Tag Archives: John Thibaut

Attractive Men May Appear Competent, But May Not Be Hired

Sun Young Lee

Sun Young Lee

Previous blog posts documented bias favouring attractive people for hiring, venture funding, and positive impressions by others.

Capable but less attractive individuals may encounter “workplace attractiveness discrimination,” reported Sun Young Lee of University College London, University of Maryland’s Marko Pitesa, Madan Pillutla of London Business School, and INSEAD’s Stefan Thau.

Marko Pitesa

Marko Pitesa

Their studies found that people making employment decisions show systematic selection bias based on perceived attractiveness and also on organizational context.

This can occur when observers associate unrelated characteristics (gender, ethnicity, national origin, attractiveness) with expectations for work performance (“status generalization”).

Murray Webster

Murray Webster

These assumptions may occur without conscious awareness or evidence, and can result in group inequalities, according to University of South Carolina’s Murray Webster and Martha Foschi.

James Driskell

James Driskell

In addition, these “status characteristics” significantly affected face-to-face interactions in group task experiments by Webster and University of South Carolina colleague James Driskell.

Martha Foschi

Martha Fosch

Likewise, decision makers associated attractiveness with competence in male candidates but not in female candidates in one of Lee’s studies.

People’s actions influenced by perceived attractiveness are examples of “interpersonal interdependence,” according to UCLA’s Harold Kelley and John Thibaut of University of North Carolina.

John Thibault

John Thibault

Lee’s group tested interpersonal interdependence and attractiveness by assigning male and female volunteers to simulated employment selection situations.
Participants “interviewed” and provided “hiring recommendations” for “job candidates.”
Interviewers were told they would be collaborating for shared team rewards BUT competing for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses.

Madan Pillutla

Madan Pillutla

Volunteers evaluated two similar resumes accompanied by photos of an “attractive” applicant and an “unattractive” candidate.
Next, assessors answered questions about the person’s competence, likely impact on the rater’s success, and their likelihood of recommending the candidate for the position.

When the decision-maker expected to cooperate with the candidate, male candidates who were perceived as more attractive were also:

-judged as more competent,
-seen as more likely to enable the evaluator’s career success,
-more frequently recommended for employment.

Stefan Thau

Stefan Thau

However, when decision makers expected to compete with the candidate, attractive male candidates were rates as less capable.
Evaluators less frequently recommended attractive male candidates for employment, suggesting a systematic bias to preserve the evaluator’s place in the workplace 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.

Subsequent studies provided evaluators with candidates’ age, race, education and 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 were affected by the selection decision.

These studies suggest 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?

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©Kathryn Welds