For the women who need us most

For the women who need us most

I’m Werking On My…

I’m Werking On My…

The prettiness paradox: pretty privilege in the workplace
By Eva Millett
Image: Graphic for prettiness paradox

Ever wondered why some people seem to get ahead at work just by flashing a smile? Let’s dive into the world of pretty privilege and see how good looks can give you a serious career boost. 

What is pretty privilege? The phenomenon where looks can give you a significant leg up in the workplace.

Whether it’s that you’re hired on the basis of your good looks at interview, are allowed a few a extra minutes at lunch or unlimited goes on the photocopier simply because you interacted with the printer man – pretty privilege feeds into a hierarchy based workplace, and it’s something we need to address. 

Generally we have a sense of if we’re good looking or not. According to psychology, if you get a lot of lingering eye contact, rarely receive compliments and have men stumbling over their words when speaking to you, then these are some good signs you’re on the more attractive side. 

If a girl is young and pretty, how should you feel about this? Put down is firstly certainly not it. Because women shouldn’t be penalised for something they have such limited control over. It’s about understanding how your looks can shape our careers in both obvious and subtle ways. So what’s the alternative? Should pretty women be eager to reap the rewards of their good looks in their new office? 

Imagine this. Your female colleagues sat in a meeting and she always seems to have the rooms attention. Her ideas aren’t usually any sort of complex or groundbreaking. But her polished appearance paired with her doll-like face has the room completely enchanted. We’ve all seen it happening, whether it’s in a meeting at the office or out and about in restaurants or in friendship groups. 

As studies suggest that those who are more attractive are more likely to be hired, receive promotions and earn higher salaries, it feels like a double edged sword for those who feel like they’re the runt of the litter? As good looks capture the attention of colleagues, pretty people are more likely to be given opportunities, receive resources and therefore be more successful. 

But there can be disadvantages to being pretty too. Particularly for women, although pretty privilege seems like a relatively light-hearted concept, ultimately it leads back to the patriarchy. Yes, that old chestnut. Because good looking men are more likely to reap the rewards of their appealing physical features, whereas women on the backfoot, are more likely to suffer the disadvantages. 

A Harvard study found that workers of above average beauty earn 10-15 per cent more than workers of below average beauty. With this in mind, it makes sense why you’re generally more likely to see tall men being CEOs winning elections than smaller men. 

However for women, although you might be more likely to be hired on the basis of a pretty girl turning up to interview, you have to put up with the less fun side of creepy men, and people forming stereotypes about you. 

We’ve seen the scenario play out a thousand times. A pretty girl’s in the office and she has to put up with the resident freaks mercilessly all day every day. The greasy, usually somewhere between 25-40-year-old, with one too many buttons undone reeking of dior sauvage he bathed himself in that morning. Repeatedly asking, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?… You do? Oh well where is he?’, ‘I’ll help you with the slides for the presentation next week if you go for a drink with me?’. 

Although thanks to the me too movement this stereotype is gladly dying out, and creepy, threatening behaviour in the office is no longer tolerated, it’s not to say that when pretty privilege is at play, women are still subject to unsolicited comments from the opposite sex. 

The guilt these women feel for their good genes, luring odd men in completely objectifying them based on their looks as a pose to their merit at work is paired with frustration at the constant stereotypes. Stereotypes that because you’re young, blonde, pretty faced with a good complexion you must be total airhead. 

Good looking women have their abilities constantly undermined at work by both men and women. Corridor whispers from jealous female colleagues and endless mansplaining can make work quite unpleasant for some women. Although research has shown good looking women are more likely to be given opportunities, once that door is opened it’s a shame to be met with the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype. 

Unfortunately the stereotypes don’t stop at colleagues. Imagine being in a client meeting, you’ve been the most confident, professional, approachable version of yourself but the clients are more interested in your appearance than pitch? It seems miserable to be having these conversations but taking humans back to the primal state, looks always prevail. Good looking people will always be noticed. 

Condescending comments and assumptions like, ‘Oh, you’re too pretty to be in accounting!’, ‘Wow brains AND beauty!’, they’re supposed to be compliments but let’s be honest they’re pretty dismissive. No woman deserves to feel like through hard work she landed herself at her dream job only to be utterly degraded? 

So where do we go from here? Firstly let’s acknowledge it. Recognising that pretty privilege comes with downsides helps us address it. If you’re in a position to hire or promote, make a conscious effort to look beyond appearance. Think about skills, achievements and potential. 

Let’s remember to support each other, if you see a colleague suffering these downsides, make an effort to boost them. Back them up in discussions, highlight their ideas in meetings and be a safe space for them. Make sure that if they come to you with this topic you entertain the conversation and be an ally not an enemy, because isolated colleagues makes for a broken team, leading to lack of productivity and tension. 

If you feel like you have pretty privilege, don’t let it make you small. Don’t suppress yourself or lesser your appearance at work because of reactions it’s previously garnered. Confidence is the best thing you can wear, so amplify your voice, work hard and showcase your talents. 

A healthy working environment is all about people being there based on merit. So next time someone tries to box you in based on your looks, break free and show them what you’re really made of! 

Sadia Khan, a Psychologist talking about pretty privilege on a podcast on Tik Tok.

If you want to look your best at work, read more about work hairstyles!