Do Handsome Guys Get Ahead at Work?

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Jan. 13 — Attractive men often have an unfair advantage in the workplace, unless they are viewed as competitors, but attractive women don't gain any advantage, a set of four studies has found.

Writing in a recent issue of the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Sunyoung Lee of University College London in the U.K. and co-authors said they had discovered that “decision makers associate attractiveness with competence in male but not in female candidates.”

However, handsome men don't always end up ahead, the researchers said, because “when decision makers expect to cooperate with the candidate, they perceive attractive male candidates as more capable cooperators and discriminate in their favor. When decision makers expect to compete with the candidate, they perceive attractive male candidates as more capable competitors, and discriminate against them.”

The rat race is not always won by the beautiful, Ilona Jerabek, president and chief executive officer of Montreal-based PsychTests AIM Inc., who was not involved with the studies, remarked in a Jan. 12 e-mail to Bloomberg BNA. “Attractiveness biases can work in a variety of ways, sometimes to the advantage of the attractive, and sometimes to their disadvantage; same goes for less attractive candidates.”

For example, Jerabek said, “there may be a bias toward hiring attractive people to create more business” for jobs that require a lot of customer contact, while IT, research and scientific hiring may be biased toward “nerdy” or “bookish” appearing candidates. Jealous spouses in a family business or “alpha male” or “queen bee” type interviewers may also be biased against attractive candidates, she said.

To guard against such biases, Jerabek suggested, “small companies can take a lesson from larger organizations by having multiple decision-makers involved in the hiring process.” Also helpful, she said, are “a structured hiring process with clearly defined criteria for the ideal candidate” and pre-employment assessments that “rely on objective criteria—and don’t discriminate based on appearance.”

“Awareness is the key; if you realize that your decisions are guided by a bias, whether it’s towards or against the attractive or the plain, you can take a step back and refocus on what is really most important,” Jerabek added.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at

An abstract of the study on attractiveness in the workplace can be found at

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