Confidence counters beauty bias at work: study

Yes, more attractive people get better work opportunities — but there are other ways the rest of us can succeed.

Dave Yasvinski 3 minute read August 19, 2021
beauty bias workplace

People considered more attractive tend to receive more favourable reviews at work. GETTY

Attractive individuals face better odds when it comes to landing a plum position, getting paid more and being reviewed more favourably at work, but a new study has found a way for their less comely colleagues to close the gap created by this “beauty premium.”

The research, published in the journal Personnel Psychology, said that while the perks enjoyed by pretty people are present across all professions, the effect is amplified by distinct traits these stunning specimens develop over time in response to how the world views them. This creates more opportunities for these people to exhibit and improve their non-verbal skills and helps form a greater sense of power that can be wielded in the workplace and pretty much everywhere else.

“We wanted to examine whether there’s an overall bias toward beauty on the job or if attractive people excel professionally because they’re more effective communicators,” said Min-Hsuan Tu, an assistant professor of organization and human resources in the University of Buffalo School of Management. “What we found was that while good-looking people have a greater sense of power and are better non-verbal communicators, their less-attractive peers can level the playing field during the hiring process by adopting a powerful posture.”

Good-looking people have long benefitted from the beauty bias — also known as “lookism” — gaining an unfair advantage over others regardless of talent or potential. This bias was long thought to be only skin-deep, as recently summarized in an academic review of previous study. “Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals,” the review said.

This bias — often unconscious and rarely acknowledged — allows more attractive associates to enjoy a range of benefits in the workplace often to the detriment of their less-winsome co-workers. The present study endeavoured to see if this gap could be closed by simply mimicking some of the distinct traits exhibited by attractive people.

To do this, researchers conducted two studies that evaluated 300 elevator pitches in a simulated job search intended to replicate an interview environment. Managers in the first study largely decided the more attractive people were more hireable simply because they possessed a more effective non-verbal presence.

The second study required certain participants to strike a “power pose” while giving their elevator pitch by standing with their feet shoulder-width apart, their hands on their hips and their chests out and chins up while engaging the manager. Using this technique allowed less-attractive applicants to project the same powerful non-verbal cues that prettier people exhibit innately — and to great effect.

“By adopting the physical postures associated with feelings of power and confidence, less attractive people can minimize behavioural differences in the job search,” Tu said. “But power posing is not the only solution — anything that can make you feel more powerful, like doing a confidence self-talk, visualizing yourself succeeding or reflecting on past accomplishments before a social evaluation situation can also help.”

Dave Yasvinski is a writer with Healthing.ca

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