Abstract: This discussion paper is focusing on discrimination during hiring processes within the hospitality industry with concertation on aesthetic and soft skills and gender discrimination. It has been stated by academics, that the employees for the hospitality and tourism industries need to embody certain company image. According to employers sounding right and looking good are one of the main qualities customer-facing staff should possess. In order to add to the term ‘ideal worker’ within the hospitality industry and how the process of hiring looks like, human resource manager of a worldwide chain hotel was interviewed.
Keywords: Hospitality industry, HR, Aesthetic labour, Soft skills, Gender discrimination
The topic of discrimination during the hiring processes within the hospitality industry is a topic concerning many academics. Aesthetics and soft skills of the employees will be one of the main subject matter of this research paper. The aesthetic skills are skills to either look good or sound right, whereas the soft skills are skills as personality, attitudinal or emotional aspects. Within the hospitality sector, it has been said that soft skills are more important than a ‘hard’ technical skills (Dutton et. al, 2005). Selecting and recruiting people, which is seen as a crucial process in all tourism and hospitality organisations, can be influenced by those aspects.
The research by Dutton et al. (2005) found, that according to employers, employees who look good and sound right, are enhancing and creating the companies distinct image and even provide a competitive advantage. Wistfully, this believes create norms in the employment in the hospitality and tourism industry (Harris and Small, 2013). This is seen mostly when employing customer-facing staff and the individuals desired should be joyful or positive. Accordingly, it has been stated, that with more luxury within the business, those aesthetics predispositions grow higher. Dutton et al. (2005) call this phenomena ‘’style labour market’’ in his study. When advertising the job opportunity for the hospitality industry, the required skills are more about the individuals' personality, rather than what they can do. The advertisements may include words such as attractive, well-spoken, smart appearance or trendy.
The conclusion, that the employees with the right appearance and attitude for the front -line job are more interesting for the employers, was reached by many academics (Nickson, 2013). When discussing the importance of the appearance of the employees and the attitude of the employers, Dutton et al. (2005) proofed, that 93% of participants in his study find appearance important. There are many other researchers with similar results from their researches. From this, it is clear, that for customer-facing staff there is a great importance of the soft skill they need to possess (Nickson, 2013). Moreover, it is stated that employees, who are assessed as unattractive, are earning less money and have a lower chance of career growth. Tattoos and piercings can be influential of individuals employability, as well when applying for customer-facing positions. After the recruitment, there is often a need to cover the tattoos or take out the piercings to create the ‘right’ image (Dutton et al., 2005).
The second researched area was the education and experiences, where it was found, that many of the employers find the soft skills more important than the hard skills, such as experience and education. From all the organizations Dutton et al. (2005) questioned, only 26% said that the educational requirements are needed. This number was 10% lower when asked about staff for personal services. The education and the experiences are not therefore that important and there is a greater focus on “well spoken”, “good appearance” being “well spoken” and other soft skills (Dutton et al., 2005).
The gender discrimination is discussed by many academics and within the hospitality industry. This is seen mostly in the housekeeping sector. However, Harris and Small (2013) stated that this issue is not only about the female candidates, however, that the employers are seeking for disadvantage labour force. Those disadvantages are for example gender differences in authorities, wage gaps or even occupational sex segregation.
The other issue when hiring new personnel for a hospitality business is the body size. There are big stereotypes against body size, mostly in the Western society. Those who don’t embody the ‘ideal body size’, are seen as people with poor personal control. It can have a negative effect on stages of selection, compensation, placement, training, discipline, promotion and discharge (Harris and Small, 2013).
After a semi-structured interview was conducted, few differences were seen between the answers of the questioned human resource manager and secondary research. It was clear that there were differences in attitude according to the sector of the hotels. For example, that office-based jobs and management positions need to have certain experience or education and customer-facing staff does not and can be trained. From the interview, it was clear, that customer-facing staff should be positive with a bright and bubbly personality. Those can be referred as a soft skill, which relates to Nikson’s (2013) comment, that there is a great importance paid on this. However, when talking about physical appearance, there was no importance placed on that and that the company would never discriminate against looks.
