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Recruitment: Do looks matter?


CRM calamityHot Potato of 2008

Do looks matter?Organisations are shooting themselves in the foot by choosing the best-looking job candidates, instead of the best skilled. By succumbing to our celebrity-obsessed society, everyone will loose out, says Gemma Middleton.

Over the past few months, two stories have caught my eye; the first being that in a survey which asked 2,266 UK employers if they had ever given a job to someone because they were the most attractive candidate, 88% of respondents said yes.

The second was a survey carried out by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). They asked their members if they thought celebrities were harmful to a child’s education – the results stated that over a third of respondents believed that their pupils wanted to be famous just for being famous, with a further 32% adding that many of their pupils modelled themselves on Paris Hilton.

For decades, young children have looked up to celebrities, aspiring to be just like them, as they seem to have it all – the looks, the money and the lifestyle. The main difference between now and 10 years ago is that more people are famous for no real reason – apart from being quite good looking and willing to let their behaviour (normally bad) be used as tabloid fodder.

“By choosing only employees who are seen to be good looking in society, the talent pool is being dramatically reduced.”

Celebrity as a commodity is a business in itself, with magazines, websites and retail organisations desperate to use them to make money and gain recognition for their products. However, this is only possible because we, the public, are becoming more and more obsessed about the notion of celebrity. Is this healthy for our society?

As the Leitch review stated last year, the skills gap between what young people are currently attaining and the required level of skills businesses need is widening, which many argue is already having a negative impact on society. The ATL’s survey also highlighted that many children do not realise the hard work that is needed to become a true celebrity, resulting in young people becoming disillusioned about the real world. This results in them being unprepared for the world of work, as they don’t put the necessary effort into reading, writing and numeracy.

No common sense

However, the skills gap and disillusioned youngsters are not the only things harming the UK employment market: organisations are shooting themselves in the foot as well. By choosing only employees who are seen to be good looking in society, the talent pool is being dramatically reduced. The list of reasons why this is inappropriate is endless but mainly it just goes against common sense – just because a person is good looking does not mean they are necessarily right for the job.

Both of these issues can and will harm UK industry as the costs will be carried by organisations who have to invest in raising skill levels of poorly-educated individuals and deal with the repercussions of employing wrong candidates. This is why it is imperative that they are addressed now.

“Just because a person is good looking does not mean they are necessarily right for the job.”

Many people blame today’s media for the popularity of celebrities and growing importance placed on good looks. The media today are quick to exploit and report on celebrities behaving badly such as Amy Winehouse’s well-known drug addiction or any ‘D-list’ celebrity falling drunk out of a club, barely clothed with a torrential stream of abuse flying out of their mouth.

Yet when they do good work such as representing charities and supporting good causes, this news is hidden within the publication or not even covered at all, even though these actions truly benefit society.

It is because of this type of reporting that the media come under fire – yet if society didn’t demand to know the intricate details of Jordan’s latest night out or the relationship status of Cheryl and Ashley Cole then more worthy and inspiring news and role models would be reported on.

It is not only the media that need to change but us as a society. After all, do we really want future generations to be completely superficial? Personally, I think not.

Gemma Middleton is a communications specialist at Righttrack Consultancy. For more information about Righttrack go to:

17 Responses

  1. So in effect…
    … there is no law that prevents people from being hired based on their good looks?

    Thanks, Juliet.

  2. Acts

    The Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Race Relations Act 1976, Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Equal Opps Act, Age Discrimination Act all have exclusions for entertainment and modelling authenticity (note not beauty or attractiveness but authenticity). Have you been asleep? Perhaps a little dopey since 1975.

    As for attractiveness, women are more attractive than me but the workforce isn’t biased towards attractive females.

    Once again, isolated examples don’t prove the case.

  3. Which act?
    Sorry Juliet which act? Have I been asleep at the switch and missed The Protection of Ugly People in the workplace act of 2008?

    No, I didn’t think so. Personally I’m beginning to find it offensive that so many of the “PC brigade” are of the belief that women are uglier than men, gays are uglier than straights, blacks are uglier than whites, disabled people are uglier than the able bodied, the old and the young are uglier than the middle aged, and the religious are uglier than atheists. Because it’s simply obviously not true.

    It’s stuff and nonsense – there is no act that protects the rights of ugly people. Nor should there be.

    Unfortunately, if you walk into any sales office you’ll find the majority of people there in most instances are of above average attractiveness because they sell more – because people respond better to beauty than ugly.

    Employers are entitled to discriminate on the basis of looks. Whether you agree with the principle. That’s the fact.

  4. Pull the other one
    It is OK to discriminate on the grounds of looks in modelling and acting since these are the ONLY exceptions under the Act. To extrapolate this to a generalisation is unfounded.
    Modelling and acting are dependent upon physical looks and skill for selection, whereas all other professions are dependent on skills for their selection.

    Your example doesn’t stack up.

  5. Illegal discrimination yes…
    … but other types, err… no.

    That’s the problem, our society tries to isolate everybody from disappointment.

    There are beautiful people who fall into every category protected by law, and ugly ones too. And beautiful people in those groups who don’t qualify for regular protection too, and ugly ones.

