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Beauty Bias: Are Beautiful People Better Employees?

By Trevor Sheffield

December 28, 2022

You probably rolled your eyes reading the title of this article. Why? Because it should be obvious—the way a person looks has nothing to do with their ability to complete their job in a satisfactory manner! And yet, beauty bias still plays a significant role in hiring and career trajectory.

Don’t believe it? A Harvard study on beauty bias discovered the following: “Workers of above average beauty earn about 10 to 15% more than workers of below-average beauty. The size of this beauty premium is economically significant and comparable to the race and gender gaps in the U.S. labor market.”

Subconscious bias in workplaces has affected the world for generations. Let’s discuss how it might impact your own place of work and what you can do to change its impact.

What is interview bias?

The hiring process is stressful, especially when you’re scrambling to fill a highly necessary position and have dozens upon dozens of candidates submitting applications for the job. Interview bias is more likely to come into play in high-stress circumstances. Bias can be difficult to identify, but as you’re speaking with candidates, consider whether your own expectations and assumptions about a person are truly correlated with proven experience as defined on their resume and in their responses to interview questions.

Consider the following example: One of your job candidates is a woman in her mid-thirties. You notice the wedding ring on her hand and assume she is married. While this observation is not necessarily harmful in and of itself, you may find yourself wondering whether the candidate has young children or may be planning to have children in the near future. Whether you acknowledge it or not, it’s entirely possible that you may begin to see her as less qualified because you assume her family and other responsibilities make her less available to the company and may require time off in the future. This is an example of gender bias. 

The number of biases you might be victim to are endless, ranging from racial bias to nonverbal bias. Beauty bias functions similarly, but for other reasons. 

Does beauty equate to goodness?

Not necessarily, but media from across the centuries often disregards this fact. Consider beautiful Cinderella and her two “ugly” stepsisters or any evil character designed to be less than appealing to the eyes. While we can all know for a fact that a person’s appearance has nothing to do with their work ethic or their ability for kindness, our brains often jump to conclusions before we’ve had a chance to set our biases to the side. 

A study done at the University of Buffalo has confirmed, “Attractive people are more likely to get hired, receive better evaluations and get paid more.” While this might prove discouraging for some, choose instead to find unique ways you can improve your sense of beauty bias and give job candidates a fairer chance for the roles they’re aiming to acquire.

Consider the following

There are many simple steps you can take to improve beauty bias if you are an interviewer. The following ideas may be good choices to help you view all candidates for a position equally.

  • Conduct your first round of interviews over the phone. By doing your first round of interviews with potential employees in an environment that takes sight entirely out of the equation, you’re more likely to leave your beauty bias behind and step into a more equitable mind space.
  • Before interviews, remind yourself to be unbiased. Our biases come into play most easily when we don’t thoroughly consider their existence and acknowledge the role they play in our lines of thought. By reminding yourself that you are a biased individual before an interview, you’ll have the foresight to take a step back and question your own assumptions before you act on them.
  • Review resumes and social profiles without lingering on photos. It’s typical to read through the LinkedIn profile of the individuals you’ll be interviewing. Some employers even search for candidates on all social media platforms before sending interview or hiring requests. Remember that online presence should be more about the person’s thoughts and attitude than their appearance to avoid making snap judgments.

How will you prevent beauty bias from taking an active role in your interviewing process? 



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