Department of Life's not Fair: When looks matter (and not necessarily in a good way) [via Slaw]

When looks matter (and not necessarily in a good way) — Slaw

I was intrigued by the above piece in Slaw commenting on a study in Israel which appeared to show that female jealousy resulted in fewer job prospects for attractive women when photos are included with resumes.  The study itself is: Ruffle, Bradley J. (incidentally, a YorkU undergrad, class of 1991) & Shtudiner, Ze’ev, Are Good-Looking People More Employable? (October 2011). Available at SSRN here.

I don’t love the female jealousy hypothesis so I know I’m working to disprove it, but I do have some questions that I think are legitimate and not just argumentative:

1. What does attractive mean?  The study used a panel of raters, but when I think about books like Rhodes’ The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law (see IFLS review here) I think about how much about beauty/plainness is really (for women!) about grooming – makeup, hairstyling, clothing – things that are alterable at a cost – including, I suppose, the shape of your face.  So, where attractiveness corresponds with “highly groomed”, might there be an element of judgment (“trying too hard”) which is not quite the same as jealousy (is it?).  Also, as soon as we’re looking at grooming, we’re certainly looking at class (consider Ruthann Robson’s awesome To Market, To Market: Considering Class in the Context of Lesbian Legal Theories and Reforms, 5 U.S.C. J.L. & Women’s Stud. 173 (1995) esp 174-8).   The study did  control  for ethnicity (in the Israeli context – interesting to read about what they considered and how) to deal with known discrimination effects.

2. Is it common practice to attach photos to resumes in Israel?  The authors say that it is “optional”.  They also say:

More explicitly, suppose there existed a cultural norm that frowned upon women including a photograph on their CV. A woman who nonetheless chose to embed a picture in her CV would be less likely to receive a callback. However, our telephone survey reveals that no such norm exists. On the contrary, in response to our question about which sex more frequently sends a CV with a self-photograph, 12 companies (48%) answered that women do, while only two companies (8%) indicated that men do.Another 11 companies (44%) responded that the two sexes do so equally often.

(I found this curious, since it does not answer the question of what the cultural norm is but rather solicits and describes a set of claims about practices. These are not quite the same thing.  The results are interesting, but not empirical on the question of what people do – and it may well be that people looking to get hired are unsure of what the expectations are amongst people who do the hiring and are just getting it wrong).  The authors discuss what they call a “negative signalling effect” of including a picture:

Thirty-six percent of the respondents reacted positively to males’ inclusion of a picture, invoking terms such as “presentable” and “con dent”. Only 28% of the respondents expressed negative associations for male photographs. By contrast, negative sentiments were the predominant response (56%) to females CVs with pictures. Not serious” and an attempt to market herself via her appearance” were among the reactions. A mere 12% of respondents expressed a positive association. These fi ndings suggest that we cannot rule out the negative signaling story as a partial explanation for our observed punishment of attractive women.” (22)

One of the study findings was “…, women with no picture have a significantly higher rate of callbacks than attractive or plain-looking women.”  The authors call “negative signalling” a partial explanation.

There was no way to look at the pictures (which were solicited from students) to check on my questions about “grooming”.  Too bad.

Lesson for women? I would assume stay away from pictures, regardless of all other considerations.  But what do you do in a situation where a prospective employer is going to immediately google you and find your picture?  Is that different? The authors’ include a relatively complete solution (which reminds me of the bit in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink about the hiring of trombonist Abbie Conant when the Munich Philharmonic began using a screen during auditions so that the decision makers could not see who she was – more specifically, that she was a woman):

several European countries have recently begun to experiment with anonymous CVs whereby candidates are forbidden to include their picture, name, age, sex, date and place of birth, nationality and marital status anywhere in their application.

They can’t see you, they can’t google you….  There are a few studies which specifically deal with attractiveness premiums in law.  One I discussed here (questioning how it ignores gender).  Another is Biddle, Je E. and Daniel S. Hamermesh (1998) “Beauty, Productivity, and Discrimination: Lawyers’ Looks and Lucre,” Journal of Labor Economics, 16:1, 172-201. which does talk about gender, and about grooming.

 

 

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