Hiring on the Basis of Looks
Abercrombie & Fitch came under attack when it was found that many young good looking people were being offered jobs on the basis of their looks. When the issue came to light, other complaints also surfaced where people from Filipino and African-American backgrounds complained of having been rejected by the company because of their race. This gave rise to much outcry from the public and A&F confessed that this has been company policy to offer jobs to good looking people to improve sales.
Hiring practices have often come under fire due to discriminatory policies. However while sex, gender and race-based policies often lead to discrimination charges, people have yet to become more aware of hiring practices that focus too heavily on external appearance and looks. This raises a fundamental question: is hiring on the basis of looks unfair, illegal or even discriminatory?
It is easy to see that employing someone purely on the basis of looks is discrimination against otherwise average looking people. However the question cannot have a simple yes or no answer due to variety of complexities involved. When Abercrombie and Fitch came under attack for hiring practices that seemed to exclude average looking people, it also triggered a debate regarding discrimination that exists on basis on someone's looks.
"According to an attractive young woman a student at Northwestern University the same thing happens to her every time she goes shopping at Abercrombie and Fitch. On at least three occasions, store managers have approached her and offered her a job…Elizabeth looks like she belongs to an A&F catalog." (Carroll, p.937)
It is clearly unfair to most but almost everyone knows that it exists. In many professions, people are hired for their looks and it is highly acceptable. But generally for all other occupations, hiring on the basis of appearance is considered highly unfair. "Most of us would be willing to concede that, in some occupations,...
For example it seems reasonable that the Charles Stern Agency of Los Angeles would insist (as they do) that the men they hire for television commercials be over six feet, athletic looking and weigh 150-170 pounds….for most occupations, however, it seems unfair for employers to discriminate. Generally there is not an obvious link between good looks and competence." (Hatfield, p. 55)
When discussing the issue of hiring on the basis of looks, one may wonder why this has not been debated as seriously as it should have. Over the decades, it has received lesser attention than other discrimination issues. One reason for this is the embarrassment and humiliation attached to being rejected on the basis on looks as William Rasberry observed in his Washington Post article. His observation was presented in Time magazine in these words:
"According to Rasberry, discrimination against ugly women ("there's no nice way to say it") is the most persistent and pervasive form of employment discrimination. Men, he argues face no bias except in the movies and in politics. Rasberry's sympathies lie not with the "mere plain Janes, who can help themselves with a bit of pain and padding" but the losers, the real dogs who supposedly would be working full-time of their features were more regular. Such discrimination, he insists, is all the more insidious because no one will admit that it exists. No personnel officer in his right mind will tell a woman, "sorry lady but you need a nose job and your lips don't match." And a woman so insulted would not be likely to publicize it." (p. 8)
All employers fully understand that there is no link between good looks and competence but they still might unconsciously favor better looking candidates especially where public dealing is involved. "The employer may know there is no real difference in competence between an attractive and an unattractive employee, but there may be difference in how they are received by the public or by clients that could mean a difference in profit." (p. 8)
While there is no connection between how qualified a candidate appears and how he/she looks, it is found that many employers tend to discriminate unconsciously as they look for people just like themselves. "Despite frequent disclaimers, many tend to hire on the basis of superficial first impressions involving appearance, clothes, height or personal chemistry. They look for…
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