Do better looking people have it easier at work?
There are all kinds of studies that tell us about how taller, better looking people often get hired over others who are less attractive. It’s a fact of life and of course it sucks for those of us who will never be on the cover of a magazine. Believe me, I know the feeling. I work in TV, and I once had a casting director tell me that my TV show was being picked up, but that I “did not have the face for Bravo, that A&E (the home of Duck Dynasty) would be a better fit.” Nice right? That’s a different subject for a different time though.
What I want to talk about here and now is people who feel like they’re being used as eye-candy. I hear this a ton from both men and women looking to change jobs--although, this is certainly something that women have to deal with far more regularly. They’ll say that their boss brings them to fancy industry parties because they’re good looking and that they’ll leave the evening feeling used. Some say that they just feel disrespected, others say that it makes them question whether or not their bosses actually value their work or if they’re just on the team because they have a nice pair of legs. While I’m happy to have this business, my response (at least in my head) is usually something like, “yeah, okay, sounds about right.”
Listen, I don’t mean to poo-poo how anyone feels about the way people look at them at work, and if your boss is harassing you, report them at once. No one should have to put up with any unwanted sexual attention at all and there are certainly some bosses who need to learn that lesson. I understand that there are people out there who might feel like they were only hired because of their looks (and who knows, maybe they were), but it in many cases those same people are excelling in their roles. If you’re one of these people, my best advice is to try to allow your success to be liberating. Even if you were hired based on your looks, keep your head down, do your job, and prove that you’re worth far more than a good-looking face.
On the other hand, if you’re one of those workers who has to deal with comments about your looks day in and day out, go talk to your boss. Set a meeting and have all hardcopy proof of all your professional achievements. I promise that no company will let you go for demanding this sort of meeting--especially if you have been successful in your job--the lawsuit and bad press wouldn’t be worth it for them. Tell your boss that you feel like you’re undervalued and shown off in ways that make you feel uncomfortable. For all you know, your boss will realize what a sleaze they’ve been and back off. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen.
As I see it, this is a country-wide and generational issue that’s going to take a while to solve. The truth of the matter is that men--and women, although less so--in powerful positions often feel entitled to things to which they have no right. As is so often the case in the workplace (and outside the workplace, for that matter), the thing that men feel entitled to is women’s bodies (and less so, other men’s bodies too). I don’t mean to go off on some hippie-dippy rant, but this is the truth: power goes to people’s heads and to other places. The point is, while it’s possible a boss will back off if and when you confront them about unwanted sexual attention, both the history of men in power and the history of gender workplace dynamics allow us to assume that they won’t just apologize and that will be the end of it all. Remember that 40 years ago in this country, the only women that men worked alongside were their secretaries, and they could tell them what to wear! This isn’t an excuse though; there is no excuse for any boss to make any of their employees feel uncomfortable in the workplace. If your boss doesn’t respond to your talk, report them to HR and let them handle the situation.
Now, for you bosses reading this and getting a little red-in-the-face because some of this sounds a bit too familiar. Cut it out. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. Just because you don’t think it’s sexual harassment, doesn’t mean it isn’t sexual harassment. If someone feels harassed…hey then well, that may be enough. You’re not Roger Ailes. You can’t pay for the types of attorneys that get sexual assaulters $60 million golden parachutes.