This report provides a brief commentary on the issue of lookism and the problems this may present for many women seeking employment both in Australia and overseas. It then presents research on the organisation Dress for Success undertaken during 2012 and 2013.
For some time we have become aware that employee’s looks are important aspects of recruitment and selection for firms, especially in the service industries, where presentation is quite literally part of the service. The academic literature, has already presented us with some important inroads to this phenomenon, often referred to as ‘aesthetic labour’. In common parlance this term refers to the way firms employ on the basis of looks and general presentation rather than on more ‘objective’ skills and traits, such as technical or intellectual capabilities.
We have also become aware of the potentially discriminatory aspects of this phenomenon. For example, in many countries there is no discrimination legislation based on looks and physical appearance. However, in Australia the state of Victoria has formally recognised that discrimination can occur on the basis of an employee’s physical features and under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 1995 it is now unlawful to treat job applicants, contract workers and employees unfairly or discriminate against them on the basis of their physical features. While we won’t assess the effectiveness of this legislation here, it is important to note that legislation is starting to keep up with the encroaching issue of lookism both in Australia and overseas.
What we can do however is share our research about the role of organisations like Dress for Success who provide an important buffer for those who may face discrimination. The following report is divided into three sections. The first provides contextual analysis of ‘lookism’; the second section outlines the research methods used for the study and the third section presents our primary research on Dress for Success as an organisation including interview material with global affiliates; the referral agencies; the volunteers and of course the important clients that they serve. The concluding section summarises the findings and offers some recommendations. References are also provided at the end of the document.