Does Being Attractive Help You at Work: A Perspective From Two Ladies

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Ladies, just for fun: Today, try telling someone you’re a feminist.

And get ready for the assumptions. You’re a man-hating, bra-burning, humorless 1960’s holdout. Happen to be wearing a killer outfit or makeup when you say it? You’re a hypocrite.

A possible Feminism Manifesto 2.0 is offered by this article in Fortune and it’s a real flamethrower. In Catherine Hakim’s new book, Erotic Capital, she describes sex appeal as our “most valuable asset” and expresses that we should “deploy it without shame.”

Hakim posits that women have the upper hand when it comes to leveraging their looks and sex appeal in a professional setting, due to basic supply and demand. That’s making some assumptions that may not be bulletproof, but let’s go with it.

Although Hakim’s take on the issue is intentionally hyper-provocative (to sell more books), the message is of value. Everyone has assets they can develop and exploit for personal gain. True enough.

When it comes to the workplace, The Grindstone also takes a shot at the controversial idea of using looks to succeed in your career in the article ‘Don’t Hate Them Because They’re Beautiful: Do Looks Matter in Sales?’ . Grindstone highlights the stereotypical attractive pharmaceutical salesperson – even good-looking men can’t compete with attractive women in opening sales doors in this industry, according to the article. But it’s about balance – you may think you can get in the door or be left behind because of your looks, but being good at your job is what brings long-term success.

Everyone has assets to offer, but the trading currency is different for everyone. Some want power at work, some want freedom, some want respect, some want an adrenaline rush. And the transaction is always about compromise. LinkedIn’s Nicole Williams hits the nail on the head: “This isn’t the most politically correct answer in the world but you know what you’re signing up for and for example, if you’re applying for a job at Hooters, you can expect your suitability for the job to be assessed based upon particular assets.  If that offends you, don’t apply.”

What about yourself are you willing to “sell” for the currency you seek? Understanding those limits and trade-offs will help you manage your career.

–Another perspective from Apryl Hanson

Like Alicia, I read the same article and was happy that someone finally put in writing what I’ve thought for years. There are women out there that have fought for equality, and rightfully so, but the stakes aren’t really ever going to be even between the two sexes, and why should they be? Yes, we should all have the same rights, but our approach is very different from that of men. In one of my favorite TED talks by Hanna Rosin, she speaks about how power dynamics are shifting in the world between men and women. Rosin lays out new statistics like:

  1. For every two men that graduate from college, three women will also graduate
  2. Women are dominating careers like doctors, lawyers, bankers and accountants
  3. Women make up 50% of the workplace
  4. Couples using fertility clinics are requesting girls seventy-five percent of the time
  5. Young women are earning more than young men and are more likely to be first time home buyers by themselves.

Rosin brings up another good point, which is that this shift in occupations vs. gender is impacting us as a society as a whole. My good friend Ed Kless, an educator on business consulting and the economy, has been speaking about the changes in our society for years acknowledging that we have indeed shifted dynamics from a manufacturing based society to that of the knowledge worker. Knowledge workers are sharing information, and those that are high in communication skills tend to work better in this type of role.  Historically, women have been gathering crowds and getting people to share ideas for centuries and now this is transferring to the work place. I think the reason women are generally assumed to have better communication skills can also be biological. Women have greater connections between the left and right brain, which enables them to perceive things emotionally as well as rationally and thus be more sensitive and responsive to their audiences.

So what does this have to do with our sex appeal? Whether it is work relationships, potential sales or customer relationships, marketing, or a relationship with a friend or lover, they are all established based on looks and judgments about how competent you feel that person is.

In the book, ‘Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful’ by Daniel S. Hamermesh, he talks about how much is devoted to looking good both in terms of time and money. But this isn’t just a U.S. attitude. Hamermesh mentions the story from the 2008 Summer Olympics when the Chinese government put an extremely cute nine-year-old girl on world-wide television to lip-sync the singing of a less attractive child who had a better voice.  Also mentioned is a survey among a randomly selected group of people in the U.S. who felt that they had been discriminated on based on looks vs. ethnicity/national background.

We also know that there is a growing concern over obesity in the U.S. and along with that comes a bias in which people who are overweight are considered lazy or careless about themselves compared to those who are thinner.

Have you ever heard the phrase “dress for the job you want, not the job you have?” Isn’t that what we are saying here? If you want to be perceived a certain way, you need to act in accordance with that perception and use it to your advantage. If being attractive to people wins you more customers, allows you to receive more referrals and/or get’s you a raise, should you feel guilty?

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5 Responses to Does Being Attractive Help You at Work: A Perspective From Two Ladies

  1. Summer Brooks says:

    LOVE this: “If you want to be perceived a certain way, you need to act in accordance with that perception and use it to your advantage. If being attractive to people wins you more customers, allows you to receive more referrals and/or get’s you a raise, should you feel guilty?”

    I’d have to say, I wholeheartedly agree! But, then again, I’m biased… ;)

  2. Imran Syed says:

    Interesting post… I have to agree to some extent however I think with all assets/skills there are limitations – whether these are self-imposed on cultural stigmas.
    Hanna Rosin’s statistics really hit the point home to how far we’ve come in terms of equality. When I read the stats, I don’t doubt for a second that they are factual but my only disappointment stems from how long it’s taken us as a society to recognize that equality – and sadly in many parts of the world we still have a ways to go. If you think about it woman were only introduced within the work force to fill the gap that was experienced when men were off fighting our great wars. Today woman make up almost 20% of the U.S. military.

  3. Apryl Hanson says:

    Thank you for the comment. You are right – this theory doesn’t work if the skill set isn’t there. You have to have the skills necessary for the position you are doing. We are simply suggesting that skills being even, that you looks can put you ahead of the pack, regardless of being a man or a woman. Looks are relative to the person hiring, or managing….so it isn’t something you can necessarily plan do use with a purpose – but looking your best, is one way to put your best foot forward,

    A lot of people get lazy and forget that their exterior makes an impact on how much they are earning and what others (customers, employees, bosses, referrals, etc.) are thinking and believing about them just because of the way we look

  4. Mike Jalonen says:

    Very interesting article (especially the facts). I am fortunate to work with both men and women that have equal job responsibilities. I do not feel that either has an overall advantage or disadvantage because of their gender. It is all about the skills of the individual and their ability to work with others (especially in sales). Now there are some ‘old school’ people who have a preference – but that’s just stupid in my opinion…

  5. Apryl Hanson says:

    Mike – Thank you for your comments. I don’t think that it is just about preference. It is about attraction and if that makes you more likely to do business with someone. A sales person is most exposed to this bias of what we call Erotic Capital. If you cannot form a relationship with someone early on, and that is partially done on appearance, then you have a tough time getting the deal.

    Appearances can include everything about you and your company. Websites, blogs, buildings etc…. may even have their own erotic capital.

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