Sun Young Lee
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,” 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.
Their four studies found that people making employment decisions show systematic selection bias based on perceived attractiveness and organizational context.
Lee’s team drew on two theories to explain differential impact of attractiveness in employment and work task situation: Status generalization and interpersonal interdependence.
Status generalization describes how unrelated characteristics like gender, ethnicity, national origin and attractiveness, become relevant to task performance when observers associate these characteristics with behavioral expectations for performance.
These associations often occur without conscious, logical or evidential basis, and lead to group inequalities, according to University of South Carolina’s Murray Webster and Martha Foschi.
Separately, Webster and University of South Carolina colleague James Driskell demonstrated that status characteristics significantly affect face-to-face interactions.
The researchers made physical status characteristics salient in group tasks.
In this condition, participants with preferred characteristics were more likely to be rewarded with power and prestige, even when these physical status characteristics were irrelevant to the task.
As a result, people with relevant skills may be overlooked in favor of individuals with perceived high status characteristics.
More specifically, Lee’s team suspected that decision makers associate attractiveness with competence in male but not in female candidates based on status generalization theory.
They suggested that people’s expectations of interpersonal relationships affect their attempts to maximize relational rewards and minimize accompanying costs, based on interdependence theory. Proposed by UCLA’s Harold Kelley and John Thibaut of University of North Carolina, 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.
In this situation, interviewers were in both cooperative and competitive situations with these candidates because they would be cooperating for shared team rewards yet competing for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses.
Participants read a hiring scenario describing different types of interdependencies between themselves as decision-makers and the person to be hired, including competitive, cooperative, and no interdependence.
Volunteers evaluated two similar resumes accompanied by photos of 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 less frequently recommended attractive male candidates for employment, suggesting a systematic bias 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, education and a 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 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?