one of the managers who reports to me only hires conventionally attractive people

A reader writes:

I’m pretty confident one of the managers who reports to me is (consciously or not) biased towards hiring really good-looking people. He’s hired just under a dozen folks over the last year, and to a person, those hires are extremely attractive women (and one man who made an early-career switch away from literal modeling), in a way which feels way too overwhelming and consistent to be a coincidence.

Nobody who has been hired is underqualified (which would give me a much easier way to approach this); there’s also no evidence of racial bias (the team is significantly more diverse than our application pool). Everybody is pretty young, but that’s true for our industry as a whole — I don’t think we received more than half a dozen applications from people over 40 last year. The reality is we get 50+ solid applications for each spot, so it’d be pretty easy to find qualified and smart people who still fit a particular bias or agenda.

I’m pretty comfortable at managing and I’ve had to have some very awkward conversations in my time, but I just cannot figure out how to approach this without sounding, well, creepy. Honestly I kept re-writing this email because of how uncomfortable some of it felt to put on paper. I don’t want to sound like I’m thinking about the desirability of my junior employees! Even more importantly, I don’t want to come across like I doubt whether attractive young women can be professional/qualified/talented/great hires, for obvious reasons.

But in the end, it’s really noticeable, to the point that I’ve started to overhear jokes about our “CSI team” and similar (the joke being that the show CSI is known for casting absurdly beautiful people to play forensic technicians). I just can’t shake the feeling that I have a manager who’s using the hiring process to surround himself with people he might like to date, which I can’t really ignore. To be clear, I also haven’t seen any signs that this manager is behaving creepily or inappropriately towards his staff, and I’ve looked carefully; in fact, they seem to have a great team dynamic, and do really good work. I just think that he’s (perhaps subconsciously) making hiring decisions based on who he thinks would be fun to work across a table from.

Do you have any advice at all for what I can do without coming across incredibly badly? Should I just leave it alone until next time his team adds someone, at which point I’ll get more involved than usual?

Ugh, I can see why you feel awkward addressing this. “I’ve noticed your team is really good-looking” is not a thing you want to say.

At a minimum, yes, get much more involved with his next few rounds of hiring. Sit in on interviews, watch for differences in how candidates are treated or assessed, ask probing questions about his leanings on each candidate … and generally see what’s happening and if your involvement steers things differently.

Frankly, it’s always a good idea to have additional perspectives in the hiring process. That in itself can be a way to guard against all kinds of biases, and it’s something you might want to consider implementing for all the managers who report to you. (Not just having you involved, but figuring out how to include multiple voices and perspectives at various stages of the process.)

If you decide there’s value in doing that across the board, in theory you might not need to first name your concerns about bias in his process in particular. But there’s value in talking to him about it anyway. In part that’s because transparency is a good thing, but it’s also because the first step to someone combatting potential biases in themselves is understanding they might exist. If he doesn’t realize there’s anything odd about his hiring results, he’s far less likely to change what he’s doing.

And it’s okay to name what you’re seeing! I think you’re worried there’s no way to raise the topic without implying that you’ve been assessing people’s relative attractiveness, but it really is okay to say “hey, I can’t help but notice this when it’s a pattern over a dozen hires.”

So, how do you say it? I can’t think of any way to do it other than just diving in and being up-front. If I were in your shoes, I’d say it this way: “I want to talk about something that feels strange to raise. You’ve hired nearly a dozen people in the past year, nearly all women, and I can’t help but notice that each of them would be considered quite attractive by conventional standards — to the point that I’ve heard people joking about that as a defining characteristic of the team. To be clear, I have no concerns about their qualifications or talent; they all seem great at their work. But whenever there’s a pattern of any sort — by gender, race, looks, or so forth — it’s a flag to look at whether something in our hiring processes is inadvertently advantaging or disadvantaging particular demographics.” I’d pause there and let him respond (because this should be a conversation, not a speech). But at some point in the conversation, you could also point out there’s research showing conventionally attractive people are more likely to be hired, because humans often have an unconscious bias in their favor.

People tend to get defensive when they feel they’re being accused of bias, so it will be important to emphasize that we all have unconscious biases, and the only way to guard against them is to be open to acknowledging their potential existence and to purposefully build safeguards into things like hiring (such as having more than one person involved in assessing candidates, and evaluating all candidates against the same set of must-have’s).

You could also ask him about the process he uses to hire to see whether he’s just interviewing people and hiring based on gut / rapport / general positive feelings or whether he’s running a truly rigorous process (meaning exercises to see candidates’ work in action, creating a rubric of must-have’s, figuring out ways to test for those must-have’s, and assessing all candidates against that same rubric). I’m guessing you’ll find his process isn’t as rigorous as it could be, and that’s an opening for you to talk about working together to strengthen it.

The overall tone and approach you want here is the same one you’d take if you noticed any other imbalance in your hires — approach it, at least initially, with curiosity rather than blame and a determination to dig in and see where your process might be falling short. The more your initial framing is “our process is producing surprising results” rather than “you seem to be hiring people you find attractive,” the easier it’ll probably go.

{ 602 comments… read them below }

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      I wouldn’t want my frumpy, dumpy 55 year old carcass next to people people who could do modeling shoots.

      Not because I would believe the coworkers would pick on me, or be any thing but professional.

      “Here’s Mat the bridge troll. YAY DIVERSITY!”

      Bright side, I’d never be asked to be included in office photography.

      I did work in an elementary school where ALL the new teachers were media gorgeous, even the men.

      1. emmelemm*

        I absolutely relate to this. Way back in the day, I worked at a graphic design firm in NYC. At the time, I was at least young, but never have I been “gorgeous”, and even worse, I’ve never been especially polished or fashionista-y (even though NYC practically demands this).

        So this is back when email was new, and things like Dropbox weren’t around for moving large files, so one time my boss wanted me to deliver something in person to one of the big NYC advertising firms. I went into the office, sat in the waiting room, watched the model-gorgeous employees walking to and fro, and never have I ever felt more like a bridge troll.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’d just feel out of place. The rest of the team is talking about that one time they were elected prom king/queen, and I’m like “….” We’d have very few common things and experiences to talk about. Multiply that by ten if, as many of the commenters said, conventional good looks correlate with an upper-middle-class/upper-class background.

        It’s like the one time when I was visiting my son in another state across the country, and met up with a large group of women from the online community I used to be a part with, who all lived in that (affluent) location. Everyone at the table was talking about home remodeling, putting new kitchens in, putting a new pool in, and I had been paying my other son’s college bills and a terminally ill dog’s medical bills, and barely making it paycheck to paycheck for the past year. I racked my brain trying to come up with something, anything to add to that conversation, and came up with nothing. They assumed I was quiet because I was jetlagged and dozing off. I happily agreed with their version.

          1. Kate2*

            She wasn’t assuming. She couldn’t in fact relate to them and a life where someone is lucky enough to have so much extra money. I know I can’t right now.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            But I couldn’t. We might as well have grown up on different planets.

            You assume that the gorgeous people actually care whether I can relate to them or not.

          3. Mb*

            Let me reiterate, it’s this exact othering mentality that led to the abusive lw who was harassing a coworker because she was skinnier than her to the point she faced legal consequences to be the person she was.

            When you reach a point where you can’t see the relatability of someone because of their appearances not only makes you very shallow it also makes you dismissive and condescending. There’s always a room to expand relatability with someone “oh wow you were prom monarch that must have been very exciting hut also kinda nerve racking to be on stage like that. Last year I gave this big lecture I felt so nervous even though I knew my talking points”

        1. Alexandra Lynch*

          I had something like that happen at a church I went to. We were poor; I had made my food contribution from food assistance, and had donated plasma for gas money to go to church.

          Over dinner the table discussion turned to what restaurants in Copenhagen were best.

        2. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

          I understand the class issue, but I wouldn’t assume people’s life experiences just based on how attractive they are. Not every attractive person is “prom king/queen” or whatever.

          I had a weird transition where I was awkward looking/underdeveloped during most of my teens and then grew into my looks a little more as an adult. I occasionally encounter people who make all kinds of assumptions that I must have been SO popular, must love fashion, and this and that, when I was really a nerd with 1 best friend and read books all the time.

    2. RaeaSunshine*

      Right?! Oh boy Steve, we are so glad to have you! We really needed to even out that whole super-attractive team thing….

    3. JoJo*

      No kidding. Also, he will probably be inclined to hire a dozen men, I know I would. Damned if you do take women seriously.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This isn’t about taking women seriously. This is about a significant demographic imbalance that’s a flag to take a closer look on what might be happening in the hiring process. And the OP can guard against him deciding to preference men by being more heavily involved in his next few rounds of interviews, as discussed in the post.

        1. Harvey 6-3.5*

          I’m suspicious over whether this is just that these are all early 20 year olds new to the workforce or is actually a bias towards “attractiveness”. I think most young people seem “more attractive” because of their youth. I think about my daughter and her friends in this age group, and while they come in all sizes, small to extra large, they are all more attractive than most of the people my age. So is this age discrimination or “attractiveness”?

          1. Tallulah in the Sky*

            Being young is part of what is considered conventionally attractive in our society, but it’s not the only factor. Size for example is another one, so your daughter’s larger friends wouldn’t fit the bill. I can assure you that I, and many friends in my twenties, wouldn’t have made the cut (it’s not to say we were ugly, far from it, but none of us would have been considered to appear on CSI :-p).

            Also, it seems the whole company seems to mainly consist of young people, so if age was the only factor here, people wouldn’t notice the difference.

          2. Mia*

            I mean, age is certainly a factor, but as a younger woman who is about a size XL, I can say firsthand that people who place really high value on youth tend to also be pretty awful to plus size people of all ages. So there’s probably some intersection happening between the two factors, rather than it being solely one or the other.

          3. AnotherAlison*

            Youth definitely is not the only factor, but this line of thinking does give me pause about how the OP may read the team. Are there average people in the mix, but as a whole, the group skews attractive and the OP is rating the average folks more attractive than they are? Or, possibly the group is just well dressed? If you saw them at the grocery store in sweats on a Saturday, is the team still model caliber?

