12/11/2010 01:37 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

What Do Your Photos Say About You?

I received the following statistic from the Harvard Business Review's posting of the Daily Stat.

Pics on CVs Work for Men but Backfire for Women:

Attaching your photo to your CV may help you get a callback if you're a man, but it may hurt you if you're a woman, according to research led by Bradley J. Ruffle of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. CVs with pics of attractive men garnered more callbacks from employers than CVs with none -- and nearly twice the callbacks of résumés showing plain-looking men. But for women, CVs with photos (whether of attractive or plain faces) yielded lower callback rates than those without. The researchers cite female jealousy of attractive women in the workplace.

First, how the researchers came to the conclusion that female jealousy is at the source of this discrepancy wasn't clear. They based their research on the number of callbacks, not on who looked at the CVs and made the decision to interview the candidate or not.

Could we please stop blaming women for the lack of gender parity in the workplace? I could fill many books with stories of women helping women get ahead in life as well as at work. Yes, there are women who do stupid things to other women, just as there are men who do stupid things that affect both men and women. Why do we have to focus on women being cat-fighting backstabbers?

Then there was no indication in the study of the positions being filled, the culture of the organizations that were included, the level of professionalism of the photos and the fact that these were fake résumés to begin with.

I have also seen a lot of spammers on Twitter using pictures of normal-looking, trustworthy women to get you to follow them (which contradicts the research described above). My academic background tells me that there are too many variables to consider Ruffle's study as valid research. I've also read studies that suggest that having a picture always gives you an advantage over the faceless.

That being said...

We are posting our pictures everywhere these days. If your picture isn't on a résumé, someone could probably find you on the Internet to see what you look like. I think we should be concerned more about what our pictures say about us than whether someone will hate us for looking good.

As a public speaker, I've been redoing my professional photos for years. Not only do I want something that is high-quality because that is how I want people to think of me, but I also want to portray the type of person I am for the situation. For example, I need individual photos that say I am:
  • A dynamic, fun speaker

  • A brilliant thinker and trend-spotter focused on the success of women in the workplace
  • A writer who shares intimate moments of her life to enrich the lives of others
  • A personal coach you can trust to help you work with your most difficult issues at work
  • None of my descriptions say "brilliant executive" or "practical mommy blogger." If I lived these roles, my pictures would be different.

    Just as we humans judge real people in 10 to 20 seconds, we judge pictures even more quickly. With no "moving factors" such as eye contact, gestures, words and personal connection to consider, we assess pictures based on facial expression, clothes, age, gender, weight, ethnicity, background (if anything or anyone else is in the picture) and whether the person looks like someone else we know.

    Therefore, before you post a picture anywhere, consider how these factors represent you and match how you want viewers to identify you.

    If you have some pictures to choose from, send them out to a group of people you trust and ask them to write a one-sentence caption for each picture describing what the picture says about you. When evaluating what pictures to use, the perception of others is more critical than your own.

    What do your pictures say about you? Consider the impact before you do your next mobile upload.

    To avoid perpetuating the story that women judge each other more harshly, pay attention to your own inner judge when you look at the image of strangers. When you see a picture on a résumé, marketing flyer or Facebook page, do you know anything about the person's integrity (honesty and openness)? What is the focus of their work and life's contribution? How did they come by the wisdom they claim to have? Do they demonstrate wit and insight by their writing? You can't find these markers in a picture.

    Look beyond the picture before you make snap judgments.

    And if you have a minute, tell me what you think my picture says about me!

    Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D., president of Covisioning and author of "Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction," helps her clients find both success and happiness in this crazy, chaotic and judgment-filled world.

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