Genderized Workplace Lookism in the U.S. and Abroad: Implications for Organization and Career Development Professionals

Genderized Workplace Lookism in the U.S. and Abroad: Implications for Organization and Career Development Professionals

Cynthia Howard Sims
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1933-1.ch005
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Lookism is preferential treatment of those considered to be attractive and discrimination against those deemed less physically desirable. Value is attached to certain physical characteristics such as skin tone, height, weight, facial features, and hair color/textures. Two of the phenomena that exist under the umbrella of lookism are colorism and weightism, which are both genderized phenomenon that create social and workplace inequities. There are studies that explore physical appearance discrimination external to and within workplaces in the United States; however, there is little research on the impact of these prejudices on women abroad. Since today's global workforce is composed of women from various countries and cultural backgrounds, and their cultural values impact their career aspirations and career opportunities, organizational and career development professionals must understand the implications of both U.S. and international lookism and utilize strategies to address and prevent the related issues.
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The benefits of attractiveness are well-documented and common in many cultures. Beauty grants social capital and unearned privilege to those with desired physical features, and these advantages are perpetuated in various social institutions, including families, schools, media, and workplaces. Systems of privilege and discrimination result when people with certain physical features are given preferential treatment, particularly in the workplace. There is a growing body of research on workplace physical appearance discrimination, also termed lookism, in the United States, prompting the creation of organizational policies, national legislation, and preventive outreach regarding equitable recruitment, hiring, and retention practices.

Global nations, on the other hand, have not been as pioneering in research efforts or legislative solutions to address lookism. The lack of research, strategies, policies, and outreach hinders the creation of means to address lookism in workplaces abroad. Furthermore, lookism is a genderized phenomenon, so women are especially negatively impacted. Women’s career development can be stifled, which may have an adverse effect on their economic security. Organization and career development professionals around the world have an opportunity and responsibility to address this emerging workforce diversity issue.

This chapter will present literature on gendered lookism and its derivatives, colorism and weightism, as workplace diversity issues in the United States and abroad. The objectives of this chapter are to increase the diversity awareness of organizational and career development professionals regarding genderized workplace lookism and to provide suggestions for working with women who have experienced or are at risk of this form of discrimination.

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