            1. Tallulah in the Sky*

              Like many commenters already pointed out, things like clothes, grooming, good teeth, overall style… are often strongly correlated with an affluent background. He’s still biased towards a certain demographic. Whether it’s because they all look like potential models or because they come from similar upbringings and have the means to present a certain way, it’s still bias.

              And the fact that other people in the company have noticed it to me at least makes it OK for OP to take a closer look at things.

            2. TardyTardis*

              One could point out that the newest member of the Supreme Court has a staff of extraordinarily beautiful women–highly qualified by all accounts, but there you are.

          4. Cyrus*

            I wondered the same thing, but in the end, we have OP’s word that their industry skews young, and this goes beyond that. Thinking about people under or around 30 I know, I can see a lot of people I’d describe as more attractive than average compared to the man on the street, but only one who’s anywhere near model territory and several who are definitely healthy but unfashionable or frumpy or just average at best.

            9 or 10 “really good-looking” women plus one man who nearly had a modeling career is genuinely unusual.

          5. Sondra Uppenhowzer*

            I work with a group whose jobs require a lot of travel and giving presentations. Most of them either run or do cross-fit. They are a very fit looking group of people. But there are some outliers and those of us who do not exercise are not treated any differently. Still, anyone outside of the department might get the idea that you have to be able to finish an Ironman in order to work in this department. (The ages vary, and its ~50/50 female/male)

          6. BWooster*

            “So is this age discrimination or “attractiveness”?”

            I think there’s no need for the debate over whether OP is seeing things that aren’t there, since other employees have made comments around this issue.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Hiring women for their looks is the opposite of taking them seriously.

        And I say this as someone whose new manager, at an OldJob, right after ending a successful interview with me and telling me to expect an offer soon, walked into his friend’s office, and said: “I just hired a blonde. Wait till you see her.” I didn’t find out until years ago, when none of the three of us were any longer working there. I was livid. No one wants to be objectified in the workplace (anywhere actually).

        1. Tallulah in the Sky*

          I work in IT, mainly guys (but some women too). Every time there’s a new hire, the first and second questions asked is as follows :
          – Male colleague : Where did he work before ? How many years of experience in X technology ?
          – Female colleague : What’s her age ? Is she cute ?

          (And thank you AAM, thanks to this site I know what I can say and am able to say something like “Why would you ask that ?” in the moment, I used to just freeze and have no idea how to react.)

          1. pally*

            Yep!
            The two project managers here discussed the hiring criteria for the lab tech position we needed to fill.

            One talked about the basic lab skills need while the other insisted the new hire be (1) female (2) blonde. This was backed up with “this would even out all the brunettes already working in the lab.”

            (wasn’t like he was much to write home about )

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Yeah, the best-qualified candidate out of 50 also coincidentally turned out to be the best-looking of the 50, twelve times in a row.

          2. HollyGen*

            It’s true that a random distribution does not mean even distribution, and there will be clumping toward various attributes amongst a selection.
            However, probability suggests that, all other factors begin equal, the likelihood of all successful candidates fitting the same ‘conventionally attractive’ demographic without this being a factor in their selection is slim, and so definitely worth reviewing the hiring process.
            It may be the case that, despite the low probability, it is just a massive coincidence that all recent most suitable candidates meet that demographic. Low probability doesn’t mean impossible after all…but it does mean it’s very unlikely

      3. GooseTracks*

        Yikes. This is a troubling leap. You’re not doing women a favor at your own expense by taking us seriously as professionals. No men were harmed in the writing of this letter; it’s literally just a manager being asked to evaluate their hiring process. You can put your pitchfork down.

      4. BWooster*

        “Also, he will probably be inclined to hire a dozen men, I know I would.”

        So your reaction to someone pointing out a possible bias in your hiring decisions is not to self-reflect but to in essence to throw a tantrum.

        What a strange reaction.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Not to mention, there are men on this manager’s team too. (And on CSI’s cast as well, I imagine.) And people talk about them too. Hiring beautiful men instead of beautiful women isn’t going to resolve this issue (if there’s an issue).

    4. Lyra Silvertongue*

      Kinda sounds like it might suck to be on the current team, since the rest of the company is apparently making snarky gendered remarks at their expense and nobody is doing anything about it.

  1. Schuyler Seestra*

    I wouldn’t bring it up. “Attractive” is subjective. Why is it an issue that a member of his team was a model? I think the LW needs to evaluate their own bias. The team is competent and diverse. Let it go.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s an issue because he needs to hire the best people for the job, and because only hiring attractive women is going to seriously undermine his and his team’s credibility, and because it’s gross to knowingly allow biases to play out in hiring work.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The statistical likelihood is enough reason to take a closer look, just the same as you should do if a manager were hiring all men, all white people, all 22-year-olds, all rabid fans of the manager’s obscure fandom, etc.

        2. Tallulah in the Sky*

          No, and LW themselves say they are qualified, but since a pattern has emerged, you can wonder if there were other candidates more qualified who were overlooked because of some bias. Other teams seem to find those, it’s weird enough to question why the manager in question can’t.

        3. RaeaSunshine*

          Sure, but it’s a pattern so it’s worth looking into. If this same pattern emerged, but the hiring was only of older white men – we’d want to explore it, no? Same deal. It absolutely could be a non-issue, but it also very well could be.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I once worked in a department with 3 or 4 teams headed up by VPs. One of the VPs only hired white women. I was told by someone close to this VP that this was noticed and she was instructed to diversify her team, so she hired a few women of color. She was told to try to hire a man. She did… and she forced him out within a year by treating him pretty poorly. It was also kind of curious to some of us that she had terrible relationships with her non-white team members, and the argument was that they were new so she didn’t know them as well. So she technically had a “diverse” team, but her biases influenced not only her hiring but her treatment of her staff. Every single person she hired was qualified. Some complaints were filed, and as far as I know, only one of them ever amounted to anything.

            My point is that yes, I completely agree– any noticeable pattern of “sameness” in hiring should be noted. You can have the most racially and ethnically diverse team on the planet, but if they all graduated from Harvard and Yale, you’d want to look into that too.

                1. Harvey 6-3.5*

                  That’s why I put Harvard and Columbia. And she went to Harvard, whether or not she considers herself an alum because she graduated from Columbia (still an Ivy).

                2. Jane*

                  Harvey, I think Ginsberg considers herself a graduate of Radcliffe, not Harvard, and that this is what the OP is referring to.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @Jane, I’m pretty sure Total is referring to the fact that Ginsburg started at Harvard but transferred and graduated from Columbia. Ginsburg attended Cornell for undergrad and, as far as I know, never attended Radcliffe as a student at any point in her educational history.

                  It’s true that she doesn’t consider herself a Harvard alum, but it’s also true that she attended Harvard Law for a year. Regardless, there’s an alarming lack of geographic, religious/non-religious, and post-secondary educational diversity (both undergrad and law) among SCOTUS Justices.

                  @Amy, volumes can be written about how much Thomas derides his elite education but benefitted from access to that same educational opportunity. This is basically his entire theory of why affirmative action is bad for people of color (i.e., he benefited from it, he relies on incredibly problematic arguments about the inherent “underqualification” of POC and women as a justification to eliminate AA, yet he continues to enjoy a lifetime of benefits accrued because of such policies). #complicated

              1. BWooster*

                Those law schools tend to produce the best lawyers. Is your argument that attractive people produce better employees?

                1. AntOnMyTable*

                  Do they produce the best lawyers? Or do new graduates from those schooled get picked to go to the top law firms because of bias? And thus people keep thinking they are the best.

                  Legacy students make up a large amount of students at these Ivy League schools and a large amount of legacies that apply get in. For the most part these schools are just really fantastic at propping up mediocre students and making them look good. But because they went to the right school they get the best jobs and they then continue to pick people who went to the “best schools” and the cycle continues.

        4. Schuyler Seestra*

          Agree. The LW even mentions they are all qualified for their roles. If it was a case of the manager hiring incompetent but attractive folk then yes, this would be an issue. It’s a case of him hiring competent folk who happen to be too “conventionally attractive” in the LW mind. It’s the LW opinion that there is bias. How and why do they get to determine who’s attractive and who isn’t?

          1. Herding Butterflies*

            LW isn’t determining who is attractive and who isn’t. But it is her job to make sure that her report is hiring the best people. And as an upper level manager, I do not want new hires to just be “competent”. I want STELLAR.

            If there is a bias, any bias, then he may be by-passing the best people for the job.

            1. Clisby*

              If your pay is stellar, that is perhaps a realistic expectation. If your pay is just competent, then no way you’re getting stellar (at least, not as a regular thing.)

          2. WellRed*

            Substitute almost any adjective for attractive, though. All young, all men, all white, all Harvard grads, all jocks and no one would be questioning the need to look closer at the pattern.

            1. Faith*

              So, would we still be having this conversation if the manager in question hired only conventionally unattractive people?

              1. Anonymous*

                Ha! I imagine that would be an even harder conversation, although Alison’s advice would still work.

              2. Memetic Semantics*

                I think that may be a false equivalency. Beauty standards being rather exclusive, there aren’t a million ways to fit them, but there are a million ways to not fit them. A whole team of people considered conventionally unattractive would, in my opinion, not read as homogeneous, unless they all have the same features.

                1. Myrin*

                  Exactly. I doubt a team full of unattractive-looking people would ping a lot of radars, simply because there are so many different ways to be considered unattractive.

                  (Nevermind that I think “being unattractive” is – socially speaking – much less narrowly defined than “being attractive”. I’m actually having trouble thinking of something that would be universally viewed as “unattractive” in particular – the first thing that comes to mind are really bad, crooked, yellow teeth, but I honestly think that even that is something that most people would view as “average” or “not pleasant to look at but whatever”.
                  I can’t really imagine someone saying of another division in their company “oh look, it’s The Ugly Team over there”, the way people in the OP talk about the CSI team; I’d guess most people on most teams look generally pretty average as in, not outstanding in one direction or the other.)

              3. EH*

                I think so, yes. Most folks are in the middle of the conventionally-attractive – conventionally-unattractive spectrum, consistently hiring only at one end (either end) is enough of a pattern to take a look at the hiring process.

                Ditto if someone were only hiring people with blond hair or unusually tall people or cat owners or whatever. If it’s a visible pattern, it’s good to check it out.

