In Trump’s Playbook, Looks Sometimes Count As Job Qualifications

Physical appearance seems to have repeatedly played a role in how Donald Trump hired, fired, and managed women.

In Trump’s Playbook, Looks Sometimes Count As Job Qualifications
(L-R) Miss Albania 2010 Angela Martini, Miss USA 2004 Shandi Finnessey, Miss Universe 2003 Amelia Vega, Donald Trump, Miss Universe 2007 Riyo Mori, Miss Tanzania 2007 Flaviana Matata, Miss Kosovo 2009 Marigona Dragusha, and Miss Kosovo 2008 Zana Krasniqi attend a Miss Universe photo call in New York City on July 27, 2011. [Photo: Marc Stamas/Getty Images]

Last week Mother Jones resurfaced video footage of Donald Trump’s hiring methods in action.


He was speaking at a 2007 event for the Learning Annex in San Francisco when a young woman named Juliet asked him a question from the floor: “How many jets do you have, and how might I apply to be a flight attendant?” In the video, the now Republican presidential candidate doesn’t skip a beat. He invites her onstage, throws an arm around her, and says, “You’re hired.”

Sure, the moment was a hammy bid for applause as opposed to an actual job interview, but it squares with how Trump has made other employment decisions involving women over the years, including by his own admission.

Hiring Beautiful People

He’s hardly alone in that, to be fair. For years, behavioral economists have argued (in a niche field called “pulchronomics”) that people considered highly attractive earn more professional rewards than those who aren’t. The researcher Daniel Hamermesh has famously estimated that an especially good-looking professional–regardless of gender–could earn an average of $230,000 more, over the course of a career, than a person whose appearance is more ordinary.

Typically, this preferential treatment is the product of unconscious bias. With Donald Trump, the pattern is a bit more explicit.

At the Learning Annex event, with Juliet still pressed to his side, Trump recalls for the crowd how he once wanted to hire an inexperienced teenaged waitress because she was “so beautiful.” That idea didn’t sit well with Trump’s staff, he says, but “I interviewed her anyway because she was so pretty. And I said, ‘Let me ask you, do you have any experience?’ She goes, ‘No, sir.’ I say, ‘When can you start?’”


At this point in the video, Trump turns and plants a kiss on Juliet’s cheek.

The day after Mother Jones dug up this footage, the Los Angeles Times’s Matt Pearce reported that Trump sought to fire women from his golf course in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, whom he deemed unattractive.

According to court papers filed in a 2012 labor lawsuit, the club’s catering director claims to have heard Trump “tell managers many times while he was visiting the club that restaurant hostesses were ‘not pretty enough’ and that they should be fired and replaced with more attractive women.”

Fellow employees echoed these charges. (Pearce reports that the suit was largely settled by 2013, with no admission of wrongdoing.) In one incident, a staff member was allegedly told to fire an employee because “Mr. Trump doesn’t like fat people.” In another, a restaurant server recounted finding a coworker crying. She’d just been denied a promotion because of her acne, he claimed. “According to her, she was qualified for the job and wanted it, but couldn’t get it solely because of her acne.”

Accentuating The Negative

In a statement the Trump campaign provided to Fast Company, the Trump Organization’s vice president and assistant general counsel Jill Martin called these claims “meritless.” “Rather than looking to old statements from a handful of employees with an ax to grind,” Martin argues, “the media should focus on the thousands of happy employees, of all races, gender, size, and shape, whose lives upon which Mr. Trump has made an incredibly positive impact.”


It’s possible to see Barbara Res in this light, up to a point. She worked for Trump for 12 years, eventually becoming an executive in his construction business at a time when women at high levels of that industry were rare. In a New York Daily News op-ed, she recalls how her boss “would hire and promote many people with questionable qualifications” but, at the same time, “had several extremely strong women working for him.”

A New York Times report in May, for which Res was interviewed, reflected this same contradiction, of a business leader just as eager to objectify women as to give some female employees responsibilities on par with men. Res told the Times she feels grateful for the career opportunities Trump offered her. But that didn’t stop him from ridiculing her appearance, Res claims, toward the end of her tenure at the company. “You like your candy,” she remembers him commenting.

As Res puts it in her editorial, “Does he discriminate against women? I never thought that Trump would hire a man over an equally qualified woman.” But what counted as “qualifications” differed substantially for women, she concedes. “The receptionists and his assistants looked like models,” Res wrote. “He certainly hired not-so-attractive females, he just hid them when people were around. Trump was, again, only giving the people what they want. Being gorgeous was just a BFOQ (bona fide occupational qualification) for working the front office.”

What Women Voters Want

This habit doesn’t seem limited to the front office, though, and doesn’t appear to be something everybody wants. After Hillary Clinton reiterated some of her opponent’s more nakedly misogynistic remarks in the first presidential debate, Trump spent the tail end of last week’s news cycle using Bill Clinton’s affairs to impugn her. Yet one of the latest post-debate polls showed Trump’s already weaker standing with women was diminishing further, particularly among independents.

In a press conference last March in Washington, D.C., Trump pulled a stunt that eerily echoed his performance in San Francisco nearly a decade earlier. As the New York Post reported, Trump was fielding questions from the audience when Alicia Watkins, a 38-year-old Air Force veteran and freelance blogger, asked him whether he was making efforts to hire veterans to staff a Trump hotel going up in the city.


So the candidate, who would accept the GOP nomination for president eight weeks later, invited Watkins to join him onstage. “She looks so smart, good,” Trump said. “We need good people, so what’s your experience, in front of the world?”

Watkins listed her writing experience and military credentials, which include serving in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2012, but Trump sounded more interested in something else: “She looks like she’s got a great look,” he told the crowd. “If we can make a good deal on the salary, she’s probably going to have a job.”

Now it’s up to U.S. voters–including women like Res, Watkins, and the many others Trump has hired, fired, or passed over, for any reason or none at all–to decide whether Trump himself is going to have a new job.

About the author

Rich Bellis was previously the Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.