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Talent Is More Than Skin-Deep: Appearance-Based Biases in the Workplace

February 21, 2019

Some people seem to have all the luck. But is it really luck, or just looks? How much influence do appearances have on success? We all know appearances can be deceiving, but if we believe that “clothes make the person,” then maybe things aren’t so simple, and maybe sometimes we really do make decisions based on nothing more than how someone looks.

Human resources practices are more inclusive than ever, and workplace cultures tend to be open, progressive, and accepting of people in their infinite variety. Yet biases continue to exist, sneaking into our judgements and decisions more than we might want to admit. These unconscious biases might be invisible to ourselves but have real and significant effects on our workplaces.

Unconscious biases are mental shortcuts we all use to make decisions. Some of these are harmless—for example, you know that greasy food makes you sick, so you presume that the food at that new pizza place won’t agree with you—but biases can have extremely dangerous effects when they lead to stereotyping other people. Everyone has biases, and they come from our education, upbringing, culture, media, and experiences. While we can’t eliminate our biases, we can become aware of them, and take conscious steps to overcome them.

As far as appearance biases go, there are some careers where presentation matters a lot: models and actors, for instance, often depend on their appearance as an essential part of their jobs. That said, most people in most jobs don’t have to have physical appearance as an occupational requirement, and those are the cases we address in this article.

What appearance-based biases might affect employment decisions, and how can you reduce their influences? Download our FREE Overcoming Appearance Biases Guide, which will help you work towards minimizing the effects of appearance in hiring decisions.

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