                Checking out the process doesn’t mean you’ll find something, of course. Weird coincidences happen. But it’s important to take a look.

              4. Lady Blerd*

                That is a false equivalence as society is biased towards conventional beauty. Let’s not pretend it doesn’t exist.

              5. Librarian of SHIELD*

                There’s no societal imbalance that gives preference to unattractive people in the same way that our society currently gives preference to attractive people. Alison mentioned in the post that there’s research indicating that conventionally attractive people are hired at a higher rate than non-conventionally attractive people.

                I even remember reading a report in college about an experiment in which a woman pretended to be having car trouble by the side of a busy street. On half of the days of the experiment, she was dressed and styled to look conventionally attractive, on the other days she was wearing ill fitting clothing, no makeup, and had messy hair. Guess which days ended up with more people stopping to help her?

                1. Darcy F*

                  Your example of that study supports the idea that “conventional attractiveness” isn’t an objective quality that people have, though. If OP means that the hires are all stylishly dressed and made up, they should say that.

                2. Zillah*

                  @Darcy – But the fact that they’re all at work is somewhat of an equalizer – while some people might dress more stylishly than others, it’s likely that most people look neat and pulled together.

                3. Darcy F*

                  @Zillah

                  The study wouldn’t be relevant to this situation then, since it’s about how someone is dressed. But I still think “neat and put together” doesn’t make a person look “CSI” and if all the employees have perfect makeup, perfect hair, dress glamorously, and generally put a lot of work into their appearance, they could look more “CSI” than identical employees who are just dressed neatly. It seems like there is a bias but it’s about presentation, not facial features.

                  To lay my cards on the table, though, I just don’t believe in objective attractiveness. I’ve had wildly different experiences re: whether people think I’m beautiful or ugly, and that makes it impossible for me to believe in it—I still have the same face no matter who I’m interacting with!

                  I think most “objective attractiveness” comes from clothes and makeup. Even CSI actors don’t look like CSI actors without makeup.

              6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                But he doesn’t. He hires 10s. A team of only 1s through 9s would not raise an eyebrow, because that’s a wide range of physical appearances.

              7. HM MM*

                Yes. Yes we would. It would be equally problematic if a woman hired only other women who appeared to be more overweight (proportion wise) than herself. Or if a guy was only hiring men who were shorter them him.

              8. billytea*

                I actually had a manager once tell me that, a couple of years before I joined the firm, he’d rejected a candidate for a position because he thought she was too attractive. His explanation was that he thought the guys in the office would be too distracted to get any work done. So apparently he was ok with discriminating in his hiring practices, and had no faith in the professionalism of the people he did hire.

                (The place has improved considerably since then. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’ve also hired more women in that time.)

              9. Sleve McDichael*

                If there was a pattern, then yes. If the manager was specifically only hiring people with really bad acne, or people with vitiligo (like myself – I don’t care if you think it’s ‘cool’ or whatever it’s not conventionally attractive), or obese people then there would be a clear pattern to be addressed.

                1. reallybigdataengineer*

                  The US is what, 75% overweight and 60% obese? (BMI is nonsense anyway, but.) Hiring all thin people is a lot more unlikely, and is going with the flow of our cultural biases against fat people.

              10. SS Express*

                While that’s obviously a false equivalency, it would still be a problem that should be addressed. There are some people who purposely avoid hiring anyone attractive because they think attractive people (usually attractive women) are a distraction to the rest of the team, or assume attractive people are not as smart or hardworking because they coast through life on their looks, or are afraid they won’t be able to resist cheating on their spouse if there’s someone young and hot around, or other gross things.

                If I thought someone was doing that I would definitely raise it because a) they wouldn’t be hiring the best people for the job and b) they would be unfairly disadvantaging certain groups (young people, women, possibly even certain cultures/ethnicities).

          3. Marmaduke*

            The jokes about the CSI crew suggest that a number of people have noticed, which suggests it’s more than just a chance selection of rather charming young people. It’s obvious enough for others to be taking note, and OP isn’t overstepping by acknowledging this.

            1. Anonymous*

              Good point – I’d be sceptical if only LW was noticing the attractiveness, but apparently there is back up.

            2. Sacred Ground*

              Yes, and it’s a clear enough pattern that not only are people outside the group noticing but the jokes would imply that this pattern isn’t just real and noticeable, it’s already damaging the team’s credibility.

          4. Sacred Ground*

            It’s not just in LW’s mind, others in the company have noticed and commented to the point it’s become a running joke outside this group.

        5. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          This is the same BS used to protect all sorts of discriminatory hiring practices, both intentional and unintentional. I’m happy to assume these people are all good at their jobs, but in a situation like this it’s almost certain that biases about appearance are at play somewhere in the hiring system. Stop jumping up and defending this kind of thing. At a minimum it’s worth a look.

        6. knead me seymour*

          A similar but less awkward issue would be if the team was composed entirely of unusually charming, outgoing people (assuming the job itself didn’t require that kind of personality). It could be a sign that the hiring manager is giving too much weight to how much he enjoys a candidate’s company, rather than really making sure they’re the best person for the job.

          1. Totally Tee*

            Yeah! AKA the “people I’d have a beer with” method of hiring. You can find competent people of all kinds, but what you’re looking for is the best possible candidate, not one that’s just okay but has that one quality you really want.

          2. J*

            Okay, so no sarcasm intended but…
            Isn’t this how hiring works? I thought all managers hired people who “fit the culture” or “jelled with the team.” I thought every manager considered personality as a factor. You don’t want to hire someone who is technically competent but has a sour or disagreeable personality, and I think we all know someone who was fired or rejected because they weren’t a “good cultural fit.” And it’s not just about hiring the drinking buddies or the good looking people. I was listening to a podcast recently (I think it was Jordan Harbinger) where the guest discussed firing a C-level administrator just because his vision for the company didn’t match the owner’s. I think it is totally reasonable to hire based on whether the employee has that intangible X-Factor that makes the team click, and I thought this was normal.
            So on one hand, you don’t want to just hire drinking buddies, and on the other hand you don’t want to hire someone who is technically competent but disrupts the team dynamic. How do you know where to draw the line between these two extremes?

            1. Emily K*

              Alison has written about this previously and I’ll see if I can find it, but essentially the difference is whether you’re hiring someone to fit the cultural backgrounds that other employees are bringing into the workplace or whether you’re hiring someone to fit the culture of the office and how work gets done. So you consider things like whether they seem like they’ll be able to handle frequent emergencies with grace, whether they will be OK as the only individual contributor doing their type of work instead of as part of a team, whether they have similar communication preferences, whether they’re going to be comfortable with submitting session proposals to represent the company at conferences because that’s a key part of how they earn new business. Those are all personality-related but directly impact work in ways that are at odds with how the company does business.

              What you don’t consider is personality-related things like “likability” (though you can certain weigh politeness/rudeness which is a related but distinct concept), or whether we “have so much in common outside of work,” or, “we just clicked and I know I’m going to love them,” or other purely personal subjective things like that.

            2. knead me seymour*

              I’m not a hiring manager, but I do think there’s a pretty clear distinction to be drawn between someone who fits into the team’s work culture, and someone who fits the same demographic or personality mold as the manager. I think you can find out about someone’s fit for the work culture by talking to them about what they liked or disliked in previous managers and teams, and by talking to their references or other contacts to find out what they were like to work with. This is all related to expectations of the position.

              On the other hand, if you just rely on some intangible internal feeling that you “clicked” during the interview, you may well end up with a team monoculture of people who have things in common with you. Which is both potentially discriminatory and liable to lead to a team of people who share a similar perspective, where you can’t benefit from hearing from people with alternate viewpoints and suggestions.

            3. Observer*

              Sure, but the reality is that very often “cultural fit” is code for something a lot less useful.

              Also, there is a difference between someone who is disagreeable and one who is not necessarily a social magnet. In many cases, if you hire for extroversion you ARE going to miss very strong people who could bring a lot to the table. Which is to say that hiring for cultural fit can be important, but it can be taken way too far.

              So, if you see a team that really could be all drinking buddies rather that “works well together”, you definitely want to be looking at the hiring dynamic. Especially when the one factor that ties them all together really is something that often does cloud people’s judgement, but does not really correlate to actual success in the job.

            4. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I think hiring for culture fit can be done to a certain extent, but you have to be very careful about what the culture is. I think you have the drinking buddies culture on one side of the scale and the sour grumpy disagreeable personality on the other side of the scale. You don’t want to go to far to either side.

              Personally the example you mentioned (depending on how differently the C-level admins view of the future was) I would have kept the admin, I think as a leader you want to surround yourself with people who have different ideas or points of view and people who will gently push back on you. Yes you don’t want someone who will fight you and say “this is how we used to do it” or to just be a “yes person” but you do want someone who will say when you mention xyz idea “we tried xyz idea a year ago and it didn’t work because of certain rules or regulations we need to follow,” or “we can’t do xyz because abc.”

              I think for the most part a team filled with people of a certain demographic is not the best idea.

              All men, women, people of a certain age (20’s/30’s/40’s etc…), tall/short people, certain region, school.

            5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I’m not a hiring manager, I just sat in on interviews and gave my feedback. On at least one occasion, I placed a candidate that I had a ton in common and would’ve had a million beers with, lower than a second candidate that I had less in common with; because I thought that the second candidate would be a better contributor to getting work done as a team than the first. Now that I think of it, all our post-interview discussions revolved around “who’ll get work done and help the team as a whole do the same”. Not “who could be our bestest buddy”.

        7. theelephantintheroom*

          If it’s a pattern that other employees are seeing and making comments about, then it’s worth addressing. And without Allison’s advice about sitting in on the next few interviews, there will be no evidence that whoever the next person he hires IS the best person for the job. Her advice is about gathering that evidence and figuring out if there actually is a problem here.

    2. The Dude*

      It’s fair to raise “I want you know to be aware that there’s a recurring CSI joke happening about you that’s a little unprofessional. I’m still thinking through how to approach it, but I want to make you aware of it and ask you to help me think through it.”

      1. Sara without an H*

        I like this. I don’t have a CSI problem here, but I can think of a couple of situations where your phrasing will be useful.

