I was prompted to write this post after reading an article from Salary.com entitled "7 Ways Your Looks Affect Your Pay".You can read it here if you are interested.
The article has some good statistical data that I don't like, but I'm also not going to argue with. Their findings, I have to admit, are spot-on in regards to the culture at many of the companies I have consulted with in the past. After reading it, I started thinking about how looks also relate to the screening and hiring process in many organizations. This can really present a challenge to the recruiter working for or with a company that demonstrates this type of culture.
Have you ever had a hiring manager say something like:
"They look good on paper, but what do they really look like?"
I have heard this, and worse. I always like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but let's face it, they usually mean exactly what they've said:
"What do they look like?"
To take this a step further, in many cases, the answer is as important to placing that candidate as are their skills. Please note, I'm not talking about asking about appearance to determine a protected class. Here are some examples:
" I need a Barbie or Ken for this territory. You just don't get business in this area if you are ugly."
" I'm sorry. He has the right skills, but the manager will never hire that guy. He is sort of short and he doesn't hire anyone over 6'2" to work side by side with him."
" Her back-ground is a fit, but what in the world is that thing on her forehead? Is it a birthmark? I can't work with someone if I can't look them in the eye. That mark on her forehead distracts me."
"Before I meet her, does she have an athletic build? That is a must. We work with doctors after all."
These are all real life quotes from my career, people. I can't make this stuff up! Keep in mind, that I didn't typically meet with a candidate face to face. I was in Indiana and they were somewhere else in the world where I had found a job order. I am guilty of telling the client this just to get the candidate in the door, or to get them to give me another chance for the right fit.
Some of these might sound pretty silly, but if we are being really honest with ourselves, can we all say that a candidate's appearance would never have a bearing on whether we would hire them or present them to a client? That's rhetorical. I'm not answering that one. Let's say that your client said something like " This position requires a professional appearance," though. Would how a person looks change the way you felt about that candidate?
Since most of my clients only know me by the sound of my voice,this also makes me curious. Would they hire me if they really knew what I looked like? Not that I think I'm unattractive, but gee, we all have our insecurities about some part of our appearance. Who determines what is better or worse?
So are you too tall or not tall enough? Are you too fat or too thin? If you have curly hair will you get the same consideration as your competition that is a silky blonde? What about those with big noses vs. those that have a chiseled chin. Who should have preference? Are you forever penalized with some companies for a scar from that car wreck when you were sixteen, or the tattoo from that bad weekend in Vegas you won't discuss? Would that really keep you from getting the job? I'm sorry, but the answer is, yes, it might.
These are totally fair game in the U.S. Legally that is. For now. Unless you can prove that it relates in some way to identification as a protected class. In fact, some of these once "closed door" discriminators are being eased in to the work place with current employees. Check out this page from www.annualmedicalreport.com. Here an excerpt:
CVS Caremark Corporation has come under fire for asking employees covered under the company’s health care plan to disclose a range of personal information in a “wellness review” — from their weight to blood pressure — or face a financial penalty. According to company statements, CVS is giving its 200,000 employees an ultimatum: submit your height, weight, body fat percentage (Body Mass Index, aka “BMI”), blood pressure, glucose levels, and other health indicators or suffer an on-going financial penalty of $50 per month.
I hope we never get to a point that you need to agree to submit this kind of personal information as a prerequisite to being considered for every job. You just never know, though. If we go there, who will determine when it is necessary to meet wellness criteria ( for example) to perform the job. Have you ever had a doctor that looked like they might have a BMI higher than your own? Is it really about wellness, and insurance rates, or are we just looking to have a workforce that makes our company look good?
I'd love to hear you sound-off on this post. There are extremes to this topic, of course. Care to share any crazy requests for particular looks? Maybe you've been given a knock out factor related to appearance? Do you think it is O.K. to consider appearance as part of the screening process? If so, do you include this information under requirements for the position?
Amy McDonald is the President and CEO at REKRUTR. She has been working in the human resources and recruiting industry for over 20 years. Amy has worked with hundreds of recruitment professionals throughout her career, training best practices in sourcing candidates and refining the recruitment process. In her spare time, Amy participates as a thought leader in Recruiting for BIZCATALYST360°
The first thing that comes to mind in reading your post is that I would tell the corporate or agency recruiter to tread lightly when speaking to their chain of command or client company. The client has not broken any laws at this point in your example but seems to have in mind a plan that may not be in either the client’s or the vendor’s best interest.
