The attribution biases associated with physical appearance are also pervasive in the employment context. In employment, appearance is part of the employee’s non-verbal communication. Assessment of an employee’s appearance is tied to her attractiveness, which is usually based simply on the employee’s facial features. In addition to facial characteristics, empirical research addressing the role of appearance in employment has also focused on grooming, jewelry, hairstyles, glasses, and clothing. In employment, a psychological phenomenon, known as the “halo/horns effect,” encompasses the “beauty is good” stereotype. The “halo effect” operates when an employee is rated positively on one factor
That in turn influences her ratings on all other factors. The “horn effect” functions similarly but works against the employee. Thus, an employee’s appearance may influence the employer’s overall perception of the employee, serving as a measure of an employee’s abilities and qualifications
Problems Associated with Policies Regulating Appearance
While employers are motivated to regulate employee appearance for both social and economic reasons, appearance-based decisions in the employment context are problematic on several levels. Appearance regulations are troubling because they facilitate the judging of employees based on qualities unrelated to job performance. Beyond their irrelevance to job performance, appearance regulations reflect certain prejudices, and adversely affect the individuals against whom they are enforced.
Irrelevant to Job Performance
Employment decisions influenced by appearance are problematic when they involve assessments of characteristics that are unrelated to the actual job. While appearance is not relevant to an employee’s ability to perform most jobs, under current law, employers are free to use such criteria when making hiring decisions.” Such policies are “arbitrary, irrational, and unfair, as they harm society by affirming certain appearance-related stereotypes and biases. Furthermore, appearance-based hiring decisions and grooming policies suggest that appearance is more important than other more relevant factors, such as “academic, career, or personal accomplishments,” and also perpetuate society’s obsession with looks.
Express Certain Assumptions and Prejudices
The tendency for appearance policies to cater to dominant group norms must be examined in light of the nature of work culture. Work culture is essentially a product of social interaction, which is influenced by a number of cognitive and motivational biases as well as larger organizational context. Furthermore, work culture is affected by the likelihood that individuals favor those with whom they share similarities and will enforce group boundaries in order to maintain status and power.
Racial features include those through which people dress or express themselves, as well as physical characteristics such as hairstyle, skin color, nose size, and eye shape. While whites, whose aesthetic values are seen as objective and universal, can exercise preferences in deciding how to look or express themselves, non-whites must conform to white standards or suffer the consequences.
If a certain value is objective and true, a person cannot, idiomatically speaking, ‘prefer’ to choose this value. Rather, the person merely deviates from it or adheres to it. Thus, non-whites are faced with the decision either to conform to or reject white aesthetic values.
Furthermore, attractiveness requirements, which some employer appearance policies encompass, disproportionately burden women, as society’s expectations and standards of appearance tend to fall more heavily on women than men. Such requirements reinforce stereotypes about the images of femininity and beliefs about female behavior and worth, 60 driving many women to spend endless time and energy to measure up to the ideal form of female beauty. The resulting obsession with beauty maintains women’s secondary status in society by increasing their vulnerability to forms of male exploitation and dangers associated with the beauty industry