      2. RC Rascal*

        About that CSI joke….My cousin is a former Miss Nebraska contestant. She is also a forensic scientist and works in a state crime lab. Just saying….

        To my knowledge she is the only former beauty pageant contestant employed by the lab, which would separate it from the actual tv show.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Nobody is saying *one* attractive person can’t be also amazing at the things, but it is a little weird to have an *entire team* made up of only model-level attractive people.

        2. Anon for this one*

          My husband works in a highly specialized law enforcement role that requires advanced education. Everyone on his team is good looking, both male and female. I have concluded that one must have really high self-esteem to survive in this job and good looking people with those credentials tend to have the confidence to pull it off. I think it can be a bit of a chicken and the egg problem when we talk about attractiveness and success. Yes, some of it is bias for sure. Another part can be how one projects themselves.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            Sometimes it definitely happens if the requirements of the job skew towards the young and fit. It’s not universal but I think Olympic athletes, for example, are probably across the board considered more attractive than an equivalent random sample. When I was a lifeguard we were probably as a group better looking than average. But it’s unusual in an office job where working out a lot or a commitment to fashion wouldn’t typically be part of the role.

            1. Anon for this one*

              That’s a good point I didn’t even think of. His job has physical fitness requirements including a physical test to get the job AND you need to be hired before age 37. (Fun note, the government is allowed to discriminate based on age in law enforcement roles. They have mandatory retirement at 57.)

            2. emmelemm*

              And then you get into the area of Tonya Harding: somewhat less conventionally attractive than many of her skating co-horts enough that it was “noticed” and “commented on” incessantly.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I don’t like her for other reasons, but that always bugged me. Skating isn’t a cheap sport, which means it can also be really snobbish and elitist.

                It’s unfortunate that things turned out the way they did, since she was a pretty good athlete. She was the first American woman to land a triple axel in a competition and won a US national championship, and regardless of what happened later, no one can take those accomplishments away from her. But they shouldn’t have dissed her for her looks or her origins.

          2. anon*

            There’s also something to be said about correlation v causation here. People in highly specialized jobs are more likely to have highly specialized education. Highly specialized education is more expensive and more time consuming, so more wealthy people are more likely to be in that program (no time for part time jobs, had better access to high quality education during childhood). There’s also a correlation between wealth and attractiveness. More wealthy people are less likely to experience obesity, and can afford higher level skin treatments, dental care, better clothes and makeup, better hair dressers, I can go on.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              Hmm, I wouldn’t say the average team of software developers are notably better looking than the average team of janitors. Even if so, I’m not sure it would explain why this one department at the company is hiring noticeably more attractive people than the rest of the departments; presumably a majority of the roles in an office have specialized roles and education, etc.

              1. Actually*

                That’s the first generation, you need to look at their children. It doesn’t cost a lot to gain the skills and professional qualifications for Software Engineering say vs. Law or Medicine so typically I find that Engineers are the first generation in their family of white collar professional whereas Law, Medicine tend to come from wealthy backgrounds.

                Again the children benefit here for the Software Engineering case. I’m a Software Engineer, I got braces at age 32 and teeth whitening along with a few of my friends with similar backgrounds. I still can’t undo the years of poverty and teenage acne with money however I’ll make myself look as good as I can because may pay goes up. Doubly so because I’m a woman.

          3. Maxie*

            There could be bias in the hiring in his team. If physical futness and agility is required for the work, that could account for less difference in body size, but if were a manager above this, I would not assume coincidence. I understand your thoughts about confidence, but many very attractive people have very low self-esreem, especially if they have been valued primarily for their looks throughout their lives.

            1. Maxie*

              Sorry if this was unclear; it was a response to the person who referenced the spouse’s highly specialized law enforcement team.

            2. Zillah*

              I understand your thoughts about confidence, but many very attractive people have very low self-esreem, especially if they have been valued primarily for their looks throughout their lives.

              This is 100% true, but I do think that a disproportionate number of confident people are conventionally attractive – it just doesn’t necessarily work the other way around.

          4. J*

            Attractive people are playing life on easy mode without even realizing it. No wonder they are so confident.

            1. Zillah*

              Can we not, please? Many attractive people aren’t confident, and privilege can be at play without characterizing everyone who’s attractive as “playing life on easy mode.”

              For example, a conventionally attractive woman who battles with depression and was disowned when she married a woman is not on “easy mode” – she’s just on an easier mode than someone else in a similar situation who isn’t as attractive. Having one kind of privilege doesn’t cancel out the impact of lacking others – it just mitigates it.

        3. Matt*

          I always loved that my great aunt was, according to my dad, like a Miss Minnesota runner-up or similar… and then she married a guy from the Carolinas who was an over-the-road trucker, and as a result, she too became an OTR CDL driver, doing trips either with her husband, or on her own, depending on the gig. (They owned their own company with about a half dozen trucks for a long time, although I’m not sure what happened to it when they retired – I thought my dad said their kids didn’t really want to run the business.)

      3. Not Me*

        This sounds like an excellent way to put the hiring manager in a very tough position. I assume you mean adding these two sentences to Allison’s advice? Because on it’s own the CSI joke’s un-professionalism belongs to the people making the joke, not the team it’s about. Bringing the joke up to the hiring manager without the context of why it’s unprofessional will put them immediately on the defensive.

        1. The Dude*

          My original post was in reply to someone who said there was no valid reason at all.

          I think it’s valid to approach someone who is the recipient of unprofessional jokes, say that you’re aware of it and are still considering how to deal with it, and ask if they have any thoughts about it.

          I’m not sure how framing it that way would put someone on the defensive, but it’s possible I’m missing something. Could you say more?

    3. Taking The Long Way Round*

      It’s interesting, though, how many people have noticed their ‘attractiveness’.
      I think the fact that the OP mentioned one was a model was to provide evidence that, yes, they’re considered very good-looking.
      I would do as Alison suggests – get involved in the next round of hiring.

      1. JustMyImagination*

        And maybe ask and get insight into his initial resume screening to see if he’s screening in a way that benefits attractive people. With 50+ applicants per spot is bringing in 3 who have the best qualifications based solely on their resume or is he searching their names on LinkedIn or Facebook to look at their picture first?

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah it’s a perfect suggestion because you’re not saying like, fire the good looking people, warn the manager, anything like that – you’re just saying take an interest in observing the process moving forward.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      So you think the pattern, which has clearly been noted by people other than the LW, is a product of the LW’s bias rather than any action on the part of the hiring manager’s? Why would that be?

    5. Diahann Carroll*

      “Attractive” is subjective.

      It is. But if other people in the company are now commenting on it, I think it stands to reason that these people legitimately are conventionally attractive as a group, and that is odd that many of them are attractive enough that it’s instantly noticeable. I mean, I’ve personally never seen a team where that’s happened before – most teams I’ve seen have been collectively average with maybe one or two conventionally attractive people on it.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah it’s only because OP has evidence of other people noticing it that I’m willing to go with them on this. If only OP thought it, I might chalk it down to the team being all younger than OP, or HIMYM’s ‘cheerleader affect’ where a group of people all seem more attractive if a few of them are good looking. But if this is becoming an open subject of conversation (even jokingly) then its worth considering bias at play IMO.

    6. NeonFireworks*

      There is a subjective element, but not to the point at which there aren’t conventional beauty standards.

      1. Atalanta0jess*

        Right, this. Attractive is subjective, but there are standards of conventional beauty that are fairly well defined in our culture, and you can objectively determine whether someone meets those. Whether or not they are even attractive to this hiring manager, there appears to be at least a decent chance he’s hiring people with a certain set of characteristics…whether he’s reading them as competent or attractive or as having high social skills or whatever doesn’t matter a ton….because the effect is a biased hiring process.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        This. Trying to pretend that attractiveness is 100% subjective and there is absolutely no broader social standard by which certain people are generally recognized to be very easy to look at is disingenuous.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          On the other hand, it’s possible this conversation can help OP narrow in on what specifically this group all has in common to figure out what’s going on. If they all have a conventionally attractive body type (all tall and thin, all athletic build, whatever it is) that might help OP bring it up more neutrally.

          1. 1234*

            But how would OP bring that up without seeming like a creep checking out the junior staff’s bodies? “I noticed you hire mostly tall and thin women?”

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              Hmm maybe you’re right, I’m just trying to think of something more objective than the word “attractive” I guess.

    7. Tallulah in the Sky*

      If it’s to a point where other people notice and make jokes about it, it’s not just LW’s bias showing. And the fact that out of a dozen hires he only hired one man means the team lacks some diversity (and LW didn’t give any input on that, like she did with age).

      1. Kheldarson*

        It might be her own bias (yay more female hires) or it might be that she’s positing that gender diversity would go up if they address the core issue of “hiring for attractiveness”, which implies a sexual attraction (which could be why the note about age, since that’s typically another clue about hiring with the intent to date.)

      2. Zillah*

        I agree that when a male manager is hiring mostly attractive women, it needs to be flagged because there are often unhealthy gender dynamics at play (even if he isn’t trying to sleep with anyone). That said, though, it’s also possible that the specific industry tends to skew fairly heavily female – I’ve definitely been in work environments like that before.

    8. Amethystmoon*

      In some states, weight bias is not allowed in hiring decisions, and also age bias is generally protected by law, so managers do need to be careful in making hiring decisions. Even if weight bias is not a current law in the manager’s state, it may be a law in the future.

    9. Mike C.*

      Just because it’s subjective doesn’t mean that one is unable to point out certain qualities that are commonly accepted as “attractive”.

      1. Lissa*

        Totally agree. “Conventionally attractive” is not all that subjective, though it changes based on time and place, whereas “person I personally would like to sleep with” is of course much more subjective and variable.

        1. Gymmie*

          Right, also you can notice if someone is conventionally attractive without being attracted to them. I’m a hetero female and can walk around and tell you all the attractive women in a place. Same thing with men though – I can recognize them being attractive but may personally not find them that.

    10. Zona the Great*

      Agree with AAM and The Dude (His Dudeness, El Duderino…). I have seen these teams of beauties and have wondered if I’d even be given a fair chance at the job and don’t apply. Not a good look from the outside.

    11. Mia*

      Conventional standards of beauty aren’t really subjective though. Like it’s true that we as individual humans all likely find different traits attractive, but it’s pretty obvious LW is talking about folks who would fit into the traditional, Hollywood-esque standard of beauty; exclusively hiring people who fit that bill puts anyone who doesn’t at a disadvantage.

    12. Theory of Eeveelution*

      I actually agree. According to OP, this team is mostly women, more diverse overall than the rest of the company, everyone on the team is good at their job, the manager in question doesn’t display any questionable behavior, and they have a great team dynamic. I honestly don’t see the problem. If OP had left out the way the hires looked, I think everyone would be applauding this manager for his good hiring practices.

      1. ElizabethJane*

        Because the manager in question could be (subconsciously or not) biased against hiring fat people, old people, and visibly disabled/disfigured people who are equally or even more qualified to do the job. And at least two of those things could get the company into serious legal trouble.

        Hiring must be done for the best fit for the job (which does mean that a more on-paper qualified person could be passed over in the name of team dynamics) without regard to any protected class. The manager might not be doing that.

        I really respect the LW – they aren’t accusing the manager of anything horrible, they are clear to say there’s nothing creepy going on, they are just asking for feedback on how to delve deeper into a possible trend. It would be no different if they wrote in and said “I have a manager who will automatically hire anyone who wears yellow to interviews”. It might not be a problem but it is a trend and it’s worth examining further.

        1. Harvey 6-3.5*

          While fat, old, or disabled people can be model level attractive, I agree that it wouldn’t hurt to check hiring practices to make sure that biases are avoided.

      2. Mia*

        If your team is noticeably absent of fat people, visibly disabled people, or anyone older than their 20s, that’s a pretty bad blind spot and not something folks who recognize that diversity extends beyond race would applaud.

        1. RC Rascal*

          If it’s a team that does entry level work it would not be unreasonable to have all twenty-somethings.

          1. Mia*

            That doesn’t account for any of the other factors at all though. Like, the average size for American women in their 20s is a 16/18, so even if it was the norm to hire young people, people who don’t fit a very narrow mold are likely still being overlooked. And that’s not even getting into how this kind of thing impacts queer or disabled people.

        2. Zip Silver*

          That depends on where you are in the world. OP could be in a city with an active population (think beach and mountain towns like Colorado Springs or Miami), where there tend not to many overweight people compared to places like Houston.

          1. Mia*

            I live in a beach town and there are plenty of fat people here. Overweight does not equal sedentary and that line of thinking definitely doesn’t make this kind of hiring practice a-ok.

          2. Mia*

            Also, disabled people exist pretty much everywhere. Despite people not always realizing this, so do visibly queer people. I don’t think cherry picking certain groups LW’s report is excluding to excuse them is super helpful.

            1. Zip Silver*

              Interesting that you mention that. Visibly queer men tend to me visible because they put quite a bit of effort into their appearance. I’d venture to say that quite a few meet the criteria for being conventionally attractive.

              1. Mia*

                That is a massive stereotype that completely disregards queer women like myself, as well as gender nonconforming folks. What exactly are you arguing here? That some marginalized people fitting into these narrow constraints absolves LW’s report of having to reflect on their potential biases?

                1. Beanie*

                  With all due respect, though I doubt this was your intent, when you type out that it affects visibly queer people, you are implying that visibly queer people do not meet conventional standards of beauty. I have met and seen quite a few visibly queer people, men, women, and gender non-conforming who not only meet conventional beauty standards, but knocked those standards out of the park. I think that’s why your comment about people who identify as queer doesn’t have anymore impact than just general attractiveness.

                  You definitely have a point in regards to people with visible disabilities, which could impact their ability to be hired by the ops’ manager. That said, the op said that it was the most diverse team. I would go further and ask what that meant. Do they just mean by race? Do they mean by race, and sexuality, and disabilities? What specifically makes it diverse? And personally to me, the answer to that question would determine the approach to take in regards to handling this.

            2. Jossycakes*

              I also think that the people who are defending these hiring practices was also be the same ones that would defend an all-male leadership as just hiring the “most qualified”….(I am eye rolling here.)

          3. Chompers*

            As someone who lives in San Diego, which is a beach town close enough to mountain towns to take day trips, this is hilarious. There are plenty of overweight people around.

          4. Gymmie*

            This is a biased comment, to assume that people who enjoy being active and outdoors would not be overweight?

            1. Zip Silver*

              It’s not a coincidence that Hawaii, Colorado, California and Montana have the fewest obese adults per capita.

    13. Anonymous Poster*

      I’d wonder about this if OP hadn’t said the trend was noticeable to those outside the team, too. There’s more than one person observing a hiring preference.

    14. Not A Manager*

      I don’t even find “conventionally attractive” people to be very personally attractive to me. I like a quirkier look. Nonetheless, even I, with my own subjective standards of attraction, can recognize a conventionally attractive person when I see them.

      1. Batgirl*

        I agree with you: it’s not personally attractive to me, but it is very easy to recognise! If the room looks like a perfume ad, then that’s quite obvious to anyone with eyes.

    15. hbc*

      They may be competent, but there’s a question of whether they could be better and more than competent if the rockstars with pock-marked skin or coke-bottle glasses were in consideration. I’d be giving side-eye to a manager who somehow only hired people who were fans of his sports team, or had the same hobby, or had a degree in only one major when any degree would do.

      And even if the team would have the same level of performance, it really helps to avoid a perception of bias towards stuff that has no impact on performance. I mean, the team is already so unbalanced that people are commenting on it. I don’t necessarily take gossip as a call to action, but it’s certainly a sign that this isn’t just OP overthinking the situation.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Also the “great team dynamic” could be at least in part coming *from* the bias, if there’s a preference towards young people who for example eat a certain way, love fashion, spend a lot of time exercising, etc.

    16. Stitch*

      I have mixed feelings because LW mentioned the group is competent and racially diverse. Some industries tend to be a bit of an “old boys” club which could explain some hostility to a young, diverse, and mostly female. What is the makeup of your company as a whole? As yourself if that is influencing you.

      1. Lyra Silvertongue*

        Yes, great point. I feel like it is relevant that this is a group of young, diverse women, in a company that presumably is not as diverse. Surely it’s also important to tell people from other departments to cut it out with the gendered commentary on their coworker’s looks and not just to address the hiring manager.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          I guess that’s a good point, if the team is the only team in the whole company that is majority young and female, I’d be even more careful about pointing out that they are unusually good looking because it might just be that most teams aren’t made up of so many young women.

      2. Koala dreams*

        I feel the comments about the team being “attractive” could just as well be caused by sexism on the part of the commenters, and not represent the objective reality. Some people judge young women on their looks and young men on their other qualities, and that can also be an unconcious bias. If this kind of comments about the department is wide-spread enough, it can also influence the perception of the team. After all, people’s preconceptions often influences people’s judgement. If you expect a team of models, you’ll see a team of models.

        I do think the suggestion to observe the hiring process, not just for this particular team, but also for the other teams, is good. Maybe you’ll find that the hiring for this particular team is biased, and maybe you’ll find that it’s the hiring for the other teams that is biased. Also, it might be worth looking into how the entire recruitment process works, if the hires on the “model” team are more diverse compared to the applicant pool.

        The whole thread makes me think about the trend of teachers in the 90s who took stop watches to class to check if the girl students or the boy students spoke more during class. Many were surprised by the results, since they didn’t match the teachers’ gut feelings.

      3. Zillah*

        This is a really good point, yeah, and I think that the OP should probably acknowledge that if they talk to the manager.

    17. Liane*

      “Why is it an issue that a member of his team was a model?”
      The issue is that **Multiple people in the company are now viewing this team as the Eye Candy Department** (regardless of the genders). This isn’t what anyone should want their team best known for. Seriously, if you were up for a promotion/transfer would you want the decision makers thinking something like, “Let’s pass on Poe Dameron for Project Aurebesh. Sure his reviews are great, but all you have to do to excel in his current role is look like the star of a blockbuster”?

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Yes, but to what extent is that on the commenters? They seem to be the ones making it all about looks.

      2. J*

        It sounds like this is one of those times when the APPEARANCE of misconduct might be enough to warrant a change in behavior, even if no misconduct is actually occurring.

    18. ...*

      Strongly agree! She says herself all the people are competent, they work well together, and that they’re more than qualified for the position! Also that she has seen no evidence of creepy behavior whatsoever. So people shouldn’t get hired because they’re pretty? That hardly seems right!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Flip that to “people shouldn’t get rejected because they’re not pretty” (or disabled/overweight/older) and you might see the problem more clearly.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Nobody’s saying pretty people shouldn’t have jobs. But what are the odds that in this many back to back job recruitments, the best possible candidate was someone who could be mistaken for a model or TV star? It’s happened often enough that it really doesn’t seem like a coincidence at this point.

      3. CmdrShepard4ever*

        To try an quantify the issue. Lets say a manufacturing job requires people to produce 20 widgets an hour, and everyone in this department of conventionally attractive people can produce 30 widgets an hour. They are all therefore sufficiently qualified for the position, they can meet and exceed the requirements. But there is the possibility that because of the bias the hiring manager passed up on 3 candidates that were not as conventionally attractive but could each produce 40/45 widgets an hour. Again the attractive candidates meet and exceed the requirements, but there were other people who were better qualified. In a real world example it won’t be as straight forward to show if someone else is better qualified, but that does not mean it should not be looked into.

    19. NW Mossy*

      One of the other risks with this is that conventional attractiveness is often strongly correlated with an affluent background, which can also narrow the functional diversity of a group.

      As an example, in the US, the appearance of your teeth is a key part of attractiveness – they’re expected to be white, straight, and even. Braces aren’t cheap, but it’s pretty much standard for upper middle class parents with dental insurance to provide them for their children. Most people don’t consciously think “wow, this person’s teeth are terrible and I won’t hire them because of it,” but it’s become such a cultural expectation that we lose sight of the ways where it’s hard when you don’t meet that bar.

    20. remizidae*

      He’s also potentially not giving male applicants a fair shot. Out of a dozen hires, only one was a man?