    It is OK to discriminate on looks – which is what the topic is about, it’s not OK to discriminate on race, sex, gender, sexuality, disability, religion or age. And if you doubt this then I suggest you look to the modelling or acting professions for confirmation.

    Just like it is OK to discriminate on academic ability.

    And it should be legal to continue doing so – my advice to employer’s is carry on while you still can. The same as it always was. And there’s nothing in my first statement which suggests that they should break the law.

  6. High Horses
    Nick,I assure you and others that I have no wish to enter (or continue) a
    personal slanging match. I certainly do not advocate sensorship anywhere, nor do I consider the pursuit of accuracy to be a ‘high Horse’.
    My doubts about your original contribution to this discussion relate only to its representation of HR professionals’ responsibilities in advising employers (in whatever sector) as to their legal responsibilities.
    If you are a disabled person (or someone with specific access requirements) (as defined by the DDA), then it goes withoutht saying that you will almost certainly have been and will in the future be discriminated against. That’s not what is at issue. The reason for anti-discrimination legislation (the DDA applies to all employers and service providers regardless of size) is to elliminate the discrimination (whether intended or not) which flows from the unthinking and unfettered application of simplistic bottom-line-only principles.
    I agree that people need to be realistic about what they can expect from life, but what they can expect from life has been (however meagerly) positively effected by legislation of all kinds – starting with the abolition of slavery!
    I would hope we can agree at least that illegal and harmful discrimination should be avoided by responsible employers. How we individually respond to discrimination against ourselves is, clearly,, a matter for us as individuals.

  7. Thanks Rory…
    …for your words of percieved wisdom. It’s nice to see you advocate censorship for those views which don’t concur with your own.

    You are in fact wrong, the only obligation on a business is to make money for it’s shareholders. They have to operate within the legal framework but otherwise it’s money that talks.

    Sometimes this is disgraceful – for example when a company dumps rotten baby food into villages in Africa because it’s cheaper than throwing it away. Or when a car manufacturer realises it’s cheaper to let people die and sue for a fault than to effect a recall.

    But that’s the way it works.

    You may not like the fact that there are jobs at which being ugly is a disadvantage in performing that job – but there are.

    You may not like the fact that having a low level intelligence bars people from conducting brain surgery but it does.

    And when you climb down from your high horse – you might understand that life is not fair, that it is in fact a series of highs and lows and that we should not be shielded from them, because they make us what we are.

    For the record I have been discriminated against because I cannot drive – due to epilepsy. I have never felt the need to turn this into a legal issue – I don’t want to work for somebody too blind to see what I can offer and how a car is not really necessary to my work.

    I have been discriminated against for not being old enough and for being too young. I have been discriminated against for being under/over qualified for jobs. And I am not bitter or angry about this – there are plenty of other opportunities in life.

    And yes I advocate employer’s ability to discriminate – it’s their business, their money and their livelihoods that they work to protect.

    Discrimination for age, gender, sex, sexuality, race, and disability are wrong because they do not change the ability to do the job (in the main – deaf people should not be allowed to sue because they cannot do a call centre role anymore than I should be allowed to sue because I can’t get a long-distance lorry driving position). All other factors are OK in law and OK by me (except religion which should not form a basis for discrimination but I don’t support it’s legal status).

    And while you may not agree with me – and I really don’t care if you do. Your advocation of censorship is quite sad – do you ban people in your workplace from disagreeing with you too?

  8. Disturbing, inacurate and alarming!
    Nick Kellingly’s posting on this matter is disturbing (because of his apparent unawareness of employment and discrimination law), inaccurate (in its statements about what businesses are required to do by law) and alarming (because of the approach to recruitment which it proposes).
    It is true that most employers would not be as up-front as Nick in their exposition of what might be their real position, (for fear of legal redress), but honesty is not a sufficient defence for ignorance and foolhardiness.
    It is simply not the case that bad custom and practice is a justification for poor or illegal recruitment and selection practice.It is also blatantly not the case that, as Nick writes: “Businesses are required by law to make money – nothing else.” There are indeed “various pieces of legislation” dealing with discrimination, and they have a very direct bearing on Nick’s view of employers’ responsibilities. Not selecting someone because they had an impairment or impairments such as facxial disfigurement or restricted growth, or impairments which meant they had to use mobility aids like a wheelchairr, would very definitely be illegal!
    Selecting people who are white over people from non-white ethnicities on the grounds that customers prefer white people with whom to interact would definitely be illegal.
    What on earth is Nick suggesting?
    What kind of HR practices are being condoned here?
    I seriously question the editorial wisdom of allowing this posting to remain on the HRZone site!

  9. Lack or research
    The topic while a worthy one has not been done justice here.

    There is reasonable evidence (see back issues of New Scientist) that symmetry is what makes people more attractive (balance between the two sides of the face and the body). And that people who have this level of “attractiveness” are in fact better able to get good jobs and earn more.

    The question is however whether this justified. And I’m pretty certain that in a large number of jobs it is justified. An attractive sales person will on average bring in more business than an ugly one. An attractive lawyer will win more negotiations than an ugly. Because people respond better to attractive people than ugly ones. It’s not fair but it is true.

