Is beauty a skill?

by |

It’s something that many have long since suspected, but a growing body of research indicates that Australian, UK and US employers view aesthetic factors such as voice, grooming, and personal style as ‘skills’ – and they’re willing to pay a premium to get it.

People who are perceived to be better looking command pay premiums of between 10-16% over those who are less blessed in the looks department, and are in fact two to five times more likely to be employed in the first place. And if you’re perceived to be less good looking, you’re more likely to be first out the door, according to Professor Chris Warhurst from the University of Sydney.

Warhurst said quite often it’s not that companies want the best looking people, but that they want people with the right looks. In a concept dubbed ‘aesthetic labour’, experts have taken the view that employers view factors related to appearance as a skillset. It is especially prevalent in the service industry, where businesses are desperate to deliver a ‘good service encounter’. These skills allow the chosen staff to 'look good' and 'sound right' to customers. They encompass:

  • body language
  • dress sense and style
  • personal grooming
  • voice and accents

However the findings are not universally applicable, and when the theory was tested in Sweden, for example, employers did not agree with their counterparts in Canada, the US, Australia and the UK. Something that does not require a qualification, it was argued, could not possibly be considered a skill.

Yet according to the authors of Aesthetic Labour and the Policy-Making Agenda: Time for a Reappraisal of Skills, a trend has emerged whereby recruiters and employers are more likely to employ staff with self-presentation ‘skills’ in preference to experience or technical skills.

Warhurst said a major concern was that this “beauty premium” could become a “beauty bias”. “The downside to this is the real issue of discrimination," he said.

  • B Zeller on 2012-03-23 3:30:44 AM

    From my own experience of how I'm treated in the workplace, I'd say the discrimination is already there. Are we looking at future lawsuits?

HRM Online forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions