Does Attractiveness and Appearance Equate to Leadership and Career Success?

Let’s start with a question whose answer is becoming harder to dispute:

Does your appearance matter when dealing with other people?

Monsieur Emmanuel Macron, the new President of France appears to believe it matters a lot considering he spent a whopping $31,000 over three months on a makeup artist for his public appearances.

It is generally accepted that you don’t walk into an interview or meeting, or make a public appearance, unkempt, unshaved, with greasy hair, wearing a grubby shirt or without a bit of makeup.

In a scenario where time is limited, people are known to size others up based on criteria that may not be entirely objective. More often than not, a person's singular interaction or series of short interactions with employees, colleagues, shareholders or voters can be transient. It is therefore vital to make an effort when in public or amongst other people.

The way you superficially appear to others, does seemingly matter. Or doesn’t it?

Now, discriminating positively or negatively based on someone’s physical appearance is wrong. It is morally reprehensible and legally questionable. The way you look has no bearing on your intelligence or your performance. In a perfect world, everyone would be judged solely on their merits. However, we all know that this world doesn’t exist.

Let me first share the findings of some research studies. Do note these are not my statements. I am merely mirroring the discoveries of these studies:

Beauty is Wealth: Economists Joseph Halford and Hung-Chia Hsu, of the University of Wisconsin, studied and rated the attractiveness of 667 CEOs from S&P 500 companies. They found good looking CEOs to have and I quote:

"Positive and significant impact on stock returns surrounding the first day when the CEO is on the job"

43 basis points higher than the CEO that was 10% less attractive. They also found that on a scale of 1 to 10, a 1-point increase:

"is related to a $873,000 increase in total wage, controlling for various firm and CEO characteristics"

Yahoo’s previous CEO Marissa Mayer, who had once done a Vogue shoot, was rated among the top 5% on the Economists’ FAI or Facial Attractiveness Index.

Source: Vogue Photo Shoot of Ex Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

Joseph Halford and Hung-Chia Hsu also conducted another study about hedge fund managers, claiming:

"Hedge fund managers whose photographs are rated as more trustworthy are able to attract greater fund flows. Managers who are perceived as more trustworthy perform worse and generate lower risk adjusted returns when compared to those who are perceived as less trustworthy. Attractive CEOs receive more surpluses for their firms from M&A transactions, a finding consistent with the hypothesis that more attractive CEOs improve shareholder value through superior negotiating prowess. Factors unrelated to informational content such as the attractiveness of interviewees on television matter for stock returns"

Tall people earn more money. A study by Timothy Judge at the University of Florida found that for every extra inch of height, a tall worker can expect to earn an extra $789 per year.

It doesn’t help if you are overweight. Obese workers are paid less than normal-weight colleagues. $8,666 a year less for obese women, and $4,772 a year less for obese men. The data is sourced from a George Washington University study that cited data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

Do blondes really earn more? A study from the Queensland University of Technology studied 13,000 Caucasian women and discovered that blondes earn at least 7% more than non-blondes.

Going to the gym boosts your bank balance. According to a study in the Journal of Labor Research, workers who go to the gym regularly earn 9% more on average than employees who don’t quite make it.

Slap on that make-up. A study in the American Economic Review said women who wear make-up earn at least 30% more salary than non make-up wearing colleagues, and another study suggested that viewers considered women wearing more makeup to be more competent.

Do good-looking people earn more? A Yale University study from Daniel S. Hamermesh found that employers pay attractive employees more. Good-looking workers earn an average of roughly 5% more, while unattractive employees can miss out on up to almost 9%.

Do I believe these statistics to be fair and valid? I wouldn’t know. All kinds of discrimination are rife in the workplace and appearance is no different.

Everywhere you turn there is a story about a popular leader or millennial go-getter, and it seems the more attractive they are (often confused with being approachable), the more popular they get.

Past leaders like Kennedy, Reagan and Obama, to today's leaders such as Justin Trudeau (Canada), Emmanuel Macron (France), Enrique Peña Nieto (Mexico), Borut Pahor (Slovenia), Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (King of Bhutan) and Felipe VI (King of Spain) have all been widely considered to be handsome with noticeably high levels of charisma.

It does not mean their appearance precludes the possibility of them being talented and intelligent, but one could argue at some point a less attractive or charismatic leader may have been passed over in their favor. This is all conjecture and is naturally difficult to measure. There are also a massive number of socio-economic factors at play, which are impossible to analyze in a short post.

Actually, having said all this, I would only wish to leave you with one thought:

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Have a look inside. Check out the contents, get into the deeper story and immerse yourself in the substance before you make judgement. Equally, don’t assume that others will value the cover over everything else.

It is easy to succumb to superficial thoughts. In reality, many of us have an automatic preference to look deeper. The media may blast us with ideals of physical perfection, but it isn’t what truly matters to many of us.

Maybe we need to remember what truly matters is on the inside.

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