The whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” thing is always a tough one as we seem to have a natural tendency to do just that. I think it’s partly human nature and partly the way we are bred. When we are children our parents tell us not to talk to strangers in case they are the bad kind of person that will hurt us. How do we determine strangers? Oh yes, based on what they look like; if we don’t recognise them, we should treat them as the enemy. It’s no wonder that we find it hard to shake that approach when we get into adulthood.
Even so, as adults most of us try and overcome our fear of the unknown and at least pretend that we aren’t judging people based on their appearance…except in the workplace. At work it seems to be totally acceptable to judge people based on their appearance. How often do people go for job interviews where the interviewer takes one look at them and decides they haven’t got the job before they’ve even had a chance to speak? We have all sorts of laws in place to protect people from this but I’m not talking about people who are disfigured or disabled in some way, I’m talking about people who just look different to what the boss expected. The girl with the green hair, the guy with the ponytail or even the guy wearing a pink shirt instead of a white shirt. These are the people who dared to be different yet are paying the price, sometimes unknowingly and it seems to be a completely acceptable part of our culture.
Does it really matter if the man who stands in front of you presenting a fantastic business case, dressed immaculately, speaking very articulately has a nose piercing? I would say not. I’d say I’d listen to him more because he looked more individual than some people. I’d also say that he immediately outshines the person who comes in with the average-to-badly-fitting suit without the nose piercing because he’s taken more pride in his appearance, put more thought into how he will be received. But the nose piercing? An extra hole in his nose…it’s getting in the way because that tiny hoop or stud is blocking a lot of people’s view of his talents.
Nowhere does the fear of the unknown seem so great than in the world of business, in this crazy corporate land where people are supposed to conform to some outdated set of ideals. We’ve ended up with 2 camps: the cool kids working for the tech start-ups and media firms who are forced to be more expressive than they feel comfortable with and the old-skool crew working in banking and suchlike who are supposed to speak with a plum in their mouth and wear ultra-shiny shoes. If you don’t fit the mould, you aren’t coming in. Your work ethic and your mindset are completely irrelevant if you don’t look the part because most employers are too scared to shake the tree. They’re too worried that their customers might run away if they employ someone who looks different.
Here’s a novel idea, how about people just employ those who can do the job well? Why don’t we give this engine a jump start, provide exemplary service and learn to deal with those who look different in work as well as outside of work. Surely anyone in their right mind would rather do business with somebody competent who looks a little different than an incompetent oaf with a side parting, black suit and white shirt!?!