Can Better Looks Increase your Corporate Success?

Amanda DeWitt- Traditionally, a skilled worker is someone who has special skill, training, knowledge, and ability in their work. However, these days, being a skilled worker may be a little less about intelligence and training, and a little more about appearance. And in some jobs, being good-looking seems to be a necessary skill to have.  A U.S. survey that found good-looking lawyers earn between 10 and 12 per cent more than less good-looking colleagues. Moreover, an attractive person is more likely to land a job in the first place, and then be promoted.[1] A study from Cornell University found that when white females put on an additional 64 pounds, her wages drop 9%. And according to a 2007 paper from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a statistically significant “wage penalty” for overweight and obese white women.[2] This being said, does being “good-looking” actually contribute to your human capital? And how can one increase their human capital when it comes to appearances?

As defined by Naked Economics, human capital is the sum of total skills embodied within an individual. It is what you would have left if someone stripped away all of your assets –your job, your money, your home, and your possessions.[3] Having a larger human capital can make you a more appealing applicant when applying for a job, especially if your human capital contains things that are specifically tailored to your work. Although most people would not typically think of appearances as a skill that is a part of human capital, looks, just like knowledge and creativity, is something that would remain if all of your assets were stripped away. That being said, if you were left out on the street homeless and jobless, looks is a component of your human capital that could help you find work more easily.

There are specific things that people can do in order to increase their human capital when it comes to appearances. According to sociologist Catherine Hakim, professional women should use things like beauty, charm, sex appeal and fitness to get ahead at work. She says wearing things like makeup and more revealing clothing may actually maximize your paycheck in the long run. But, some experts suggest doing more than just wearing makeup. Dr. Daniel Hamermesh, has discovered that what makes a person more attractive is the symmetry of their facial features. He suggests something like plastic surgery would be able to give you more facial symmetry, thus bumping you up to the top one-third of attractive females, who on average make 10 percent more than the bottom one-sixth of the genetic pool. Judy Jernudd, a leadership coach in Los Angeles, recommends honing certain psychological behaviors, like walking upright and with confidence, which will make you seem taller than someone who is slouched over or walking with her head down. It will also trick others into perceiving you as more physically attractive.[4]

Even though most of us wish that appearances weren’t heavily valued in the workplace, we have to make the best of it and play it to our advantage. On average, people who are healthy and attractive make more than those who are at the bottom of the gene pool. Just like creativity and knowledge, looks can also be a part of human capital. Through things like makeup, clothing, plastic surgery and posture, someone can become a more likely to succeed in the workplace.

[1]Ray Williams, “Good looks will get you that job, promotion and raise,” Psychology Today, June 21, 2016, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201109/good-looks-will-get-you-job-promotion-and-raise.

[2] Laura Sinberg, “Think looks don’t matter? Think again,” Forbes, June 21, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/2009/12/05/appearance-work-pay-forbes-woman-leadership-body-weight.html.

[3] Charles Wheelan, Naked Economics Undressing the Dismal Science (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010), 127.

[4] Susan Adams, “In Hiring, Looks Matter,” Forbes, November 11, 2011, http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2011/11/11/in-hiring-looks-matter/#571dde4b3cf4.

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