly to avoid looking like you’re micromanaging the hiring process). If you do see significant evidence of bias, go back to step 1.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Managing Editor

Dawn Lomer is the managing editor at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.