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Where Does Beauty Lie -- In the Eyes of the Employer?
THE SECRET TO PROFESSIONAL ADVANCEMENT may lie not in your resume, but the reflection you cast in the mirror. So argues Steven Jeffes, G'87, the author of a new book on appearance discrimination. In fact, Jeffes, who has debated the topic on radio programs, makes an argument for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be amended to include appearance discrimination. He admits it's "a stretch," but hopes to at least raise awareness that such inequities exist and offer advice to those whose looks have been used against them.
   In Appearance is Everything (Sterling House), Jeffes dips into previous research and conducts a few informal studies of his own to make the argument that appearance discrimination pervades our society in all forms of interaction, from dating to customer service to employment. He also provides a 15-step quiz for readers to take to judge their own "appearance quotient," with categories like the following:
   "Ears -- A) Small -- close to head (20 points), B) Medium size, slightly protruding from head (10 points), C) Large, very protruding, malformed ears (0 points)."
   What professional advantages does attractiveness give a person? "It's called the halo effect," he explains. "People who are attractive are presumed to possess higher levels of intellect and motivation, they're presumed to be friendlier and more outgoing, as well as perceived to be [capable of] far greater accomplishments than those who are not. It's all based on perception." Conversely, he says, unattractive people are often wrongly presumed to be lazy, unmotivated, or unintelligent.
   Sometimes the slights are unconscious, and sometimes they're purposeful. "I've known organizations where they've explicitly told me they won't hire anyone who is more than 10 pounds overweight." They had no fear of admitting this, Jeffes says, because appearance discrimination is "one of the last forms of discrimination that goes unchecked," and it's difficult to prove.
   Jeffes, vice president of operations at a company in Tampa, Fla., that sells marketing automation software, says his current employer does not discriminate, but at one manufacturing firm where he was in management, an executive admitted that there was a "glass appearance ceiling" beyond which unattractive employees would not be promoted. He continually observed less qualified workers being"leapfrogged" over their more qualified, but less attractive colleagues.
   In an informal study he conducted using the photographs of 75 randomly-selected Fortune 500 executives, respondents rated 99 percent of them as average or above average in attractiveness. Still, Jeffes acknowledges that looks are not essential to success in every occupational field, or even valued in every part of the country.
   Much of his unofficial research began while he was a student at Temple University, and later Penn, observing the disparate success his friends experienced in dating, employment, and other situations. "I became fascinated, because we were all pretty much equal in terms of education, intellect, motivation, and personality. There was something else playing into this dramatically different treatment by society. A lot of it had to do with appearance."
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