Written by Emily Redler ’20
Hiring managers are meant to select applicants for jobs solely based on their qualifications. However, it’s been well established that this often isn’t the case. There are many subtle, unconscious factors that can influence a hiring manager’s decision – anything from the perfume the applicant is wearing to the applicant’s marital status. However, many of these biases may affect the applicant differently based on their gender. Researchers for the present study (Shahani-Denning et al., 2011) wanted to examine how physical attractiveness and gender can influence hiring decisions.
Participants for this study were 297 graduate and undergraduate students at a private university in the Northeastern United States. Participants were told they would be hiring a Marketing Director and were given a job description. Half of them were also given a letter from the “Company President,” which reminded them of the importance of first impressions for clients. This was meant to subtly encourage participants to have a bias towards attractive applicants. In addition, all participants were given a picture of an applicant (either an attractive male, an unattractive male, an attractive female, or an unattractive female) and a resume. They then had to decide how qualified they believed the applicant was for the job, how likely they were to hire them, and what they would offer them as a starting salary.
Receiving a letter from the “Company President” had no significant effect on the participants. Regardless of attractiveness, female applicants were rated as less qualified and less likely to be hired and were given a lower salary than male applicants. There was no difference in ratings between unattractive men and women, but attractive men were rated higher (more likely to be hired, more qualified, and higher salary) than attractive women. Attractive men received higher ratings than unattractive men, but attractive women received lower ratings than unattractive women.
These findings show that not only do women in general have a disadvantage in hiring, but attractive women have an even larger disadvantage. However, unattractive men have a disadvantage as compared to attractive men. This supports the Lack of Fit model (Heilman, 1983; Heilman et al. 1985a; Heilman et al., 1985b) – there is a perceived dissonance between a managerial role and a woman filling it, and also a dissonance between an attractive woman and a woman who could fill a managerial role. First impressions and attractiveness matter in that they activate subconscious gender biases, helping some and hindering others.
Heilman, M.E. & Stopeck, M.H. (1985a). Being attractive, advantage or disadvantage? Performance-based evaluations and recommended personnel actions as a function of appearance, sex, and job type. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35, 202-215.
Shahani-Denning, C., Andreoli, N., Snyder, J., Tevet, R., & Fox, S. (2011). The effects of physical attractiveness and gender on selection decisions: An experimental study. International Journal of Management, 28, 16-23.