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Here’s the one pitfall to being perceived as “handsome”



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Bad news for the handsome men out there. Not only do they get less beauty premium than women, their good looks might result in them losing out on a promotion or not being hired for specific types of jobs.

According to research from UCL School of Management, handsome men may be rejected for competitive jobs, such as in sales departments.

The reason found was that handsome men are seen as more competent – therefore, in competition-based workplaces, their good looks make them appear more threatening to colleagues.

This may result in discrimination, especially if the hiring decision maker is expected to compete against these good looking men.

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On the bright side, in line with being perceived as more competent, these good-looking males are preferred for roles that require cooperation.

Assistant professor Dr. Lee Sun Young found that managers in collaborative workplaces such as R&D departments tend to hire good-looking male candidates over less good-looking ones.

A similar situation can be found in workplaces which reward for team performance – with decision makers in the same team preferring handsome male employees, with the perception they will likely help further the decision maker’s own success.

However, Dr. Lee and her co-authors from the University of Maryland, London Business School, and INSEAD, found that the same did not apply for pretty women as female attractiveness wasn’t associated with competence.

The authors believe this is due to physical stereotypes interacting with gender stereotypes.

“Managers are affected by stereotypes and make hiring decisions to serve their own self-interests,” Dr. Lee said, “so organisations may not get the most competent candidates.”

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“Awareness that hiring is affected by potential work relationships and stereotyping tendencies can help organisations improve their selection processes,” she added.

“For example, engaging external representatives may improve selection outcomes as outsiders are likely to provide fairer inputs.

“Also, if organisations make managers more accountable for their decisions, they’ll be less motivated to pursue self-interests at the expense of the company.”

Tips to prevent unintentional stereotypes from affecting your hiring processes:

  • Hire based on business strategy and start by identifying the skills and competencies the role needs
  • Assess candidates’ competencies using various assessment tools and talent metrics
  • Involve an external party – someone who doesn’t directly benefit from the hire – for a more objective view
  • Hold hiring managers accountable for their decisions – make sure they have a solid reason (i.e performance) for why that candidate is hired over the others

Human Resources reached out to UCL’s Dr. Lee Sun Young for an exclusive interview about the research.

How did the research define “handsomeness”?

In a set of experiments, I varied the handsomeness of candidates by inserting attractive versus less attractive men and women’s head-and-shoulders pictures at the top of resumes similar to one another.

In the literature (e.g., Thornhill & Gangstead, 1999), facial attractiveness is often determined by three components:

  1. Symmetry (more symmetric faces are regarded more attractive);
  2. Averageness (more average faces are regarded as more attractive, here average faces are those that do not have abnormal features);
  3. Sex-hormones markers (Women with more feminine faces [and, men with more masculine] are regarded as more attractive.

In designing the experiment, my co-authors and I adopted standardised headshots of attractive versus unattractive males and females used in prior research (Braun, Gruendl, Marberger, & Scherber, 2001).

The pictures were computer-generated to represent either a prototypical attractive person or a prototypical unattractive person and were highly standardised (see Braun et al., 2001 for details).

Can you provide examples of competitive as well as collaborative working environments?

The way the organisation arranges rewards and tasks can create competitive versus collaborative working environments.

For example, in many positions, employees’ performance is assessed relative to the performance of their coworkers, thereby creating competitive interdependence, as in the sales department.

In other cases, organisations evaluate and remunerate joint performance of teams, thus creating cooperative interdependence between team members.

For example, in academia, people often write papers with multiple coauthors and thus they are more likely to expect to cooperate with others.

Image: Shutterstock

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