If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's got to be a duck. Right? How about if it looks like a platypus? Does someone have to look the part in order to be taken seriously?
Like it or not the reality is that we all make an initial judgement of people in the first few seconds of meeting them, long before characteristics such as leadership skills and empathy have had a chance to show themselves, before even the demonstration of the obligatory strong handshake.
This is sometimes referred to as the "halo effect" or the "physical attractiveness stereotype". According to Dr Gordon Patzer human beings are hard-wired to respond more favourably to attractive people: "Good-looking men and women are generally regarded to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts." He contends that "controlled studies show people go out of their way to help attractive people - of the same sex and opposite sex - because they want to be liked and accepted by good looking people."
But is appearance as important away from the public eye? It would seem so. One report by 20 20 Skills states that "physically attractive job candidates whose qualifications are similar to those of less attractive candidates are more likely to be hired for the same job." It is no surprise that there are some occupations in which this is true, would you use an overweight personal trainer for example? But Professor of Psychology Comila Shahani-Denning agrees that it is important even when irrelevant to the nature of the work: "There is considerable empirical evidence that physical attractiveness impacts employment decision making, with the result that the more attractive the individual, the greater the likelihood that the person will be hired."
Perhaps selection interviewing should copy "The Voice" and prevent those responsible for making decisions from seeing the candidates!
The advantages of being attractive also continue after recruitment: Forbes reports that "A landmark 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 US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a significant "wage penalty" for overweight and obese white women."
So is this an example of male chauvinism? Actually no, as there is plenty of evidence that good looks are important to both men and women in the workplace. In one study 61% who rated their male bosses as attractive also found them competent, compared with 41% for those thought "average" looking and just 25% considered unattractive. According to Ken Siegel women may even have the upper hand as they have a higher awareness that looks sell, while "men don't realise it's an important dynamic."
For someone in the public eye dress alone is not enough. If your picture is going to be splashed across the media the public demands that you must look the part. We want to have pride in our politicians as ambassadors for our country and therefore they have to ooze charisma. If you bear an unfortunate resemblance to a muppet (one of the scary ones) when your picture is taken from the wrong angle, you can be sure that this is the image the camera will capture every time. Sorry Ed, human nature can be tough!
While looks have little to do with actual ability I do believe that to be taken seriously in any chosen line of work you have to dress and walk the part. After all, to get people to listen to you means that you first have to be heard and image can be all important. Regardless of attractiveness everyone can have a good haircut, clean teeth and nails, wear good fitting, appropriate clothing and hold themselves well. If you don't take a pride in these things then can you really expect others to believe in you? (Although I still think ties are unnecessary!)
The beautiful people among us should also be aware that the stereotype can be a double edged sword. They are also more likely to be perceived as vain, dishonest and manipulative. I guess you just can't win!
Written by Mike Gamble: Director JEM Retail Consultants