A lot has been written lately (in legal blogs, at least) about what some call “beauty bias” – but which we have recently called “appearance bias” — workplace bias based upon appearance. Obesity bias seems to be the most frequently observed manifestation of this.  See our blog earlier today and our blog of February 11, 2011.


A recent report about the EEOC investigating a popular chain of Massachusetts coffee shops known as “Marylou’s Coffee” has brought out a slew of punditry, most of it attacking the EEOC for allegedly “harassing” the chain about what the EEOC considers its alleged policy of only hiring attractive servers.


One blog writer caught our attention when he questioned whether beauty bias is “really a problem worthy of the EEOC’s attention.”  He wrote that “[m]ost rational employers are not likely to hire or promote people based solely on their looks. … One wonders how many hiring managers would really select a gorgeous but incompetent applicant over a less attractive but highly-skilled candidate.”


Our oblivious friend apparently is unaware of the studies and research in this area (although he does mention the seminal works of law professor Deborah Rhode and economist Daniel Hamermesh) which clearly demonstrate a beauty bias in the workplace.  Read a great paper (with a useful bibliography), by Hofstra Professor Comila Shahani-Denning, entitled  "Physical Attractiveness Bias in Hiring:  What Is Beautiful Is Good."  


Indeed, Rhode reports that about 60 percent of overweight women and 40 percent of overweight men report experiences of employment discrimination, and that short males often get “the short end of the stick” when it comes to hiring, promotion and earnings. Moreover, Newsweek Magazine reports that “handsome men earn, on average, 5 percent more than their less-attractive counterparts (good-looking women earn 4 percent more).”


For his part, Hamermesh calculates that a good-looking man will earn, over his career, about $250,000 more than his least-attractive counterpart.

Moreover, a phone survey of 756 women between the ages of 18 and 64 by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, reveals that:

— “13 percent (more than 1 out of 10 of the 115-million working-age women) say they would consider having a cosmetic medical procedure specifically to make them more confident and more competitive in the job market.

— An astounding 3 percent (nearly 3.5-million working women) say they’ve already had a cosmetic procedure to increase their perceived value in the workplace.

— 73 percent (almost three out of four or, 84-million working women) believe, particularly in these challenging economic times, appearance and youthful looks play a part in getting hired, getting a promotion, or getting new clients.

— 80 percent (four out of five or 92-million working women) think having cosmetic medical procedures can boost a person’s confidence.”


Beauty bias is real.  However, the issues are real too – how to define it legally, what to do about it, and how to address it. Our friend ingenuously asks "why the fuss?"  And he takes the position that “extending the laws against discrimination to cover bias against the unattractive would seem neither feasible nor wise.”


What do you think?