Overall, this is a very important topic, which should be discussed in the future as the aesthetics and soft skills are gaining more discriminative nature. Hopefully, this stereotyping of individuals of different aesthetics or different skills will decrease in the hospitality industry but as well in the society of today’s world.
Dutton, E., Warhurst, C. and Nickson, D. (2005) The importance of attitude and appearance in the service encounter in retail and the hospitality. An International Journal, 15(2), 195-208.
Harris, C. and Small, J. (2013) Obesity and hotel staffing: Are hotels guilty of ‘lookism’?. Hospitality & Society, 3(2), 111-127.
Nickson, D. (2013) Human Resource Management for the Hospitality and Tourism Industries, Routledge: Oxon.
The underpinning of this study is somewhat neglected in 20th century literature, in specific within tourism studies. What is clear from this analysis, is as highlighted, aesthetics and soft skills are considerably much more important in the recruitment and selection process as where educational and past work experience skills are overlooked. Although a topic of conversation arising very recent, the same results have been found by Biddle and Hamermesh (1998) and Tietje and Cresap (2005). His study also examined the ethics of aesthetics and special treatment of attractive workers.
The author’s findings have risen serious questioning of human behaviour especially in human resources; similar outcomes were identified by Hatfield and Sprecher (1986) who analysed how beauty affects noneconomic outcomes. Other works also identified the same outcomes such as the different in pay; Stanger (2012) claimed conventionally attractive people get paid 3-4 per cent more than unattractive workers. ‘Lookism’ and unequal opportunities in the workplace is a topic that should not go without notice in regards to frontline workers as this study proves it is a very relevant yet silent movement happening in large organisations around the world. A very relative argument against this study is that beauty is part of the human experience and it provokes attention and pleasure, in a sense, attractive frontline workers are a source of competitive advantage. This area of focus provokes further attention in literature that should be heavily researched and discussed.
The second part of this study looks at the way advertisement can shape the way recruiters look for potential staff. Overall, this part of the study sparks controversial issue, as there is a fine line between the ‘ideal candidate’ and job advertisement design. A familiar incident that has connection to this study is the Shoreditch Jazz Bar advertisement post looking for ‘extremely attractive staff’ (Pells, 2017). The advertisement further asked for candidates to be comfortable in heels as this was a requirement from the recruiter. This study could have developed existing research into the rejection of the appeal to wearing heels in the workplace, which was rejected in April 2017 (Pells, 2017).
The contribution of this paper heavily links to my own discussion where the focus is frontline workers and their effects on customers. A few arguments against this study to consider is suggested by Williams and Connell (2010) who stated, desirable brands and operators are more successful in attracting conventionally beautiful workers as they appeal to their consumer interests. Another very recent study also argued that during the hiring process, attractiveness can work against the individual as a study found management would hire attractive people only for desirable and top paid jobs whereas undesirable jobs such as warehouse and distribution usually lead management to hire unattractive people (Fessler, 2017).
Overall, a very stimulating discussion from the author; an interesting angle for further consideration is looking at the BeautifulPeople.Com recruitment website and investigating how the new job site is not breaching any discrimination laws for only recruiting attractive people (Stebner, 2013).
Biddle, J.E. and Hamermesh, D.S. (1998) “Beauty, Productivity, and Discrimination: Lawyers’ Looks and Lucre.” Journal of Labor Economics, 16(1).
Tietje, L. and Cresap, C. (2005) is lookism unjust?: the ethics of aesthetics and public policy implications. Journal of Libertarian Studies, 19(2) 31-50.
Williams, C.L. and Connell, C. (2010) “Looking Good and Sounding Right”: Aesthetic Labor and Social Inequality in the Retail Industry. Work and Occupations, 37(3) 349-377.