The Beauty Penalty
Don't hate me because I'm beautiful. However, it is perfectly fine to hire me, promote me and lavishly overpay me. That's the way of the business world, and nobody knows it better than me, you and Debrahlee Lorenzana.
Debrahlee is the beautiful, 33-year old, single mother who recently filed an unlawful termination lawsuit against Citibank, claiming that she had been fired from a branch office in Manhattan simply because she was — in the words of the Cole Porter song — too darn hot.
So hot is Lorenzana that male Citibank staffers and supervisors were distracted by her sensuous good looks, and therefore, rendered unable to focus 100 percent on approving bad loans, issuing shoddy derivatives and accepting government bailouts. It's an interesting irony, is it not? Had we known how distractible bankers could be, we could have saved ourselves a lot of anguish and several trillion dollars simply by hiring a bunch of Playmates to work beside the bumble-brained bozos at Citi, Goldman, Lehman, AIG and the other highly respected financial institutions — where less work could have meant less damage to the economy.
But this doesn't help Lorenzana, yet another innocent victim of bankers gone mad. Even the Village Voice demonstrated the emotion a senior bank vice president might reserve for a 36-percent interest credit card in describing the ex-employee: "At 5 foot 6 inches and 125 pounds, with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin, she is J. Lo curves meets Jessica Simpson rack meets Audrey Hepburn elegance."
Of course, we know that being attractive is usually an advantage in the business environment. According to a recent Maureen Dowd column on the subject in The New York Times, a 2005 analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis "confirmed what seems apparent, from presidential races to executive boardrooms: Good-looking people and tall people get a 'beauty premium' — an extra 5 percent an hour — while there is a 'plainness penalty' of 9 percent in wages."
It's not only physical beautiful that gets rewarded in our workplaces. "A study that looked at men's height and their salaries later found they made $789 more a year for every extra inch of height," reports Dowd. Do the math — the $350 you're paying for those "elevator" lifts in your loafers are making you $439 for every extra inch. Add the extra 2 inches you've gained by that Elvis toupee, and you're $2,017 a year ahead. The other workers may laugh as you totter by, but you're wobbling your way to the bank.
Unfortunately, Lorenzana is not likely to win her lawsuit. In fact, she may never even get the chance to distract a judge and jury. According to Alice Gomstyn of ABC News, "buried beneath the attention-grabbing allegations ... is a legal detail that means a lot for many workers, not just the attractive ones: Thanks to something known as a mandatory arbitration clause, Lorenzana likely will not have her day in court."
Lorenzana claims she never noticed this requirement as she affixed her Jane Hancock to the pile of papers presented by Citi's HR department, and it's easy to understand how that would happen. Even if someone did recognize he or she was signing an insanity clause in this miserable job market, who would complain? If you're drowning at sea, being circled by sharks, and a lifeboat comes along to pull you out of the ocean, are you going to ask to see the captain's Sea Scout merit badge?
As for the question of whether physical beauty is a plus or a minus, I think you can answer that one for yourself. Look at your own career, and while you're at it, look in the mirror. Considering your complete lack of ability and your total disinterest in doing any work, the only possible explanation for how you've gotten so far so fast has to be your movie star good looks.
On the other hand, if you find yourself struggling to get ahead, it is now clear that it is not your bad work, or your even worse attitude, that is holding you back. It is the fact that you need a nose job, or two, a lot of lipo and a complete body transplant before you are at risk of getting fired for distracting your co-workers and supervisors.
I say — go for it! They may hate you at work, but think of the warm welcome you'll get from all the beautiful people at the unemployment office.
Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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