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Appearance bias in hiring, as  Angry Mouse has discussed, is a feature, not a bug.
It is an unavoidable consequence of an economy where sales skills dominate.

And as such, it is only a symptom of the lack of diversity in our economy.

The loss of manufacturing, in particular, has made the American economy a monoculture. When sales and finance rushed in to fill the vacuum, they re-engineered the workplace to make salesmanship the most valuable traits in an employee-- and indeed, in human character itself.

Appearance bias makes good business sense if you're a hiring manager. (Although I would argue that it's got nothing on positive attitude bias.) You want to make your best impression; and the unconscious bias is king, for both speed and durability.
You want to do whatever it takes to maximize the power of those unconscious biases (and by the way, you've got short-term quarterly returns to fill) which means not taking chances on personalities or presentation styles that aren't a sure thing. You're going to pick the young, ever-smiling hotties, because they're easiest and safest (and usually most compliant).

The requirement to always put your best face forward is a natural consequence of service, sales and marketing taking up more and more of the economy. More workers are also expected to be in greater and greater amounts of "face time" with the public, because the only jobs that cannot be outsourced are the ones requiring personal human touch.
It is almost a universal belief that skills can be taught, but attitude cannot-- which incentivizes hiring managers to take an essentialist approach to personalities and write them off as irredeemable if they're not "the right people", Jack Welch of course being the one who elevated this to a fine art.

Lying? Unethical behavior? Often necessary. Even redefined as proper professionalism. Because allowing a negative impression to be cast on your company image is by far the worse sin. Each customer who has a negative experience will tell three friends, who each in turn will tell five friends, etc. ... and  it takes ten positive messages to equal one negative one.
Everyone who has ever worked in customer service or retail is familiar with this rule, and it is singularly unarguable. There is simply no way to dissent with this idea, without coming across as an unhelpful malcontent.

Instead of the tangible, measurable progress of a manufacturing job, our success or failure in any sales job hinges on one thing: the reaction of the consumer. It makes little sense to feel confidence in your communication skills, when nothing means what you think it means; nay, meaning itself is dependent on the response you get. And if there's one thing we know about others' reactions and feelings: we have little to no control over them. But our culture of salesmanship assume we have full, 100% control. And assigns us full responsibility if things go wrong.

The cognitive dissonance and confusion as to whether this is truthful-- or even healthy-- in real-life interactions, means nothing to a manager looking to fulfill a sales quota or woo a client. After all, they've got people higher up the food chain pressuring them to close every sale, every time; people who got to the top by being the best spokesmodels of all, by having the swiftest and most highly refined instincts for image preservation.

When you have to be constantly selling to survive, there simply is no room for balance or reflection. There also is very low trust of others, because no social interaction exists that does not have an ulterior motive. Traits of highly successful salespeople-- charisma, good looks, extroversion-- become unquestioningly "good" and unchecked for any possible side effects or means-to-end dilemmas. Sociopathy itself becomes selected for as a success trait: because, once again, empathy for others takes too much time, and telling the truth may lose you the sale.

An agricultural monoculture requires massive doses of pesticides and fertilizers to keep it functioning at barely adequate; and it still remains vulnerable to complete destruction by one good insect attack or disease infestation.
An economic monoculture puts emphasis on ONE ideal set of character and personality traits, devaluing the contributions and human potential of not those who don't fit this mold, but those who do fit it; by effectively reducing their productive tenure. It makes us one-trick ponies in our careers, un-resilient in the face of adversity and unable to muster the perspective necessary to solve many problems.

Both types of monocultures drain the respective environments dry, making what remains inhospitable for all who come afterwards. It's time to replenish the soil.

Originally posted to The Montrose Tractatus on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 01:48 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I work in such an environment. (8+ / 0-)
    Maybe we all do. Wasn't always this way. Ten years ago it was at least a half way decent working environment even if the pay sucked. Today? Co-workers barely say hello, barely have time to say hello, and fear if they say hello it will reflect a weakness. That has happened in just 7 or 8 years. People really fear for their jobs, that one false move will get them fired. So, they walk around on pins and needles and don't say boo.
    •  Very odd how when there's more pressure... (7+ / 0-)

      ... on your workforce to be friendly, that you end up LESS sociable and friendly.