    21. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, at least they’re racially diverse and there’s a guy there as well, so it’s unlikely that he’s creeping. After all, you don’t hire a hot guy if you want your pick of the women. At the end of the day no one’s as good at evaluating potential employees as they think they are, and if comments on prior posts are to be believed, half of the people are hiring based on tarot or I-Ching or something, so I just can’t be bothered.

  2. Myrin*

    What an interesting letter! I don’t have any advice beyond Alison’s but I want to commend OP for the straightforward yet tactful way she’s presented herself here, and I’ll be following the discussion in the comments with interest.

    1. Quinalla*

      Agreed, this is a hard one, but I think Alison’s advice is spot on. Good luck with this OP, unconscious bias is such a hard one which this very likely is!

    1. Mike C.*

      I don’t think there’s a need to have a rigorous definition of “attractive “ to be able to discuss it.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      We don’t need to define it, though. The OP has noticed the pattern, and others in the organization have noticed the pattern, and that’s enough information to start addressing the issue. Going down the path of “but what exactly is conventionally attractive?” risks distracting from the actual concern, which is that this person has demonstrated a bias in their hiring.

      1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

        I didn’t suggest ‘we’ needed to define it in order to discuss it. I was merely commenting, because the OP and her colleagues clearly DO have a definition, that I probably could not describe ‘conventionally attractive’…

        1. boo bot*

          I think the OP’s colleagues have defined it as, “someone who wouldn’t look out of place on the CSI forensics team,” which is actually a pretty functional definition for the purposes of discussion.

          That joke also suggests to me that they’re not just talking about women who happened to be born with above-average facial symmetry; comparing them to TV-pretty people sounds like they also have a polished make-up and hair look – and I’m pretty sure hiring on that basis can be gender discrimination, when it’s not a bone fide occupational requirement, meaning that the OP really does have to take this seriously.

        2. Alicia*

          They’re also likely to be tall, thin and dressed in current mainstream fashion, not vintage, goth, punk or other subcultures.

          1. Mb*

            You must live in a very boring place if “goth” and “vintage” as unattractive. Taylor Swift is currently swinging back and forth between vintage beauty and tough goth

            1. Alicia*

              I didn’t say they’re unattractive! I was saying the type of person who only likes models wouldn’t like these expressions of individuality and creativity.

              1. Mb*

                Except model-type looking celebrities, who are socially viewed as extremely attractive, do go through goth and vintage phases. And considering that their image is heavily vetted by a marketing team, there is still quiet a majority portion of the population who buys into goth and vintage as “attractive”

    3. Mid*

      Regardless, it’s clearly something because it’s been noticed and commented on around the company. Which means there is some sort of (probably unintentional) bias at play, which means it needs to be resolved.

    4. Amber Rose*

      How so? Conventionally attractive is what actors, models and other famous people tend to be: skinny with nice boobs for girls and slender but muscled for guys, nicely groomed hair, symmetrical features, makeup for girls, clean shaven for guys, nice teeth.

      Not what everyone finds attractive, but what the average societal standard for beauty is (in NA anyway).

      1. RaeaSunshine*

        Yup. I understand it’s a topic that makes people uncomfortable, but I don’t understand the benefit of pretending this conventional societal definition of attractiveness doesn’t exist or they are unable to perceive it. I call BS.

        And I say this as someone who is not personally attracted to ‘conventional beauty’. Still able to notice it!

        1. Long term plans*

          +1

          Perhaps you have been secluded your entire life with no TV or internet? I’m pretty sure psychologists have done studies that showed young children even rated conventionally attractive adults as more trustworthy or something. A definition exists and almost anyone born and raised in the US can perceive it.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yep. “Conventional beauty” has been studied enough to not actually be that subjective. You may or may not be attracted to that type of person, but I think we all know the standards of “conventional beauty” – symmetrical features of a certain size, etc.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I wonder if face blindness would correlate to not being able to perceive facial symmetry? Trying to think of a state where you would really not be able to perceive if someone fit your society’s standard for physical attractiveness.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I wouldn’t think so. The piece that’s missing is the ability to remember that you’ve seen that face before, and attach an identity to it.

              (I don’t have face blindness per se, but there are people who, for some reason, do not imprint on me. One of them was Mr. S’s boss’s wife at one time. If you’d asked me to describe her, I’d say she’s a reasonably attractive woman in her 30s with long dark hair. But I couldn’t pick her out of a lineup if you held a gun to my head. I imagine this is what face blindness is like.)

            2. Arts Akimbo*

              In my experience, my (partial) face blindness is more often triggered by facial symmetry. I have a harder time telling symmetrical people apart. Whereas if someone has an interesting, unconventional feature, I am more likely to be able to tell, “Oh, that’s Bob.”

        3. Meredith M.*

          Totally agree. I think a lot of people are being willfully obtuse on this topic. We’re inundated with images of attractive people everyday – in movies and on TV, in ads and commercials – so to feign ignorance on what “conventionally attractive” means feels disingenuous.

        4. emmelemm*

          Same. It is not difficult to look at someone and say, “My, that is an objectively handsome man.” Whether or not I personally am attracted to them is irrelevant. Often I’m not, but I can still recognize it!

    5. Mia*

      I’d define it as thin, young people with symmetrical faces and no visible flaws like wrinkles or acne, etc. For women, it also usually means no errant facial hair and having curves, but not too many.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’m willing to bet that almost everyone here can imagine pretty accurately what the team OP talks about looks like.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I had the experience once of starting a new job and noticing on my first day there that the office was full of beautiful people. You just know it when you see it. Or at least I did, because that was such an unusual experience for me. I know OP says their field trends young, but for me, the fact that, at 39, I was (not counting the executive team, who were all men in their 60s) one of the oldest people in the office by at least ten years, really got my attention. In my case, the situation balanced itself out once the company started growing, and hiring new managers, who were in turn hiring new people with complete disregard to their looks /s. But the first few months at that place were awkward.

    7. Person from the Resume*

      It is a bit of you know it when you see it, because it’s somewhat hard to concretely define what humans find conventionally attractive, but it’s not impossible. Even/symmetrical feature, smooth clear skin, white, straight teeth, thin/fit (not overweight), tall, etc. With women, it’s also a way of doing makeup, hair, nails and dressing that is “put together” and not messy.

      I’m a queer woman not attracted to traditionally femme woman and definitely not attracted to women who look like models. Even I notice conventionally attractive women because I grew up in the USA and you can’t escape the constant media bombardment that women who look like that are beautiful.

      1. RaeaSunshine*

        Yup, but *after* she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down from a ponytail, magically becoming a *beautiful woman*

        1. ElizabethJane*

          Oh for sure. She has to start out with frizzy hair, glasses, and no makeup and then get invited to a fancy party where she is transformed and apparently flattered that nobody recognizes her.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          No, it’s not. It’s like saying someone else might also be qualified for the job, but may have been rejected because they weren’t blonde and pretty.

        2. Tallulah in the Sky*

          That’s not the issue here, no one says attractive people can’t be smart or competenet. What’s happening here gives of “Only blonde pretty people are qualified for the job” vibes.

          1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            I don’t think the blonde part fits – the OP writes that: “there’s also no evidence of racial bias (the team is significantly more diverse than our application pool).”

        3. Mia*

          No, it’s like saying consecutively hiring 12 people who all resemble supermodels is a pattern that might indicate some unc

        4. Lissa*

          All the people arguing this are I think missing what the problem is. If the issue were substituting a characteristic like race or gender it wouldn’t be reasonable to say “it’s like saying 10 white men can’t be qualified for the job!” The LW isn’t saying these people aren’t qualified, but that it’s a hiring bias.

    8. WellRed*

      There’s been studies on this, though. There are certain general features, for example, regarding things like facial symmetry

    9. ampersand*

      If you do a Google image search for “attractive woman,” I think the results you get are what is considered conventionally attractive. My therapist pointed out to me recently that if you likewise just search for “woman,” the image results are overwhelmingly conventionally attractive (and white) women. :-/

    10. Batgirl*

      Like you wandered into a casting call and everyone looks very same-y. Tall, thin, young, large eyes, good skin, regular symmetrical features and carefully groomed hair/makeup.
      I appreciate that some people don’t give a lot of thought to looks but there are whole industries devoted to looking conventially attractive and these things arent secrets.

    11. whingedrinking*

      Okay, here’s a few elements of what are generally considered conventionally attractive in both men and women: above average height; slender, athletic build, but without being extremely thin, gawky, or very heavily muscled; defined cheekbones, chin and jaw; straight, not overly prominent nose; large eyes, of a distinctive colour, with long eyelashes; full lips; smooth skin; thick, shiny hair; overall conformity to gender roles; conventional styling of clothes, accessories and other body decorations (eg, not a lot of piercings and tattoos, natural hair colour, etc.)
      As many commenters have pointed out, this doesn’t mean that only people who fit this description are attractive. But it’s disingenuous to pretend that, when someone says, “She looks like a movie star” or “he could be a model” your immediate mental image is of a short, fat, bald, tattooed androgyne.

  3. Observer*

    Thanks for noticing and trying to take this on! This is not an easy one at all.

    It might be helpful to acknowledge that you see and appreciate the other aspects of diversity on his team. This is not a matter of using a compliment sandwich approach, which I think would be a mistake here. It’s more that this actually helps to highlight the problem, but in a way that minimizes the defensiveness because you are not labeling him a bigot – in fact you know that he’s not a bigot so to the extent that he is doing a thing that could be seen that way or that is effectively that way, it’s clearly not intentional. (Even if it it, as a starting point, you are likely to get much further with the approach.)

    1. mf*

      This is really an important point. Besides the fact that this manager keeps hiring attractive women, he otherwise seems to be really good at hiring: his team is diverse, talented, and they have a good group dynamic. So that’s a good starting point for the OP to point out and say, “I’ve noticed that you’re great at hiring talent but I’ve noticed this one odd pattern that I’d like to discuss.”

      1. KimberlyR*

        You have to be careful with “great group dynamic” because you don’t want that to equal “clique”. If OP’s report hires someone outside of the conventional standards of beauty approach due to OP’s involvement in the hiring, OP needs to also make sure the team works on integrating that new hire. Otherwise, especially if it turns out that the team is all similar in interests and personality, the new hire may not fit in or be part of that “great group dynamic” because the new hire is outwardly different from the team.

