Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but in terms of hiring managers, beauty is tall, young, physically fit, and aesthetically symmetrical. And it pays to be beautiful. Attractive workers are asked fewer questions during job interviews, are more likely to be promoted, and earn 10% more in salary than their average or unattractive co-workers, according to the Beauty and the Labor Market study conducted by Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle.
Women benefit more than their male counterparts from being considered good-looking by their employers. More than seven in 10 hiring managers (72%) say beauty is an asset to women in the workforce, compared to 63% of managers who feel attractiveness boosts men’s careers, according to a Newsweek poll.
Beauty’s influence within the corporate world, however, remains largely a third-rail issue. “It’s almost politically incorrect to say that beauty is an advantage at work. Women in the ’70s made it a priority to focus on their [corporate] achievements and not their looks. Our problem now is that we have lost the ability to even discuss the role of beauty at work,” says Dr. Vivian Diller, therapist and author of Face it: What Women really Feel As their looks Change. “We need to accept that it’s a fact and talk about it openly. Those who are clever or quick-witted are also more likely to get jobs. Do we devalue them because they are funny?”
The corporate world may be hesitant to address beauty’s impact, but many Millennial women have no qualms with using their superficial qualities to climb up the corporate ladder. This generation has come of age when the intermingling of the corporate world and beauty have been celebrated, not demonized. As a result, they have been savvy to exploit their looks to advance their careers. As teens they boosted their cleavage to receive more restaurant tips, and now as professionals, they see no problem with wearing higher heels or shorter skirts to land that pharmaceutical sales account. Moreover, these tactics are encouraged by prominent business women. in a career advice article for Cosmopolitan magazine, Ivanka Trump recommends readers “emit sex appeal on the job [to] make [them more] alluring” and to “evoke sensuality by saying [they] are ‘passionate’ about a project or have ‘intimate knowledge’ of [an] industry.” in other words, if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
But amid the plethora of perks in wielding beauty at work, there’s been little written about beauty’s downside. Or, more to the point, how beauty doesn’t last forever. The first wave of Millennial women who have leveraged their looks to climb the corporate ladder are beginning to see signs of aging and grappling with how this change may impact their careers. “For some reason, older men acquire gravitas, while women just get older,” says Center for Talent Innovation’s Karen Sumberg.
This means Millennial women are forced to adjust to a new workplace reality. A reality in which it may be harder to close deals, garner attention, or land accounts. even if their looks have only played a partial role in their corporate identities, it was part of their toolkit. And now it’s fading. Beauty within the corporate world does matter. This is undeniable. There’s no use in crying foul only when it doesn’t apply to them anymore.
How Millennial women will deal with this new reality varies depending on the career and individual. A small, but growing number are turning to medical assistance. among all age groups, those ages 18-24 are the most likely to consider plastic surgery for themselves now or in the future, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Those under age 34 now account for 20% of all Botox procedures and chemical peels, a striking percentage considering that most of these procedures aren’t covered by insurance.
While cosmetic enhancements may be a short-term solution to stall the aging process, it’s unadvisable, says Diller. “We have all seen those women who resort to plastic surgery to hold on to their youth. If you hold a position that is dependent on your looks, you can’t try and compete with a 20-year-old. You will never win.”
Some Millennial women are shifting career paths to less looks-dominated industries or divisions within their companies. others find themselves enhancing other personal attributes, such as style or expertise.
One non-starter — and admittedly extreme — option is to battle back legally. Appearance is not federally protected so plaintiffs must sue under a protected characteristic, such as race, sex, or religion. even if it makes it before a judge, plaintiffs are likely to lose, says University of Texas sociologist Samantha Kwan, citing her analysis of more than 200 federal cases. “The courts aren’t exactly sympathetic, especially when employers can successfully argue a bona fide occupational qualification argument.” This argument means a belief that consumer desires and demands — such as attractive workers — necessitate some consideration or mandate certain decisions in the name of profitable business. Apparently, companies can successfully claim that they need the hot receptionist.
Ultimately, Millennial women are realizing that beauty fades with time, but time also brings wisdom. And this knowledge will always trump the superficial. “You don’t just get a job because of your looks,” says Diller. “It may be a factor, but there are other qualities. As you age, it’s important to focus a little more attention on those other qualities.”
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