This is where most vendor companies get roped into doing something unethical which then leads to something illegal. I have seen many cases first hand where the employer made a decision to move forward expecting to rely on their team of attorneys to bail them out should those plans backfire in their face. In almost every case the vendor became the secondary target of investigation. The client company had deep pockets and calculated in the expected or possible outcome while the vendor was put out of business and the owner’s name was dragged through the media. In some cases the vendor also had deep pockets and did the same as the client company.
You may be wondering how my reply has moved from a simply conversation by the prospect client to discussion which may seem over the top. The point is this: the federal government has ruled time and time again on the doctrine of disparate impact which basically states that the employer created employment practices considered discriminatory and illegal if they have a disproportionate "adverse impact" on members of a minority group. One might attempt to argue in defense of the employer that words like “good looking” or over 6’3” tall do not single out a protected class; however, that person would have to overlook other valuable previous rulings which clearly express the “spirit of the law” as set forth by OFCCP and other federal laws and regulations. For example: OFCCP clearly prohibits the use of demands within the application and hiring process which are not administered with evenly applied expectations. If the employer stated the successful candidate will have come from one of the top four Colleges in the US they have violated OFCCP regulations. Over 6’ 3” (unless for strict job specific limitations which can’t be overcome) or high cheek bones would be identifying factors which could create a disparate impact on Asians who as a whole may not meet these requirements or women who are not typically 6” 3’
In short ( no pun intended) the vendor’s representative should be able to identify these illegal possibilities before they become a major issue to the employer. In some cases the representative may even need to figure out how to protect their employer and the client company against both parties insistence. This can be the tight rope every honest recruiter hates. This is where the agency or even corporate recruiter needs to know and understand the profession they work in. They are fist in the human resource vertical and then a recruiter. Knowing the basics of employment and labor law is and should be essential requirements of the job.
If you are an agency recruiter placed in this uncomfortable sales situation I would recommend you express to your client that your company’s value comes from providing legal solutions not in circumventing the legal system. Intelligent agencies and recruiters realize that once a client or employer gets them to cross over that line one time they are open to anything including illegal activities, putting their reputation on the line and worse. A true professional knows when to walk away from scummy business and realizes there are many more fish in the sea. One thing I have learned is that the top companies who push their weight around to get their way are often replaced, acquired, merged, dismantled, sold, etc. I am not recommending or suggesting calling them crooked. Providing better alternatives that make more sense to everyone will keep you in the game longer and prove to be more profitable in the end to everyone. Ask questions to find out if the company really wants to move in that direction or if it is the request of one employee. You ask questions like: “Could you email me that request so I can check with my legal department?” or “If this is how you have done things in the past and you are open to changing your recruiting methods (assumed since they are considering a new vendor company) can I also assume you would prefer a more legal way of doing business if it results in a better end results?” Few businesses or employers want to do illegal business, and are almost always open to legal solutions. If you are afraid I can only tell you to check back in in a few years to let us know if you are still in business.
This reply is not intended as legal advice, but it is intended to prompt recruiters to focus on improving their understanding of both employment and labor laws. Not only will it protect the company of the corporate recruiter but will also improve the sales of the agency recruiter and relationship with the human resource department which agency recruiters often attempt to avoid.
Thank you for the great comment, Jeff. I have always felt strongly that any discussions like this could be a very "slippery slope" both for the client and the recruiting agency. At some point, you have to use good judgement and decide where you draw the line on the nonsense requests, Your comment really details why this is true. Having represented a company in an court under an HR role I was able to feel pretty confident about advising the clients in the situations I mentioned that they should really consider their risk. Many times it was difficult for me to determine situations that could be related to a protected class because I couldn't see the candidate, and there were not social sites, etc available to search out a photo. However, I was not prepared to put my company at risk for a placement fee! Many recruiters don't have this experience, or fully understand the legal implications of such hiring decisions. Training is limited on this for new hires, at least in my experience. That is why I thought this was a good topic. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with the group on this! I learned some new things.