Have you ever wondered why most of the pharmaceutical sales reps you either know or encounter in doctor’s offices in some way resemble Ken or Barbie? Aside from being “charismatic” and outgoing, they’re usually really good looking. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t recall ever seeing a morbidly obese rep in the bunch. It’s undeniable to casual observers that appearance plays a major role in who gets certain types of jobs, who gets promoted, and who doesn’t. What about the data?
Studies on Looks in the Workplace Vary
There was an interesting piece in the New York Times today showing that attractive women are actually discriminated against – in Israel at least. Without rehashing all the data, by using a fairly large data set of similarly experienced mock resumes with pictures attached, attractive men seemed to have an edge in getting interviews while attractive women were at a disadvantage. The numbers appeared to be statistically significant. Like all studies, if you peel back the onion a bit though, there may be some flaws and perhaps a sweeping conclusion can’t be drawn.
- Is there something cultural going on here? Israel’s culture is different than the US which differs from Japan. Should the results from this study be a statement on Israel or humans in general?
- Were the resume screeners overwhelmingly women? Of course they’d react positively to handsome men and perhaps not so to women more attractive than themselves? Hat tip to commenter.
- What were the jobs the candidates were applying for? If it’s an engineering role, perhaps the stereotype that attractive women don’t usually end up in those types of roles was at play. However, if it was for pharma sales, you think the results would be the same? They’d actually FAVOR plain looking sales reps over hotties? I don’t think so.
So, the study may have left a bit to be desired and may have been designed with an agenda from the start – who knows. Much data points to the contrary though. Abercrombie and Fitch for instance found itself embroiled in multiple lawsuits against not only minorities, but other Caucasian employees that claimed they were stuck in the stock room because of the way they looked for violating their “Look Policy” (UK Lawsuit). I can vouch for this first-hand, as a bunch of guys in my house in college got a job there one year when the “big shirt” was the in thing and we wanted discounts on clothes. Most of us got to be greeters, folders, whatever you call the guys in the front, whereas our “big guy” was the only one working in the stock room. We didn’t really think about it consciously at first, but within a few months most of us had quit or been fired by then (college goofballs) and we put two and two together. You had to have “the look” to work up front.
Size Matters – For the CEO
A well-documented phenomena occurs in the boardroom. There are very obvious and consistent data pointing to height as a factor in leadership roles. As outlined in the excellent book Blink, in the US, about 15% of all men are 6′ tall or greater. Among CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, that number is 58% ! Further, in the overall US population, 4% of adult men are 6’2″ or taller. Among the CEO sample, 30% were 6’2″ or taller. Evidently, the tallest guy wins. People try to attribute subconscious factors to this, like a tall man seems more “powerful” or leader-like. Whatever the underlying cause, the effect is undeniable.
Some Other Titillating Questions
Excuse me, I just couldn’t help it. But seriously, a few general questions that apply to all of us. In the US, it is uncommon to attach pictures to resumes, whereas it was the norm in Israel, which lent itself to a reasonable study design.
- That being said, in the US, do you think attaching pictures to resumes should become mainstream? Or could it open up doors to potential discrimination?
- Do you post your picture in your LinkedIn account or other social networks employers can see? Do you think that might influence their decisions?
- Do looks matter in your line of work? Should they?