    And in those jobs which require human interaction it means that a business will benefit from more attractive staff – so why would it be wrong to discriminate on that basis?

    Businesses are required by law to make money – nothing else. There are various pieces of legislation to protect those who have traditionally been denied opportunity and that’s the right thing to do. However where does it stop? Will there come a day when we can’t discriminate on any basis? Never mind that the candidate can’t do the job – because they’re not clever enough, after all it’s not their fault they were born stupid. Never mind that the candidate can’t bring in sales because they’re so ugly they scare clients – after all it’s not their fault they’re ugly.

    And so on…

    Businesses are driven by the pursuit of cash, it’s how our rather shoddy society works. If we accept that fact, then we should be aware that generally businesses hire those people they think will make them the most money and we need to accept that those practices are by their very nature discriminatory.

  10. Background

    If you check the employer’s website you will see that this isn’t simply an off the cuff piece but the author is the Marketing Coordinator for her employer and all articles appear in the company’s Marketing News and PR.

    “Free and developing speech” – this is business – from all sides.

  11. Defensive? Vous?
    Having just read Jemma Middleton’s spirited (if perhaps a little unn-evidenced) article, I was about to pen a piece providing some positive feedback about some aspects for further exploration, particularly arounnd issues of physical or racial diference (as alluded to by others). Then I read the comments!
    Are we (obviously older) contributers really sure that (even if HR professionals obviously don’t) others (such as line managers) consistently resist the temptations of celebism, and always adhere to best anti-discriminatory practice? I (aged 59) am certainly not!
    I must say that it is extremely encouraging to see a young female writer sticking her head above the sanctimonious HR parapet. Lets practice what we preach and provide positive feedback, and encourage the Zones as true centres of free and developing speech.
    Keep Writing Jemma! If you see links that others don’t, come back and explore them!
    Rory Heap

  12. On the other side of the coin
    Firstly age has nothing to do with the competency of the piece – generally in HR we do not judge work on that basis, so to offer youthfulness as a defence isn’t helpful. Your writer doesn’t need our sympathy – rather more education on the subject.

    Secondly the piece is actively used to promote the writer’s employers who I note offer many courses in Equality, Diversity and Age including “Equality and Diversity in Recruitment and Selection” to name but one. To link this piece alongside their many worthy courses would seem to be a tad misguided. Given the employer’s expertise it is not unreasonable for the reader to expect a degree of specialist knowledge within the article.

    The piece is not titled ‘opinion’ – as is Olivia Stephanino’s TrainingZone column, neither is it obvious opinion such as Colborn’s Corner, so its not unreasonable for readers to assume the article was an informed piece by a communications specialist.

    Whilst defending the quality of the writing it might prove helpful to look at the wider context within which the piece was placed and the informed and legislatively aware audience to which it was directed.

  13. No offence intended
    Gemma Middleton is a young writer with a young person’s perspective on life. She is a regular contributor to HRZone’s sister site

    I have encouraged her to write as I really like her fresh, direct style and I have been amazed at how willing she has been to take on board enormous topics, such as this one. You may not agree with her opinion, but I think that she puts it eloquently and I continue to support her writing.

    As Lucie points out, this is an opinion piece, not an indepth feature covering all the angles, and Gemma certainly did not intend to insult anyone.

    I hope this puts the feature into perspective.

    Kind regards

    Susie Finch
    Editor (features)

  14. Opinion piece
    Many thanks for your comments. On behalf of the author, I thought I would say that this article was written as an opinion piece only, rather than an in-depth analysis, with the author using the piece to express her own thoughts and views on this topic, and was not meant to offend in any way at all.

    Best wishes

    Lucie Mitchell

  15. Lost opportunity
    Whilst I applaud anyone who wishes to submit articles on HR Zone for comment or debate, I’m afraid this one fell way short of my expectations.

    The article was mostly subjective and had no real facts to back up what was being said. It lacked continuity and any form of logical flow.

    An alternative angle would possibly have been to write the article from an E&D perspective. i.e How would physical disability/disfigurement affect your decision making in recruitment.

    An opportunity for an interseting topic was lost here. IMHO

  16. Insulting…
    Articles with such little substance should not appear on HRZone, to be honest they are pretty insulting to the target audience.

    Try the Daily Star or Viz, much more appropriate.

  17. Unfounded
    What an enormously flawed article that has simply wasted my time reading it.

    1. If you ask employers ‘did they give the job to the most attractive candidate’ and then don’t define what attractive means of course they’ll say yes. Attractive dress, attractive skills, attractive qualities – WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

    2. To assume the second Paris Hilton survey is linked to the first in any way or form is illogical. That’s like linking solidity with clouds, on the premise that anything visible must be solid – the two aren’t linked.

    Lastly the article seems to fundamentally underestimate its HR orientated audience who spend their lives recruiting and interviewing amongst other things. No other statistics are used to prove the assumption that we recruit on the basis of looks, no reference is made to discrimination issues .
    Females are typically more attractive than males, if this was the case we’d have a very skewed workforce.

    Lost for words!

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