Sex Discrimination at the Office – Does it Really Happen?

  • Posted by admin
  • 22 August 2013
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Unfortunately it can, with the fairer sex having to bear the brunt of it. Have you ever heard of a male employee being fired because he was too handsome? Chances are no. Experts call this “lookism” at the workplace.

The topic was hot for debate when the Supreme Court ruled against a female dental assistant who had filed a lawsuit against a dentist who had fired her for being too attractive and hence ‘a threat’ to his marriage.

And yes, this is male reasoning at play. Have you ever heard of a female employer firing a male employee because he is too attractive? Probably not and here is why -

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

And the beholden happen to be male, all of them! Sadly, standards of beauty happen to be characterized according to the male gaze. This can prove disastrous for an employee who happens to be beautiful beyond belief even though she is qualified. Writer Naomi Wolf has called it the professional beauty quotient, a requirement where the standard of beauty is an occupational qualification at the workplace.

Does this supposed standard have any basis in fact? The Supreme Court in Iowa seems to think so since it decided that companies do have a right to fire female employees if they are too attractive no matter whether they have compromised their job in any way. The law also made it convenient for employers to fire any employee at will since it does not require them to give a reason for such dismissals.

Damned if your are Beautiful, Damned if you are Not

Does this mean that unattractive women are more likely to retain jobs? How can they when they are overlooked in the initial selection process most of the time? In other words, there have been a lot of cases in which unattractive or plain looking women have been overlooked in favor of attractive female applicants no matter whether the former was more qualified or not.

This is not to say that all companies work this way. Companies in Singapore happen to employ a lot of female employees and most of them are comely. Sociologists and female activists have related the Supreme Court in Iowa’s decision to the biased view of its all male members. After all, the dental assistance wasn’t exactly fired for her beauty alone but of the male perception that saw her attractiveness as a possible distraction. The silver lining is that the court decided to hear the case again in June probably due to the uproar that was caused by the obviously sexist verdict.

Most companies do take issues like sexual harassment and unjust terminations seriously which followed by a warning or immediate dismissal of the offending party. But the fact of the matter is that sexual inequality due to “lookism” does have the potential to raise its ugly head not because of a woman’s attractiveness but of gender biases that are obviously male centric.


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