    2. Batgirl*

      Yeah I know a very clever, socially just person (in other respects) who I could see doing this. She will watch any nonsense on telly if there’s pretty people in it, of any gender, and she gives people mental makeovers if they look at all unpolished. Her collection of exes look like they belong to the same boy band and she admits quite freely to attractive people dazzling her a bit too much and she really fears getting old. She does make an effort to not impose her aesthetic preferences; you have to be aware of it first though.

  4. Important Moi*

    Curious to see how the comments will go. I stopped working with someone when I realized they considered me their professional DUFF.

      1. NeonFireworks*

        Usually stands for something like ‘designated ugly fat friend’. I don’t know if Kody Keplinger’s novel ‘The DUFF’ coined the term, but it did help popularize it.

    1. RaeaSunshine*

      Oh heck no. That is not a hurdle I’m equipped to handle in the professional realm. I thought middle school was over!

      Good for you for being a strong self-advocate!

      1. Important Moi*

        It was uncomfortable. The person treating me that way had a reputation of being “really nice.” As you know nice people don’t do mean things. People were uncomfortable admitting that they could be friends with and like somebody who could do such a mean thing. It was in many ways about them and not about me.

        I’m still reading the comments. They have been pretty much what I expected thus far.

    2. annakarina1*

      As a teen/early twenties, I both quit friendships with girls who I realized were patronizing to me, and clearly liked having me around only because I wasn’t competition for guys they liked (who I found bland and boring) and that they were more girly/conventionally attractive than me while I was more average. I figured out that I was the DUFF (minus being fat) and did a slow fade on them because I didn’t want friends who only wanted me around so they could look better in comparison and make fun of my looks in a “aww, isn’t it cute that you don’t wear makeup and have dry hair” kind of way.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Right. I’ve never seen this before, and the CSI joke made me think this wasn’t an entertainment or fashion related industry where that kind of “casting” so to speak would make sense.

      1. The Dude*

        The one curveball I could imagine is that I’ve worked in IT my whole career, and I could see a team of conventionally average looking people being considered the CSI team.

        “Woah, why is Bob hiring only people who wear pants and shirts that aren’t two sizes too big?”

        1. Amber Rose*

          I don’t know why the idea of conventionally average makes me giggle, but it does.

          It’s sort of like how Canada got some lulz for having a hot Prime Minister, but it’s only because he’s younger and a little more fit than male heads of state tend to be. He’s actually not that good looking, he’s just in a pool of people not known for their physical attractiveness.

          1. Quill*

            Even looking at actors… an “attractive” male actor is pretty much just a reasonably fit dude with good hygeine and someone making sure he has style. An “average” actress is ridiculously attractive BEFORE makeup and costuming.

            1. Eukomos*

              I don’t think that’s as true these days. The guys in the Marvel movies, for example, are ludicrously buff, mostly very tall, and would turn heads even in sweatsuits and uncombed hair with no makeup. Frankly ever since the 60s when movies started hiring body builders as leading men the attractiveness standards for actors have been creeping up towards the ridiculous levels that actresses have always been held to.

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            Wait, no, I’m sorry, even with his missteps, Justin Trudeau is hot, in a ‘Matthew McConaghy meets Alan Alda’ kinda hot.

            I might have had a crush on Alan Alda (as Hawkeye Pierce) since I was six, and be biased about how hot that is, but still…

            1. Autumnheart*

              +1. Trudeau is A-list male celebrity hot. Although to me, he looks more like Tom Cruise mixed with someone else.

          3. AnotherAlison*

            Yeah, similar thinking here. What if they’re mostly average, but perhaps well-dressed, and the couple of truly gorgeous people skew the perception of the group?

            1. The Dude*

              One of the most important life lessons I learned as an adult is that you can get 80% of the way toward being really hot just by wearing clothes that fit well in flattering, neutral colors.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                Yup! I’m not remotely conventionally attractive (my face isn’t symmetrical, my nose is too wide, and my skin is damaged by acne scars), but I do a pretty (light) makeup look for work, my hair is freshly done every two to four weeks, and my wardrobe is high-end (think Manolos, Jimmy Choo, Prada, Balenciaga, etc.) – I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me at work over the years and told me how pretty or beautiful I am. I laugh because they would not say that if they saw me out of my work getups.

        2. hbc*

          Even then, it’d be worth a look at whether Bob’s hiring for the right reason. Everyone else has awesome candidates who fit the actual nerd stereotype, and Bob is coincidentally only getting the Hollywood version of a nerd (i.e.: one feature that would keep them out of modeling and bad hair)?

        3. Diahann Carroll*

          Lol I love “conventionally average,” and now that you mention it, I can see that being a thing happening here (though with the lone male employee being a former model, maybe not).

        4. RaeaSunshine*

          Oh gosh, you’re so right – this could definitely happen.

          Reminds me of how there was always the “hot” male teacher in every grade/school that all the girls would fawn over. Never actually attractive, just young-ish and not horrible looking. But compared to all the other teachers – whew! Hot stuff! lol

      2. Important Moi*

        Though I think people will come out of the woodwork to disagree with me, I found pharmaceutical representative who visit doctors to sell their wares tend to be attractive…. Waiting for the people to tell me attractiveness is subjective, etc.

        1. OhNo*

          I think sales jobs in general (especially sales that involve in-person meetings) tend to put a higher emphasis on presentation and looks. Personally, I’ve noticed trends in that direction when visiting car dealerships – the mechanics run the gamut on appearance, but the salespeople are always on the more attractive end of the scale.

          1. QuinleyThorne*

            That was my first thought reading this letter, I immediately wondered if these were sales reps. I used to work in the private sector for a company that owned a bunch of physical therapy clinics, and everyone in the sales division was attractive in some way that was immediately apparent. They also all had kinesiology degrees, or were former college athletes, or both. The sales division was also the most ethnically diverse division.

            Though now that I think about it, in hindsight it kind of seems like that diversity–while an ostensibly good thing–seems like it was less motivated by a sincere effort on the company’s part, and more catering to the various demographics within the markets the reps worked in (this company has hundreds of clinics across the country).

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          Pharmaceutical reps are a field where they *are* hired in part for their attractiveness. I have a friend in this field and she says they hire a disproportionate number of former cheerleaders and other image-based professionals. People tend to buy more stuff from attractive people.

    2. Seen it before*

      When I worked in banking I saw something similar. One of our upper level managers (one step from the C level) seemed to only hire conventionally beautiful brunette women to his team. They all dressed very similar, makeup was similar, and they all had a very similar body type. People were very aware of it to the point that some would self select out of applying for anything in his division b/c they didn’t look like the team.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Wow. What division were they in? I could see if they were a team that did a lot of client-facing work, the hiring manager wanting to put well put together people in front of said clients (especially if it was something like wealth management where you’re handling millions of dollars for very rich people). But if it’s like the internal audit team? That’s a little weird.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Eh, for me, I can kind of see it. If you’re handling a very wealthy client’s book of business/investments/etc., giving them a bank contact that looks like they too have money makes sense – it makes the client comfortable and gives them the impression, right or wrong, that the bank is trustworthy. Surely, this man in his bespoke Italian suit with his Don Draper hairdo isn’t going to embezzle our funds or otherwise mismanage our money. I’m not saying it’s right, but there are certain industries and certain departments within particular industries where an employee’s personal presentation does matter, and the more aesthetically appealing that person is, the more business they get.

        1. Kiwiii*

          I would think that a team of identically dressed brunette women would be more confusing to clients, not less.

          1. Sandan Librarian*

            I once worked somewhere where everyone on staff except the director was a woman with long brown hair (even the student workers). Granted, there were some differences in age, height, and weight, but it actually did create some difficulties when patrons came in and said they’d spoken to a brunette with long hair, but they couldn’t remember the name.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Since librarianship is skewed so heavily white and female, I’ve never worked anywhere that didn’t have a problem like this.

              “I need to speak to the blonde librarian with the glasses.”
              “You’ll need to be more specific, we’ve got three of those.”

          2. Zephy*

            I’ve had multiple jobs where I was on a team of 6-12 people and only ~2 of them are men. Inevitably, at some point, a client will say that “the lady” told them such-and-such, or they want to meet with “the lady” again. So we’d start a verbal flow-chart to figure out who spoke to them, because documentation was none of our strong suits. Okay, which lady? Younger or older? Taller or shorter? Glasses or no glasses? Light hair or dark hair? Okay, that was Zephy…

            (This kind of BS was what finally pushed management into getting us business cards at one OldJob.)

        2. Seen it before*

          Diahann Carroll, it was internal. He was over a lot of the background operations (like separate things such as deposit ops and audit all trickled up to him) But any position that opened up that was a higher up role that would be based on the same floor as him, sort of his right hand people, all the brunette women.

      2. mf*

        This is a great example of why it’s important to not hire just one kind of person. This executive probably missed out on a lot of talent because candidates didn’t think they’d fit in.

      3. Millennial Lizard Person*

        +1 thank you for sharing this, as it shows the real effects this kind of team-building can have

      4. Elise*

        Great point, I was thinking along the same lines. If everyone at the company notices that you have to be “CSI” attractive to work on a team, they may opt out of applying for openings on that team. It could become a self-fulfilling prophecy that way.

        In my organization, you are required to have people from other units on your hiring panels to be sure that interviews are met with a diversity of thought. I appreciate the perspective, and I think it might help keep this one manager’s biases in check if others on the team thought a different candidate was the best.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      What is the industry where no one over age 40 is applying to work at; that does not have to do with heavy physical labor and lifting weights all day? Curiosity is killing me here!

        1. Witchy Human*

          Ha, I immediately thought of pharmaceutical sales. Doctors joke about how pharmaceutical reps are almost always attractive women.

      1. RaeaSunshine*

        This is the part that intrigues me! I work in the CPG industry and have been in several different sub-industries including heavily male dominated brands, and heavily female dominated brands. Even at the brands that were most age-conscious (cosmetics, skincare, fashion, influencer merch) had people of all-ish ages. I did notice a dip after ~50, but not 40.

