Combating the Beauty is Beastly Effect (Part 3)

They’re all naked, I know. Both photos above show these young professionals without a business attire so that their clothes won’t give you a cue when you answer this question:[i] if they’re all competing for a managerial position at the bank they all work at, who is more likely to be promoted?

Let me give you more information. Alex and Riley (in one of the photos) are Assistant Managers at the branch that’s hiring. Pat and Jordan (in the other photo) have also worked as Assistant Managers but at a different branch. (They’re both quite attractive though, as you can see—clients will open more accounts, haha.)

So, who will be promoted?

My bet is on one of the men (the one that in the first interview looks less feminine, actually),[ii] even when Alex and Riley (the women) have already been working at the branch that’s hiring, and therefore have inside knowledge and relationships with important clients and employees.

I'm confident I can predict who the winner will be for several reasons:

  • There's plenty of evidence that discrimination in employment is often based on superficial characteristics, rather than on ability to perform the job, and women tend to be rated as less qualified and hired less often than men.[iii]

  • New research by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. has shown that, across all organizational levels, women are less likely to be promoted than men.[iv]

  • Pat and Jordan (the men) fit the stereotype of “leader,” which is: male. (So there's no "stereotype incongruency" that might make the interviewer hesitate.)

  • For the men, the fact that they’re good-looking doesn’t hurt. Quite the opposite, actually: everything else being equal, Handsome-John will be hired over Ugly-Tom.[v]

  • The women that these men are competing against are astonishingly beautiful, and while being attractive benefits women who apply for lower level positions (receptionist, waitress, Hooter’s waitress, etc.), when it comes to managerial positions attractive women are discriminated against—a phenomenon known as The Beauty is Beastly Effect.[vi]

“Why doesn’t the woman just prove that she’s qualified for the job?” you might wonder. Good point. But research shows that it not only doesn’t work, but it actually backfires.

Here’s why: if a woman demonstrates that she has the requisite skills and experience needed for a masculine job, she is perceived as “masculine”[vii] and is therefore not liked.

Women who are masculine are usually not liked because they’re considered bitter, quarrelsome, selfish, deceitful, and devious.[viii] And women who are good at masculine jobs are perceived as cold, hostile, and/or devoid of interpersonal skills.[ix]

So no, advising your daughter to show an interviewer that she’s qualified (the way daddy would)—unfortunately—is not the best advice. (Save it for you son, though.)

Now the good news: there are some things women can do to mitigate the nocive effects of the beauty is beastly effect on their careers. In Part 1 of this series of posts, I listed three:

1. Raise your confidence

2. Go with the flow (acknowledge the stigma)

3. Whenever possible, increase positive contact

In Part 1 and Part 2 I discussed the two first ones, and I will now present the last one.

Increase Positive Contact

In my post titled Think Caveman, I told the story of a female super-producer in our financial services office told me when I was a rookie financial adviser. She was a wonderful woman (perhaps she still is, this was over ten years ago), and she was very successful. Not long after I joined the office our manager told us that she was leaving. Why? I wondered.

She had cancer. She had decided to spend more time with her family. Wise woman. So over the next months, she came more often to our office, since she was not longer running all over meeting new prospects to increase her book of business. She stopped by for a few hours every morning and knowing her circumstances I made a point to stop every day to give her a smile and some nice words.

It was after a while she said, “You know, when I first met you all I could see was your accent. Now that I know you better I can see what a kind and generous person you are.” I bet her honesty was one of the reasons she was so successful. It took a while for her to be able to see through my accent (English is my second language), but it happened.

So here’s my third advice to beautiful women: increase opportunities for positive contact with others (especially those in positions to help you advance your career).

Go the extra mile to create opportunities for them to get to know you beyond the surface.

And if you can do it under optimal circumstances, even better. In my next post I will discuss in detail what those “optimal circumstances” might be.

Until then, please comment below and spread the word: help beautiful women know that what their intuition has been telling them is actually true.

* * * * *

Sofia Santiago, MBA, PMP author of Difficult Conversations Just for Women: Kill the Anxiety. Get What You Want. (2nd. Edition in press)

[i] Also, in the hopes that more people will read this article.

[ii] Santiago, S. (2018). Difficult Conversations Just for Women: Kill the anxiety—get what you want. Second Edition (In press)

[iii] Cann, A., Sigfried, W. & Pearse, L. (1981). Forced attention to specific applicant qualifications: Impact on physical attractiveness and sex of applicant biases, Personnel Psychology, vol. 34

[iv] Lebowitz, Sh. (2015). A new study from Lean In and McKinsey finds exactly how much more likely men are to get promoted than women. Business Insider.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Heilman, Madeline W. & Saruwatari, Lois R. (1979). When Beauty is Beastly: The Effects of Appearance and Sex on Evaluations of Job Applicants For Managerial and Nonmanagerial Jobs. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 23,360-372

[vii] Eagly, A. H. (1987). Sex differences in social behavior: A social-role interpretation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

[viii] Heilman, M. E. (1995). Sex stereotypes and their effects in the workplace: What we know and what we don’t know. Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, 3–26.

[ix] Heilman, M. E., Wallen, A. S., Fuchs, D., & Tamkins, M. M. (2004). Penalties for success: Reactions to women who succeed at male gender-typed tasks. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(3), 416–427.

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