The Importance of Appearance
post # 425 — September 3, 2007 — a Careers, Client Relations, Managing post
Back in February, I blogged about my experience being a juror. As part of the follow-on discussion, Penelope Trunk (who has a fabulous blog called â€˜The Brazen Careeristâ€™) commented: â€œone thing I learned is that fat women don’t have a lot of empathy and defendants usually try to strike those jurors.â€
Yesterday, Joseph Dunphy reacted by saying: â€œOn behalf of many, I suspect, I’d just like to say WHAT? Did I really just read that? Unbelievable. That’s just terrible.â€
I understand Josephâ€™s initial reaction, but I donâ€™t think Penelope was advocating anything — she was just sharing her real-world experience that appearance matters a great deal more than we like to admit openly.
For example, last week I was conducting a workshop for a global corporation that had concentrated a number of its in-house services into one â€œshared servicesâ€ unit. One service line in particular received much higher client satisfaction ratings than the others. We discussed why, and focused on the traditional client service topics.
During one of the coffee breaks, one of the participants came up to me and said, â€œThe real reason that unit does so well is that it explicitly sets out to hire attractive young women. No-one likes to admit it, but that makes a huge difference.â€ (The unit was in a South American country, if that makes a difference to your reaction to the story.)
Of course it does. I know of more than one top-flight professional firm that takes appearance into account in its hiring of both males and females and gives its young people lessons in how to dress well and how to behave with sophistication.
Should appearance, youth and manners matter? Maybe not, but they do — a lot. To pretend they do not is just unrealistic.
Yet in many countries this is called discrimination and is legally barred.
All of this raises some interesting questions:
Should more firms continue to include physical appearnace in their hiring, even to the point of preferring some ages and genders?
Are we naive to believe they are not already doing that?
Are discrimination laws fighting a losing battle against human nature?
Should I get back on the treadmill and worry more about my clothing in order to enhance my career prospects?