Too Hot to Hire

by BETTINA CHANG
from Pacific Standard

Beautiful people, as a rule, have it pretty good. They tend to have more self-confidence, higher income, and better financial well-being than plain-faced or downright ugly people. They’re also rated as more socially and intellectually competent. But one way attractive women, in particular, suffer is when applying to jobs that are stereotypically masculine.

While this phenomenon (known as the “beauty is beastly” effect) was first discovered 30 years ago, researchers didn’t exactly scramble to find solutions for this not-so-oppressed minority. Luckily, the modern sexy woman need not despair—a new study shows that simply acknowledging your attractiveness can hold this type of discrimination at bay.

It may sound trite, but the “beauty is beastly” effect “demonstrates a subtle form of sex discrimination,” according to a paper currently in press, to be published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Researchers used a technique that has been shown to mitigate discrimination against those with disabilities—by simply acknowledging the stereotypes that evaluators may hold.

In the first study, undergraduate students rated “employment suitability” of four different candidates for a construction job, one of whom was a woman, based on a photo and interview transcript. Some saw the photo of a beautiful woman, while others saw one of a not-so-beautiful woman. In the interview transcript, the woman said “I know that I don’t look like our typical construction worker,” “I know that there are not a lot of women in this industry,” or neither. In the control condition, where the women did not acknowledge any stereotypes, the unattractive woman was rated as more suitable for the job than the beautiful woman. However, the attractive woman received significantly higher ratings if she acknowledged either her appearance or sex than if she didn’t.

The unattractive woman received significantly lower ratings if she acknowledged her appearance, compared to the control condition.

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These results were replicated in a similar study with construction workers as participants. So, why does mentioning stereotypes have an effect on evaluators? In a subsequent study, the researchers discovered that acknowledging one’s sex and attractiveness causes evaluators to rate women as more masculine—and presumably, a better fit for the manly construction job. Those who acknowledge stereotypes are also, surprisingly, rated as less counter-communal. Women who are counter-communal (a nicer way to say “bitchy,” as ambitious women are often perceived) violate gender norms and are evaluated less favorably because of it. This double standard is just another example of how women on the job market must tread a fine line between feminine and masculine.

If you’re an attractive woman gunning for a job in construction, engineering, tech, or another male-dominated industry, you might consider being upfront about your beauty. But beware, researchers write: “People often have unrealistic views of their physical attractiveness … so acknowledgment could result in negative repercussions.” Of course, we could also hope for a world where people aren’t as rigid and stodgy about their gender beliefs, but that’s little solace for a woman who’s afraid to be too hot to hire.

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