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If you’re a good-looking woman: don’t send a photo…

May 06, 2013 Business Daily, Success

“Bradley Ruffle at Ben-Gurion University and Ze’ev Shtudiner at Ariel University Centre looked at what happens when job hunters include photos with their curricula vitae, as is the norm in much of Europe and Asia. The pair sent fictional applications to over 2,500 real-life vacancies. For each job, they sent two very similar résumés, one with a photo, one without. Subjects had previously been graded for their attractiveness.
For men, the results were as expected. Hunks were more likely to be called for an interview if they included a photo. Ugly men were better off not including one. However, for women this was reversed. Attractive females were less likely to be offered an interview if they included a mugshot.”

The Economist (31 March 2012)

Attaching a photograph to your job application is a good idea, right? Especially if you’re relatively good-looking? We know lookers are viewed more positively by society, correct?

Not so fast. Look at the excerpt from The Economist, highlighting a study conducted by Israeli researchers. When a photo is attached, good-looking men have a higher chance of being invited for interview. Attractive women, however, would be better off not attaching that photograph.

Strange, isn’t it? Unless you consider the matter more deeply, as the researchers did. The Economist summed it up thus: “Human resources departments tend to be staffed mostly by women. Indeed, in the Israeli study, 93% of those tasked with selecting whom to invite for an interview were female. The researchers’ unavoidable—and unpalatable—conclusion is that old-fashioned jealousy led the women to discriminate against pretty candidates.”

Do note: if HR departments were populated heavily by men, the same result would likely be found: men might consciously or subconsciously use the selection process to eliminate competitive threats.

This confirms something I have always emphasized in my interactions with organizations. We only imagine that we are constructing thoroughly professional environments governed by logic and reason and run according to the principles of management science. The reality is rather different.

Organizations are not buildings and computers; they are a seething mass of human emotion. There’s no getting around it: feelings, biases, jealousies, resentments permeate. They affect every decision. From the CEO to the messenger, you’re dealing with a human being, full of hopes and positivity; but also brimming with thwarted ambitions and unspoken rivalries.

When you mix men and women up in the workplace, as every modern organization must, the introduction of sexual tension makes things even more complicated. No one will admit it, but pretty much everyone of a certain age is viewing the working environment just like any other part of life: a place to meet potential mates; to find love; to compete for attention; or just to have good time.

This is not an argument to sequester men and women and banish emotion from the workplace; not a bit of it. A modern organization needs all the talents available, and must work with a fully diverse workforce that reflects its market. That is not negotiable.

A wise leader, however, understands that workplaces are not governed just by rules, processes and methods; the true current that runs through them is human emotion. A great leader is a manager of emotional climate: one who understands the all-too-human failings that lead to flawed decisions; but also one who can instil great spirit in people and inspire them to give of their best.

To get there, you must become a student not just of the science of management, but of the art of leadership. You must remain intensely curious about the mysteries of human motivation. You must develop an intuitive understanding of psychology and group mentality.

Once you master those skills, you have a chance of making workplaces actually work.

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