Are other women the cause of the glass ceiling?

(MoneyWatch) Women want to help other women succeed. It's why we have special mentoring groups, and "Women in Business" lunches, right? Theoretically, and maybe on a conceptual level. But, studies suggest that women don't like to compete with women who are younger and prettier than they are.

But who is making the hiring decisions? Actual hiring decisions are made by front line managers, who are usually a pretty good mix of males and females. But, who decides what resumes actually make it to the managers? That's where HR and recruiters come into the mix.

When researchers sent a pretty woman (defined as a woman with "low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts") wearing a short skirt and low cut blouse into a room with other women, the results were pretty awful. The women reacted with, what the researchers described as, hostility. The attractive woman didn't say anything rude, or even try to do anything to the other women in the room, but the comments about her were overwhelmingly negative.

However, when the same pretty woman came in wearing jeans and a t-shirt and hair in a pony tail, she was ignored. It was the outfit that made the difference.

You should never wear "sexy" clothes to a job interview, but in general, women have negative reactions towards other pretty women. In fact, in one study of European and Asian hiring, where it's customary to include your picture with your resume, pretty women had to send out, on average 11 resumes to get an interview. A "plain" women? Just seven. Who sees the resumes first? In this study, 93 percent of the HR reviewers were female.

At first glance, this is simply a play out of the "dumb blonde" theory, i.e. pretty girls are stupid. But, that's not the case, as researchers asked people to rate the candidates on intelligence. There was no correlation between beauty and perceived intelligence. Therefore, the rejection couldn't have been because HR people (93 percent female) thought the pretty candidates were dumb. They just didn't want the pretty candidates.

In the U.S., it's not customary to send a picture out with your resume, but now it is customary to have a picture on your LinkedIn page. And it is customary for HR to do interviews and screening. While the hiring managers make the final decisions, they often do take HR's opinion into consideration. If the women of HR are trying to block other women from getting hired, it makes just that much more difficult to crack the glass ceiling.

Women, plain or pretty, should not wear super short skirts with low cut blouses on job interviews, the same way men should not wear pants that let their boxer shorts show. It's not professional and indicative of bigger problems with the candidate, for instance that they don't understand what is expected in a work environment. 

Unlike the above study, U.S. census data shows that women "only" make up 68 percent of the HR workforce, so it's not quite as lopsided as the above study. But, if women are biased against other women, perhaps HR should take a dose of their own medicine and work on implementing some "diversity" programs that aim to hire more men into HR positions. 

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