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Beauty is too influential in employment

ByBeth Sexton

Oct 7, 2014
courtesy of UN Women/Simon Lueth

When Emma Watson gave her much lauded ‘HeForShe’ speech at a UN conference, it sparked widespread responses from across the globe and was heralded as a major achievement for feminism and gender equality. However, much of the praise for Watson’s insight also contained a detailed description of her wardrobe and make-up choices, instantly reducing the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador to little more than a dress.

It is this kind of obsession with appearance which makes it unsurprising that a recent study conducted by OkCupid revealed a woman’s ‘attractiveness’ has as much impact on employment prospects as it would desirability for a date.

The study found that the ‘attractiveness’ of female candidates had as much influence over the decisions of women employers. This evidence is merely indicative of the pervasive nature of the obsession with female beauty. While it is true men are increasingly subjected to the same pressure as women in achieving perfection, the emphasis on a woman’s aesthetic appeal is so deeply ingrained within society that it has come to be valued as much as non-physical personality traits.

It seems there has been little progress for women in this respect since times when beauty was seen to be synonymous with other ‘virtuous’ characteristics. It is possible to argue that in an age where beauty and virtue aren’t seen as quite so interchangeable, the position for women is worse, as they are merely being judged at face value. The study’s depressing results have highlighted the continued existence of the ‘glass ceiling’ in terms of female employment and revealed the worrying influence the media has had over our personal values. It appears the old adage, ‘beauty is only skin deep’ has been widely discarded by employers.

However, rather than adding the findings of the study to the litany of offences against women, it is perhaps more wise to take action. Ultimately, the buck stops with employers who must be taken to task over sexism in the workplace. Aside from ‘blind interviews’ it does not appear that much can be done to directly tackle the problem of this superficiality in employment. However, employers cannot remain unchecked and it would perhaps be easier to solve this problem if the tribunal process was made easier and more welcoming for women. As it currently stands; women may have to pay up to £1200 before their claim is even heard.

Though this study demonstrates that women’s struggle to be taken seriously is far from over, it is perhaps possible that it may also prompt employers to review their personal attitudes during the interview process and promote professionalism – as opposed to sexism – in the workplace

By Beth Sexton

4th year English Literature student

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