      Relationships are now less valuable for their own sake, and more badges of proof you have good people skills, good emotional health, enough support at home that the boss will be willing to let you take a risk.

      What really gets me about the righties more than anything, is how they've co-opted and distorted our values.

      Real Democrats don't abandon the middle class. --John Kerry

      by Lucy Montrose on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 02:36:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Emphasis on Intangibles Makes Rampant Politics (0+ / 0-)

        The dynamic of who's nicer, who's better, who cares more is the motor that drives the alcoholic family. They will have this argument dawn to dusk seven days a the week, because it helps them avoid that darn elephant in the living room.

    •  Came In 20 Yrs Ago at the University Where I (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, Lucy Montrose, blitheringmoron

      was eventually age-sized out. That, along with personality assessment for hiring and promotions.

      "How do you deal with the stress of customer service work?"

      "--It's not stressful for me, I enjoy the work."

      "You have to cooperate with the Human Resources department and answer the questions ask they're asked."

      "--What do you think the orchestra would sound like if you only hired people who needed to 'cope' with the stress of all the sound?"

      "I think the interview is over."

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 05:39:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It makes me want to screen prospective companies. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW, swampyankee

        To see which ones have a boss who is into some kind of coercive psychological regimen, such as the Landmark Forum or other New Age philosophy... or even the Church of Scientology.

        A sales-dominant economy also selects for narcissists at the top who want all their employees to resemble themselves...  with the added punch of the perfect language being used to rationalize their decisions. Where your interpersonal skills are called into question because you don't resemble the boss, or dissent from the corporate culture in some way. And the quickest way to career death is to get a reputation for being socially awkward.

        And often all it takes is ONE person to change the entire tone of an organization. A single narcissist at the top, who makes everybody else fearful for their own job security; so their actions alter the workplace culture and do the majority of the work for the narcissist.

        Real Democrats don't abandon the middle class. --John Kerry

        by Lucy Montrose on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 07:15:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's The Narcissists Emotional Caretaker (0+ / 0-)

          The flunky that props them up and  does nothing but make up management level rumors.

          But yeah, these people will destroy anyone that has something hey don't. Maybe your dad didn't drink himself to death. Tough luck, you work for a dry drunk and that lack of that special codependent sparkly neediness, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt you are a bad person.

    •  People Who Want You On Pins And Needles (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, Bluefin, swampyankee

      are personality disorders. That's whoo ends up in middle management, sowing utter chaos until the operation folds.

  •  Lots to read here--bookmarked (3+ / 0-)

    Very thoughtful analysis.

  •  Very thought provoking....excellent (0+ / 0-)

    Thank you.

    "We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering!" - The Shoveler

    by Pandoras Box on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 05:03:27 AM PDT

  •  Have you ever worked in manufacturing? (4+ / 0-)

    Until you have, I'm not sure if you really understand the commoditization of humans, but let me give you a clue; Apple, which is, essentially a brand and marketing company is making record profits while those who do the work to manufacture their products earn a pittance and are as replacable as yesterdays paper. No one even bothers to ask them for a resume, such charades are for people with a least the veneer of dignity.

    "Life immitates art, but takes license." - ko

    by koNko on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 05:22:54 AM PDT

    •  Does Apple Do Any Manufacturing in the US? nt (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 05:40:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't they do anywhere (0+ / 0-)

        Even the A4 processor is fabricated in Taiwan as far as I know.

        Apple stopped manufacturing about the time Jobs returned and took over from Gilbert Amellio, who was struggling to to keep them afloat and rationalizing the plants they then had in the Valley, hich were drowning in inventory.

        Apple is product design house, not a manufacturer. Manufacturing takes 80% disapline, 20% creativity; Apple is the inverse.

        "Life immitates art, but takes license." - ko

        by koNko on Sun Jul 25, 2010 at 07:33:28 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It May Be More Due to Runaway Economic (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Lucy Montrose, Bluefin

    efficiency than monoculture directly.

    One reason we're going to monoculture is that the destruction of protective regulation and taxation has allowed a very few sectors to create preposterously high investment returns through gambling. That in turn has forced every other sector to try to match unsustainable returns by ramping up to implausible levels of economic efficiency, as we see in print journalism. Fire everyone in sight, sell off vital assets, compress wages, basically eat your own muscle for the few years you can get along, then sell the biz into the merger market.

