Latest research upends the trope that girls use their looks to get ahead of their careers, showing that men actually reap greater advantages from being attractive within the workplace.
A recent study of greater than 11,000 Americans conducted over 20 years has found that good-looking men usually tend to attain higher jobs and earn more money than similarly attractive women.
In 1993, two sociologists from the University of Oslo and the Polish Academy of Sciences identified young Americans between the ages of 12 and 18 using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (NLSAH).
Alexi Gugushvili and Grzegorz Bulczak recorded participants’ demographic information and socioeconomic status, then asked volunteers to rate the participants’ physical attractiveness on a 4-point scale: Very attractive, attractive, unattractive, and really unattractive.
Within the report, Gugushvili and Bulczak explained that they selected to base the research on teenagers’ perceived attractiveness as adults have greater financial means to govern or enhance their physical appearance (like getting cosmetic surgery) so those scores would feel less real.
Twenty years later, when the participants had reached their late 30s, the researchers compared the attractiveness scores of the 15-year-old volunteers to their current profession status.
They found that those that had moved up the company ladder the fastest — and were earning essentially the most — were the boys who had been deemed “very attractive” as teenagers.
Even with potential obstacles like coming from a low-income household or growing up in a dangerous neighborhood, attractive men still managed to realize upward mobility.
Good-looking women had a slight advantage of their careers over other women deemed less attractive, but men saw the best advantages from their physical appearance, in keeping with the report.
“This means that for men, being attractive plays a major role in your skilled success, whether it’s getting a raise, a promotion or access to more competitive jobs,” says Gugushvili.
Other research has shown that lots of the characteristics people use to explain strong, capable leaders are masculine.
“It is not a coincidence that many U.S. presidents, for instance, have been men which are over six feet tall,” says Jennie Blumenthal, the founder and CEO of Corporate Rehab, a leadership consulting firm. “We are inclined to assume that somebody stronger, taller and better-looking than their peers is more able to leading, which routinely puts women at an obstacle.”
Gugushvili and Bulczak found that girls’s attractiveness is often characterised by “weak” feminine traits, like being passive, agreeable, tender and loving.
Gugushvili also points out that some corporate cultures favor masculine traits — so while men are expected to steer with decisiveness, women are discouraged from taking on jobs with a high level of authority and given harmful labels resembling “difficult” or “bossy,” since it’s seen as unattractive.
In other words, being a gorgeous woman is incompatible with the ingrained stereotypes and expectations people might hold for business leaders.
Blumenthal, a former Fortune 500 executive, says that female leaders suffer from a “likeability trap.”
“You’ve got to be liked enough to be invited to the table but not so likable that you just’re considered a pushover or not qualified to be a pacesetter,” says Blumenthal. “There are still these limiting gender biases that we have not overcome.”
Attractive women can face greater penalties within the workplace for his or her looks than their male counterparts.
Other research has shown that attractive women are sometimes seen as less capable or less qualified for his or her positions than their peers — and in extreme cases, less trustworthy. Attractive men didn’t face similar repercussions for his or her physical appearance.
“Women feel a lot pressure to switch and police their bodies, there’s almost no margin for error,” says Randi Braun, an executive coach and bestselling writer of “Something Major: The Latest Playbook for Women at Work.” “Women are held to a selected standard of attractiveness and are sometimes punished after they fail to uphold that standard, but then they’re punished after they do — it is a lose-lose situation.”
Gugushvili points out that gender equality in the US, overall, could have skewed the outcomes of their research.
The US ranked forty third amongst 143 countries included within the World Economic Forum’s 2023 global gender parity index. The rankings were determined based on gaps in 4 foremost areas: work, education, health and political leadership.
“That may very well be one among the the explanation why inequality between attractive men and girls manifests within the workplace in the US, in such a blatant way,” he says. “It could be interesting to see if that very same issue exists in a more egalitarian country, like Finland or Denmark.”
Finland ranked third on the WEF’s global gender parity index, while Denmark claimed the twenty third spot on the list.
Gugushvili recognizes limitations in the info, including the potential influence of late bloomers or other unmeasured aspects on skilled success, stressing that further research is required to validate their findings.
Still, Braun says the research highlights the subtle barriers and microaggressions that proceed to obstruct women’s profession advancement — and people can often do the best damage.
Adds Braun: “If we do not have systems in place to ascertain this type of unconscious bias that exists in every single place, from the hiring to the promotion process, it just creates more broken rungs women face on the profession ladder.”