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It's time to put a stop to the beauty bias.

It's time to put a stop to the beauty bias

Studies have revealed that attractive people are between two and five times more likely to be hired than unattractive people, slim women earn around 10% more than larger women doing the same job, tall men earn more than short men, and unattractive people are two to four times more likely to be laid off than their more attractive colleagues.

This is obviously as unfair as any discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or age - all of which are illegal in many countries around the world. But few legislators have followed those in the Australian state of Victoria, or in the Californian city of San Francisco, who have formally recognized the existence of 'lookism' and made it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their physical features.

In the April 2011 issue the Journal of Industrial Relations, Waring examines the pressure in modern societies to hire people who 'look good', and urges the need for more legislators to introduce discrimination law to provide remedies for those who feel they have been discriminated against for not having the 'right look'.

In the meantime, employers should be encouraged to frame their own policies to minimize the risk of a beauty bias. Almost half of organisations in the USA already have such a policy in place.

Most obviously, companies should avoid referring to appearance when drawing up job advertisements. Recruitment officers and managers should be trained to focus on abilities rather than appearance. Businesses should be aware of, and accommodate, the dress restrictions placed on some racial, ethnic or religious groups and firms should be flexible about employees' appearance - within the boundaries of the corporate image they seek to project.

One thing seems clear; there will be less room for beauty bias in the years ahead, if forecasts of a world-wide skill shortage prove to be accurate.

Krell reports in the June 2011 issue of HRMagazine that research by the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group indicating that the skill shortage will affect every region of the world, as the global economy picks up and so-called 'baby boomers' - people born after the Second World War who grew up during the 1960s and 1970s - leave the workforce.

In greatest shortage will be skilled trades-people, sales representatives, technicians and engineers. Education systems are simply not providing enough people with the skills to do these jobs, while companies are failing to invest enough in their training.

Krell reports that the Unites States, Europe and Russia face huge recruitment problems, while China's one-child policy will add to skill shortages there. A particular problem in some developing countries is that their educational systems are failing to produce people with the quality of skills needed in the modern knowledge economy.

Among the recommendations that could help companies to combat the problems are: treating training as an investment rather than a cost; establishing closer relationships with educational institutions to help to ensure that students emerge with the necessary skills; and not rejecting highly skilled people simply because they do not conform to some vague idea of what they should look like. For miners or machinists, manicurists or mannequins, the beauty bias should have no part in recruitment.