    Along the way all sorts of bizarre approaches to management flutter by as ownership strives for economic efficiency that can't possibly be sustained for long.

    It's no wonder most sectors of the economy disappear. What can compete long-term with government-backed gambling?

    We know how to fix this because we've fixed it twice, and run it the wrong way 3 times which is most of our national history.

    We won't though, because there's no political party behind the ideas we've repeatedly proven.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 05:45:54 AM PDT

    •  Sadly, a lot of ordinary people don't seem to... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      swampyankee

      ... be behind them either. They're the ones who say "you can't change human nature," "people like to be around attractive people", "you should take care of yourself," etc.

      When they conveniently forget how much money, time and energy it takes to upkeep one's appearance, how this is every bit a class marker as a college degree is.

      It's people just like us who have internalized the class values of the privileged that really dishearten me. Whether they do it out of their own self-preservation (gotta resemble the privileged in order to relate to them, y'know), or because they just haven't followed things to their logical conclusion, they are NOT going to help us fight for a better workplace. They will tell us to suck it up, quite whining, and live with it; no matter how big the D is after their names.

      Real Democrats don't abandon the middle class. --John Kerry

      by Lucy Montrose on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 07:05:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Is there such a term as "imitative monopoly"? (0+ / 0-)

      That in turn has forced every other sector to try to match unsustainable returns by ramping up to implausible levels of economic efficiency, as we see in print journalism.

      When you have every company doing the same things to ensure profitability in monkey-see, monkey-do fashion... aren't you, for all intents and purposes, creating ONE corporate culture and philosophy?

      Doesn't matter if you have 150 companies in an area. If they all think the same, you have effectively ONE company.

      Real Democrats don't abandon the middle class. --John Kerry

      by Lucy Montrose on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 07:18:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Salesmen get downsized (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Naniboujou, JeffW, GrumpyOldGeek

    at the drop of a hat.  I know, it happened to me three times in three years.  It motivated me to go back into teaching - I don't make anywhere near the money, but I don't get fired annually even though I am top-rated (that was my sales experience.)

  •  Teachers generally make great sales reps (0+ / 0-)

    in my experience. I'm talking about selling high end capital equipment that includes significant executive contact requiring multiple sales calls and building a trusted relationship.

    The best sales reps I've ever worked with definitely would have been great teachers. A natural ability to teach is probably the most valuable skill a good sales rep can have.

    I'm not talking at all about low end sales reps. Many of these jobs are really little more than order-takers, administrators, phone solicitors, or they just run the cash register. Although some of these folks really could be decent sales reps if they were given a chance.

    I'm also not talking about those who "sell" fraudulent or misleading products. These folks have to lie, distort, and manipulate. They have no product or service good enough to stand on its own. Free credit report services, penis and breast enlargement frauds, etc.

    If the product or service really is good and is of some value to others, you'll believe in it yourself. A good sales rep tends to focus on the clients' needs. The income becomes incidental. You just know you'll be rewarded. Just get this in writing first. Good sales reps tend to trust others, sometimes more than they should. The boss can always turn out to be an asshole.

    My wife and I have taught quite a few classes about selling and marketing over the years. It's always fun. People generally express thanks for dispelling the myths and stereotypes about sales and marketing. Most anyone who is mentally stable can learn how to become a better sales rep. The unstable usually don't get as far as taking a sales class.

    One big myth is that looks are very important. Sure, good looks is an asset. Good hygiene is more important than looks. One guy I worked with for a few years had a tic disorder and was among the less fortunate when it came to his looks. He always appeared frumpy and inattentive. But he really knew his stuff and was always helpful and willing to dig in to the details of the clients' needs. He always exceeded his sales quota and customers tended to ask for him by name.

    If you sense that a job interview is shallow and you notice the up-and-down looks, don't take the job even if offered. You'll be managed by a shallow self-centered example of the Peter Principle. Move on.

    "All people are born alike - except Republicans and Democrats" - Groucho Marx

    by GrumpyOldGeek on Sat Jul 24, 2010 at 12:47:43 PM PDT

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