New Studies Look At The Challenge Of Being The Ugly Worker

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The oldest rule in the book -- that it helps to be good looking -- is getting some new attention.

This past month saw the publication of two books from both sides of the Atlantic that track the power of sex appeal in the workplace. The books, both indirectly and directly, also raise the question of whether a civil society should protect the ugly.

Advocates for the Adonises would easily counter the very suggestion that such protections should be put in place by arguing that beauty is subjective. But as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said on a case related to pornography, you know it when you see it. Nevertheless, as University of Texas economist Dan Hamermesh demonstrates, there's in fact statistical analysis to back up the belief that the good-looking are given preferred status in the workplace. In promoting the publication this month of his book, "Beauty Pays," Hamermesh states the following in a New York Times op-ed:

"One study showed that an American worker who was among the bottom one-seventh in looks, as assessed by randomly chosen observers, earned 10 to 15 percent less per year than a similar worker whose looks were assessed in the top one-third -- a lifetime difference, in a typical case, of about $230,000."

The trend, which cuts across gender lines, should be cause for judicial remedy, says Hamermesh.

"With all the gains to being good-looking, you would think that more people would get plastic surgery or makeovers to improve their looks," he also writes. "A more radical solution may be needed: Why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?"

He says one way to overcome subjectivity is to define classes of attractiveness.

This new legal frontier for the "looks challenged" coincides with the rising movement to protect the overweight, which was explored on this website last month.

Jurisdictions starting with the state of Michigan, and cities including Santa Cruz and Washington D.C. have begun passing legislation protecting the overweight from workplace discrimination. This particular attribute raises fewer questions related subjectivity -- nearly everyone agrees on who is or is not overweight. The issue here is the tension between innate predisposition to obesity, or the kind that comes about after a lifetime of unhealthful habits.

That complication, along with the protected doctrine that employers have the right to hire whoever they think will boost profits, has stalled any movement in the defense of the overweight.

"Most cases you find on this are couched as sex discrimination, because there's some establishment there," John Donohue, a professor at Stanford Law School, told AOL Jobs in an interview.

The old rules still apply, a fact which is made all too plainly by this month's publication of "Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital."

Written by sociologist Dr. Catherine Hakim, a sociologist with the London School of Economics, "Honey Money," argues that sex appeal is as potent a weapon in the workplace as qualifications, if not more so. Hakim argues through a slew of cross-cultural statistics that women's erotic capital is both more vital for their career than it is for men, and still less less helpful in catapulting them to the top ranks.

Hakim's work is being received throughout Britain as an attempt to be honest about how things really work. One such response came in the pages of The Daily Mail.

Writer Samantha Brick describes a career ascent in television in which she used her good looks at every turn.

"I learned very early on in my career how to clock within seconds who the important male was in any room and pandered to him accordingly. And it paid off," she writes. "By the age of 30, I had a three-quarter-of-a-million-pound house, a Mercedes convertible (and a Mercedes estate for when I took my dogs out), a walk-in dressing room crammed with clothes that Carrie Bradshaw would be envious of -- oh, and I had a generous six-figure salary and a high-ranking position in my chosen industry."

Next: Four Things That Can Increase Your Chances of Getting a Promotion

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