Why the attractive get promotions


We wish the world we inhabit was a fair place. We yearn for equal pay for equal work. We desire to be judged in our workplaces based on the quality of our work output. No matter who we are or where we are from, we want impartiality in our jobs. Sadly, fairness exists only in our worldview and not in reality.

Our career journey is punctuated by deep unfairness at every turn. Unconscious bias makes humans fantastically poor decision-makers. We like to think that our minds thrive as rational and objective, but instead, we fall victim to primordial urges and emotions.

These mental lapses, in many instances, even subside in our DNA so far back in history that some of our biases even predate the emergence of humans as a species. In short, we do not judge accurately or even appropriately for the modern era.

Business Talk has highlighted many of these biases impacting workplaces over the past years including that people are strongly biased by over four times in favour of people who are more similar to them in terms of race, ethnicity, and religion and over two times more biased towards people who share even nominal tiny similarities.

Further, taller people get hired and promoted more frequently. Short employees are overlooked for promotions and raises. Workers with smaller mouth width are given fewer opportunities to lead.

Men with wider cheeks are trusted less often than men with narrow longer faces. Men and women with broader shoulders, deeper voices, and more even vocal intonation are thought of as more professionally competent.

Bosses tend to remember first impressions and most recent observations of their staff thus often erroneously forgetting and overlooking months, years, and even decades of other data about an employee. Achieving an egalitarian society in the minds of a citizenry is an uphill task against the demons of genetics.

Now, new research from Cornell University by Gayathri Pandey and Vivian Zayas digs the hole even deeper against hopes of achieving more fair workplaces. Research already showed deep favouritism in jobs for attractive workers.

If given a chance to select an average normal looking colleague or an attractive colleague, people pick the latter. But conventional wisdom assumed that if the attractive workmate had detrimental traits, lower outcomes, or worse work behaviour, we would notice their errant ways and disregard their attractiveness and seek to mitigate our exposure to them.

However, the new study looks at the depths to which we even unknowingly harm ourselves just to stick with an attractive coworker or adviser. Even when an attractive colleague or adviser causes us to lose tangible money, we will still stick with that individual. Inasmuch, attractive employees can easily get away with doing substantially less and worse work.

Psychologist Douglas LaBier calls such scenarios the halo effect of attractiveness. Since we like one aspect about that person, essentially their attractiveness, we accidentally tend to think everything about them is also better.

How do we treat others fairly and equally? First, acknowledge that even despite your best intentions, our human DNA comes with deep inward built unconscious biases. Second, understand that even memories from your past are still causing implicit biases under the surface in your decision-making.

Third, try to think through and identify any pro or anti biases that you may possess. Fourth, endeavour to stop making snap gut feeling decisions in your workplace.

Fifth, incorporate a deliberate methodical decision-making process where you carefully weigh the costs and benefits or pros and cons of different decision points and then thinking about those positives and negatives at two different times, at minimum two hours apart, before making the actual decision.

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