Ep 173 – Should Ugly Be a Protected Class

should ugly be a protected a class, discrimination, HR not getting hired because of your weight, not getting hired because of how you look

An Italian study released last year showed that attractive women who sent photos with their résumés got called back 54% of the time, as opposed to the average callback rate of 30%. Another academic study found that CEO who were considered attractive had higher stock prices and receive higher compensation levels. Does that mean that if people are unattractive they should be a protective class? We have a number of laws that protect individuals in hiring, but should attractiveness or unattractiveness be a consideration in your diversity and inclusion program? I watched an interesting DisruptHR talk might convince you of otherwise.

Before we get started I want to give a special thank you to my podcast sponsor, ClearCompany

Episode 173: Should Ugly Be a Protected Class with Kathleen Brenk (@KKbrenk)

Today, I’m joined by Kathleen Brenk, VP of people at TruStile Doors. Kathleen is an experienced HR professional who has had a fantastic career. Prior to working in HR, she was a teacher and made the transition to human resources. Kathleen says right now there is a historical context to every piece of employment law right. She says she was watching all the employment law changes as well as the ADA And Title VII and started thinking all that is left is if you are attractive or not attractive. She says there are so many articles, research, and scholarly work going on around you know attractive people are more successful as well as taller people are more successful. Once she started unpacking all of the resources, information, and possibility she says that it’s led to interesting conversations about protected classes and attractiveness that’s made people uncomfortable.

Discrimination and Bias in Hiring and the Workplace

Kathleen says that these biases are often unconscious and the first step to changing your behavior is to admit there is a real problem.  These biases might be present in your hiring processes whether they’re internal or external, as well as with employee treatment and performance. What’s important is we start down this path of recognizing our own bias towards things you know are attractive and people that are attractive. Awareness is important. We need to get out of our own head and focus on the skill and the background of the person you are hiring and/or working with. 

I think awareness is the start of just about anything. If you want to change your behavior admit that it is real in the first place. - @kkbrenk #humanresources #hiring Click To Tweet

Kathleen and I dive into other areas in the podcast interview talking about some interesting work and new programs that she and her HR colleagues are bringing to TruStile Doors including a new hiring program focused on employing those with a criminal record. Be sure to listen in to hear more about her work, her perspective, and approach. It’s so refreshing.

Confidence is attractive. Authenticity is attractive. I think these are intangibles that go beyond facial symmetry. Should unattractiveness be a protected class. We’ve already explored that a number of cities have ordinances that are designed to protect against discrimination of certain physical characteristics, but beauty if a tough one to measure. I hope you enjoyed Kathleen’s insights, and I do believe that attractiveness goes beyond skin deep starting with a personal inventory and a lot of self-reflection

Connect with Kathleen Brenk.


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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


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