CEOs who look the part also earn more

April 27th, 2010 - 4:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 27 (IANS) There were no evening gowns, swimsuits or artistic talents on display, but a corporate beauty contest staged by Duke University researchers nevertheless revealed strong ties between appearance and success in the business world.
By pairing photos of the CEOs of large and small companies with photos of non-executives with similar facial features, hairstyles and clothing, finance professors John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business found that CEOs are more likely than non-CEOs to be rated as competent looking, but less likely to be classified as likeable.

The team also found that CEOs rated competent just by their appearance tended to have higher income. CEOs who were rated four or above on a five-point scale for competence had an average total compensation 7.5 percent higher than CEOs who scored three out of five on competence.

“Other researchers have found links between beauty and workers’ pay, and demonstrated that politicians benefit from good looks at election time,” Graham said. “We wanted to see whether appearance also plays a role at the corporate executive level.”

The researchers staged a variety of online experiments to ask nearly 2,000 participants to assess photos of more than 100 CEOs and non-executives.

In one experiment, 765 participants were asked to rank the people in each pair of photos according to their attractiveness, competence, trustworthiness and likeability.

The actual CEOs were rated as more competent-looking and more attractive. However, CEOs were more frequently rated as less trustworthy and less likable than the non-CEOs with whom their photos were paired.

Similar results were found when 762 participants were asked to rate CEOs of large firms against CEOs of small firms. Large-firm CEOs were rated as more competent 55 percent of the time, while their small-firm counterparts were judged as looking more trustworthy, likeable and attractive.

For the purposes of the experiments, only photos of white male CEOs were used. “It would be fascinating to study the role appearance may play in the careers of women and minorities,” said Puri, according to a Duke’s release.

“However, because there are fewer female and minority CEOs, including them in our set of photos would have increased the odds of participants recognising a CEO, which could have inadvertently influenced their rating of the person’s characteristics.”

Despite the relationship between appearance and CEO salary, the researchers found no evidence that a CEO’s appearance is related to company profitability.

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