Want to get ahead in the workplace? Being beautiful won’t help – even if you’re a man
Civilised society was shaken to its core this week as breaking news came in that good-looking men receive fewer job offers because of their beautiful, beautiful faces. You’d think that having enviable cheekbones and a square lantern jaw would get you as many jobs as Tinder matches, but it turns out that competitive workplaces are less likely to look kindly on the traditionally handsome.
The reason for that, researchers suggested, was because the interviewers saw them as competition and therefore decided it would be a bit of an own goal to have them on the team. This hypothesis implies that the hiring bosses are always men, of course – but sadly, considering the uninspiring percentage of women who manage to smash their way through the glass ceiling in the first place, it’s not an unwise one.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that the symmetry of people’s faces can affect their career progression. You might not remember Michelle Miller, the private wealth manager at JP Morgan who wrote a book about the virtues of being a “seven-out-of-10” looker in business, but I do. Many moments when I stood in front of the mirror after reading about her theory, I wondered where I fell in the eyes of my peers – and, more importantly, my managers – on a scale of one to ten.
“Unattractive women,” Miller wrote, “are either forgotten or ignored, and really hot women … are either treated like a liability or have all of their accomplishments diminished.” It’s a mascara-laden minefield.
Miller’s theory posited that women who just don’t cut it on the attractiveness scale fail to be promoted because of their “lack of client-facing skills”, while those whose faces could launch a thousand ships are bumped into roles where their intimidating beauty can be “contained”. A lot of people thought she had a point. The latest study confirming that excessively handsome men are kept out of the boardroom suggests that being a seven-out-of-10 really is the only way to get ahead, irrespective of gender.
But then there’s all that business advice about what to wear and how to carry yourself in the workplace. Don’t smile too much, but don’t have “bossy” body language. Don’t think you can swan in as a perfect seven and expect to be accepted if you’re wearing cheap shoes (men), red lipstick (women), or low-cut tops (either).
Trinny Woodall, one half of the noughties fashion team What Not To Wear, made a somewhat ill-advised return this week to remind women not to give the wrong impression at the office Christmas party by showing off their cleavage. Modesty is key – so long as you’re not a prude, of course.
After all of this is taken into account, you can’t help but wonder how any of us actually end up getting a job. Perhaps it’s because, as playground wisdom goes, we were ugly enough in adolescence to actually develop a personality – but blossomed into really quite passable ducks in our twenties (not swans; swans are more ten-out-of-ten territory). Since we had to work for the attention of others in our youth, we ended up savvy enough to bag ourselves a career – but any slight misstep and it’s back to the streets, begging for our dinners alongside that vast array of Brad Pitt lookalikes just too damn pretty to fight their way off the dole.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, some of us are in the gutter – but at least we’re looking at the stars.