Previous blog posts have noted bias in favor of attractive people for hiring and venture funding decisions, as well as for positive impression formation by others.
As a result, less attractive yet capable individuals may face “workplace attractiveness discrimination,” or differential treatment of people based on how they look, according to Sun Young Lee of University College London, University of Maryland’s Marko Pitesa, Madan Pillutla of London Business School, and INSEAD’s Stefan Thau.
In fact, their four studies using different samples, selection tasks, candidate attractiveness, and candidate interdependence found that people making employment decisions show systematic selection bias based on perceived attractiveness and organizational context.
Status generalization describes how unrelated status characteristics like gender, ethnicity, national origin and attractiveness, become relevant to task performance as observers associate status characteristics with behavioral expectations, leading to group inequalities.
These associations are powerful, and often occur without conscious, logical or evidential basis, according to University of South Carolina’s Murray Webster and Martha Foschi.
Separately, Webster and University of South Carolina colleague James Driskell demonstrated that external status characteristics significantly affect face-to-face interactions: When people work in task groups and physical status characteristics were made salient (skin color, age, social economic status. attractiveness), individuals with the preferred perceived characteristics were more likely to be rewarded with more power and prestige, even when these physical status characteristics are irrelevant to the task.
As a result, people with relevant skills may be overlooked in favor of individuals with high status outside the group.
Based on status generalization theory, Lee’s team suspected that decision makers associate attractiveness with competence in male but not in female candidates.
They integrated this inference with interdependence theory proposed by UCLA’s Harold Kelley and John Thibaut of University of North Carolina to suggest that people’s expectations of interpersonal relationships affect their attempts to maximize relational rewards and minimize accompanying costs.
Interdependence theory proposed that people who are interdependent in cooperative or competitive situations discriminate differently based on perceived attractiveness.
To evaluate this notion, Lee’s group assigned male and female volunteers to simulated employment selection situations in which team members interviewed and provided hiring recommendations for job candidates.
These team colleagues are typically in both cooperative and competitive situations with other employees because they cooperate for shared team rewards yet compete for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses.
Participants read a hiring scenario describing different types of interdependencies between themselves as the decision-maker and the person hired in the job role, including competitive, cooperative, and no interdependence.
Volunteers evaluated two similar resumes accompanied by photos, one showing an “attractive” applicant and an “unattractive” candidate.
Assessors answered questions about the person’s competence, likely impact on their own success, and their likelihood of recommending the candidate for the position.
When the decision-maker expected to cooperate with the candidate, male candidates perceived as more attractive were also judged as more competent, more likely to enable the evaluator’s career success, and were more frequently recommended for employment .
However, when decision makers expected to compete with the candidate, they perceived attractive male candidates as less capable.
Evaluators discriminated against attractive male candidates by less frequently recommending these competitors for employment, suggesting that these capable candidates were eliminated to preserve the evaluator’s place in the current workplace skill hierarchy.
Attractive and unattractive female candidates were judged as equally competent, but attractive male candidates were rated as much more competent than unattractive male candidates.
Three subsequent studies provided evaluators with candidates’ age, race and education and manipulated headshot to consider in selecting their competitor or collaborator in a tournament task.
Decision-makers generally preferred attractive male or female candidates unless their personal outcomes are affected by the selection decision.
These studies suggested that attractiveness discrimination is “calculated self-interested behavior” in which men sometimes discriminate in favor and sometimes against attractive males.
-*How do you align with “calculated self-interest behavior” to mitigate bias?
- Attractive Appearance Helps Men Gain Business Funding – But Not Women?
- Acknowledge Potential Employer “Concerns” about Gender, Attractiveness to Get Job Offer
- How Accurate are Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance?
- “Self-Packaging” as Personal Brand: Implicit Requirements for Personal Appearance?
- Self-Perceived Attractiveness Shapes Views of Social Hierarchies
- The Attractiveness Bias: “Cheerleader Effect”, Positive Attributions, and “Distinctive Accuracy”
- Executive Presence: “Gravitas”, Communication…and Appearance?
- How Much Does Appearance Matter?