How much do you charge for your Erotic Capital?

I’ve seen a lot of capitals. No, not just London, Paris or Flying Fish Cove (Christmas Island, in case you’re interested – and yes, I want to go too). I’m talking human capitals: social capital, creative capital, intellectual capital, moral capital, cognitive capital, aspirational capital. Now I’m supposed to get all emotionally capital about ‘erotic capital’ am I?

Erotic Capital: The power of attraction in the boardroom and the bedroom by Catherine Hakim research professor of sociology at the London School of Economics came out last week. 

The reviews have been staggering: The Telegraph go so far as suggesting it should be on the national curriculum. Didn’t everyone say the same thing when Greer’s Female Eunuch came out? Someone might need to tell the publisher that Amazon say the Eunuch is out of stock. 

First up, this is not a book review. I only read about it on Forbes this morning, and only after a ‘human capital’ Google alert pinged the link my way (Google capital anyone?) I’m also – though I find the subject fascinating and not a little scary – not interested here in the huge rise in GenY women apparently putting themselves through university by the ‘sponsorship’ of sugar daddies. Perhaps the bankers had this in mind all along. I’m joking of course. 

My interest here is in the workplace.  In particular in reflection to the WSJ piece, The Untapped Power of Erotic Capital, Catherine penned to accompany the book launch. 

Here, Hakim points to newly minted IMF chief, Christine Lagarde, as someone who ‘knowingly’ uses her ‘erotic capital’ to get to the top: erotic capital defined, I make out, as knowing use of brains + beauty.  Something Hakim says we, in the West, don’t do because we have been somehow brainwashed into believing that any outward display of female sexuality = a total lack of anything going on upstairs. 

Perhaps we could call this geek chic, but what Hakim has to say is interesting, because Lagrade’s erotic capital extends into her posture, her collaborative and social approach, her physical wellbeing and personality: she is comfortable projecting her intellect  as well as – or as part of – her attractiveness (in Hakim’s rounded sense): this is more class than cleavage. And it’s resulting in her being taken seriously in the fashion world as well as the business one.

This matters of course in the context of boardroom diversity and discrimination, because, as Hakim points out after posing the question, ‘Why do women fail to reap all the benefits of their attractiveness?’

‘One likely cause is how employers see the wider prospects of such women. In one controlled experiment, interviewers tended to find attractive, highly qualified female applicants less suitable for management jobs than attractive men and unattractive women of comparable backgrounds. What accounts for this discrimination? Part of the explanation may lie in the fact that employers are banned by law from asking about the family plans of female applicants. Without definite information about a candidate’s commitment to her career, they may simply assume that attractive women are more likely than attractive men or unattractive women to be sidetracked by marriage and children.’

In other words, businesses are biased against hiring – and promoting into positions of power where their loss would be a great financial headache – attractive women because, no doubt hardwired, we associate attractiveness with fertility. Attractive men make it through because, well, they don’t have children.

Powerful stuff. And, without naming names, I can say I’ve seen evidence of it in my working life. So what does this mean for attractive and smart women – those who want to be the next IMF boss? Move to France?

Hakim here has commonsense advice to offer: ‘They must perform the difficult balancing act of displaying their attractive looks and personality while also stressing that they mean serious business.’

But remember, this is not just about smart women with movie star looks. Just as Greer’s book wanted to reclaim territory and upturn stereotypes, Hakim says we all have erotic capital that we can maximise, male or female. And especially now, with working life such a struggle and competition for jobs so hard, something that can easily go amiss.

Right then, new suit. Renew gym membership. Get haircut…Buy Erotic Capital.

Original here on the HubCap blog:  


Leave a Reply