      2. Kiwiii*

        our client-facing helpdesk team for a social services related website is mostly young women because it’s an easy, low-level (so, mostly young people) transition from social services related work (heavily women) to more technical roles. I wouldn’t call us all conventionally attractive, though.

      3. Venus*

        It may not be only about the industry – if the group is hiring people with limited experience then they are going to have a lot of young people.

    1. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

      I applied/interviewed for a job there while in high school and got turned away. I still side eye that place 12 years later.

  5. Quill*

    Honestly I would approach it from a different angle – not that he’s going out of his way to hire pretty people, but that his application process might be biased /against/ people who are overweight, older than these last dozen hires, etc. (In theory I’d also look at the connotations of people’s tooth evenness, makeup use, any sort of physical irregularity like a birthmark, etc, but those are far less likely to be provable as a pattern.)

    Twice is coincidence, twelve times isn’t.

    1. Mid*

      This is a good point.

      Is the process eliminating people who are disabled, older, parents, have different hobbies than the manager, etc? Do they all have a similar background (eg went to the same high school or a select group of colleges)? If so, how can that be addressed?

      It’s well known that people tend to be biased towards people with similar backgrounds to themselves. So that might be something worth looking into.

      Also, racial diversity isn’t the only kind of diversity, and having a team that consists of only mid-20s model-esque people isn’t really a diverse team, even if they are from different races.

      1. Quill*

        It does seem like it’s some intersection of weight, physical ability, and socioeconomic status that’s going on here, but I think the easiest things to prove would be weight and age – unfortunately visible or disclosed physical disability is often discriminated against in the job description process, rather than at interview / offer. (Think: must be able to stand 8 hrs for a role that could easily be done sitting down, must be able to lift 50 pounds in a role that really should not require that.)

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          But if the industry / role skews young, age is harder to assess. Weight is the most visible, and… wow would it be hard to be that next hire, if you’re even 20% heavier than the rest of the team. So much potential phobia / pressure.

          1. Anon Here*

            If they decide this IS an issue, they should hire the next few people as a group. Three people who are not hired to be attractive, and promote whomever is qualified to replace the manager (who I assume would be reassigned or let go).

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              I would not assume that. *If* the manager did say ‘it’s because I want to date them’, then yeah, but if it’s ‘they seemed like a good fit’, then no, this doesn’t rise to the level of firing. The group is racially / gender diverse, age is not diverse in the industry, he’s not visibly violating any protected classes. If the manager is willing to look at his process, make changes, and treat new hires as well as he does existing team, then there’s no reason for firing.

              We *all* have biases. It’s how we deal with them that matters.

            2. Zillah*

              Wait, what?? That’s not addressing the problem appropriately, either.

              Something can be a problem without being a firing offense, particularly when we’re talking about something that’s very prone to unconscious bias. Even if the manager was behaving extremely inappropriately and needed to be fired, there are twelve people who the OP said are good performers – removing them from contention for a managerial position because of something their former manager did rather than evaluating them on their merits isn’t okay.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          must be able to lift 50 pounds in a role that really should not require that.

          Holy cow, there was a job ad floating around my area 10 or so years ago that started with this exact line (naming this exact weight even), for a software developer position! By “floating”, I mean I was sent this ad several times by several different recruiters over a couple of years. It was in my city where I live, so less than five miles from my home, and I never felt good about applying, because that first like sounded shady. My field being what it is, I thought they wanted to filter out the women, but I could lift 50 pounds at that time (I just didn’t want to). But you’re right, looks like it went deeper than that! Wow!

          1. Quill*

            My first female boss clued me into this. Note that this was a woman who probably weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. And a job where you might actually have to be able to carry stuff (not 50 pounds of it, though!) in from the warehouse.

            “Just apply,” she said, “When people realize the paint bucket is half your size they’ll either help, or let you decant it into a smaller bucket.”

            But yeah, it’s going to disproportionately filter out smaller women, and anyone with any physical disability…

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yep. And in fact, the kind of diversity going on caught my eye too. One of the things no one likes to talk about is how a lot of the elements of conventional attractiveness map to affluence. Socioeconomic diversity is also diversity.

        EG:
        – Growing up in a comfortable or well-off family = good dental care = much more likely to have even, good-looking teeth
        – Can afford tailored clothing & good hair care = more capability to look very polished & put together
        – Lean, toned physique = likelihood they can afford time & money for gym membership

        Obviously, like everything when it comes to humans, it’s not a perfect circle on a Venn diagram, but the correlation is not insignificant, either.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          Yes, and it’s self-perpetuating. Because people who meet those standards of attractiveness are more likely to get higher paying jobs, which allow them to maintain their beauty standards and give them access to further higher paying jobs.

          People who don’t meet those standards are likely to be in lower-paying jobs, which means they have less money available for skin care and dental care and so on, and the jobs tend to lead to other low-paying jobs, and the cycle continues.

          It’s not impossible, of course, and there are exceptions in both directions. But generally speaking, this tends to be the way things go in our society.

        2. knead me seymour*

          I think the beauty standards of the day usually map to health and socioeconomic status, don’t they? Tanning is an interesting example–it used to be a sign of poverty to be out in the sun all day, until it became a sign that you could afford expensive beach vacations. Now I feel like it’s swinging around to a sign that you can’t afford expensive sunscreen.

          1. Zip Silver*

            It’s really noticable living in Florida. Upper middle class Retirees tend to be significantly more tan (we’re taking put-together people, pricey haircut, expensive clothes, etc) than upper middle class Millennials and Gen Xers. The folks who are extremely tan in younger generations tend to be tradesmen. Hell, I surf as a hobby and I’m not particularly tan, I just put on sunscreen.

            1. Lissa*

              Ooh that is a really interesting point. I think as it swings around, there’s also a type of look associated with “trashy”, the fake tanner look – attractive but not classy maybe, goes along with things like big blonde hair (or certain types of makeup looks) which swung around to being a mocked look and started being considered a less affluent look. Weird.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Yeah, the type of diversity the OP describes is the type of diversity you expect to see on a CW show. They’ve got hot people to check off all the boxes on the “race” portion of the demographic survey, but they may not have any other meaningful level of diversity.

    2. Sara without an H*

      True, there’s more than one kind of diversity. While the OP says that their industry hiring pool skews young, that still leaves a lot of human variety that this manager is (apparently) screening out.

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Well said!

      And responding to what Quill said, it’s not about “proving” anything. It’s about checking our own biases and trying to do better.

    4. Chili*

      I think this is a better approach too. I feel like calling him out for only hiring attractive people runs the risk of a tangent about who on the team is not as attractive as the rest. “Chili isn’t that attractive! She’s a Brookstone catalog model at best.” The people who were hired are hired and doing well, so I think any debate about their current level of attractiveness won’t help much. I would just make sure this manager has more oversight in the future and that somebody brings up ways to make the hiring process less biased.

  6. LBAI*

    There was definitely a department like this at my company. And, turns out, the reason the male manager was hiring attractive females was that he eventually went on to date at least 2 of them. All of this was an open secret, and it was completely demoralizing to everyone in the broader department. Turns out, the females ended up leaving the company for various reasons and various times, and the male manager ended up getting promoted several job grades and moved to the corporate office. Sigh.

    1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      I knew a manager who had a clear bias for young, pretty women, both as hirees and the folks at work he hung out with. A married guy, he was caught in flagrante delicto with one of the latter.

      1. Roller*

        There was a manager in my last job who only hired thin young blonde women in their early twenties. He was a running joke in the company, it really hurt his credibility.

    2. knead me seymour*

      I used to work for a small company where the owner was totally open about the fact that he would only hire young women under twenty who he considered sufficiently attractive and who didn’t smoke. None of this had any bearing on the job, of course. He also liked to have his employees do things like shine his shoes, make his lunch, do his ironing and mend his shirts. Good times.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Imagine meeting his ridiculous criteria and getting the job, only to be handed a shirt to mend or a bunch of clothes to be ironed! Looks like the older, less attractive candidates were better off.

  7. Person from the Resume*

    I just can’t shake the feeling that I have a manager who’s using the hiring process to surround himself with people he might like to date, which I can’t really ignore.

    I’d not go there (even if the demographics skew female and this manger is a hetero male) because you’ve seen no sign of this. Focus on unconscious bias for attractive people and how that is often falsely correlated to them being more skilled or intelligent.

  8. Zap R.*

    I’ve always suspected that looking like a chesty Mrs. Potato Head was holding me back in my career. Now I know it might be true!

    1. Quill*

      Going to have to double down on the makeup application, make sure nobody notices that I’m actually just a cardigan full of honeybees.

      1. Platypus Enthusiast*

        I’m going to add an extra layer of concealer to cover up the dark circles under my eyes so nobody suspects that a raccoon has infiltrated the team, can’t blow my cover now.

      2. A tester, not a developer*

        Are raccoons conventionally attractive? ‘Cause I’m just 3 fat raccoons in a trench coat.

        1. University Minion*

          Uh… I’m pretty sure two ducks in a person suit has been covered on this site already.
          Quack.

            1. Weyrwoman*

              Bless you both for the giggle fit I just had at my desk. It’s been ages since I’ve seen that letter mentioned!

  9. LibrarianOnCampus*

    There is a woman in another department at my workplace who only ever hires female (usually blonde) student employees. I’ve been here a while and I’ve never seen her hire a male student, an international student, etc. I’m not the only one who has noticed either.
    It’s tricky, because like the letter writer points out, it is most likely a case of unconscious bias that the interviewer might not be aware of. However, the more similar people he hires, the harder it is to stop because the more ingrained is the idea of ‘this is what kind of people work here’ in his subconscious. Everyone has unconscious bias issues, which is why we need to be aware of them and put structures in place to mitigate them.
    I have no idea what the dynamics of the workplace are, like how often people are hired, what level of positions these are, how lengthy the hiring process is, etc. However, what I would recommend would be figuring out ways to make the hiring process better and try that first. Maybe some training for all managers on hiring and interviewing best practices, including information about unconscious bias. Also, consider using a hiring committee of 3 people, rather than having just one person conduct the interview. Like Allison pointed out, make sure you also have structures in place for evaluating aptitude fairly (like pre-screening questions, etc)

  10. Just Here For This*

    Years ago, I worked at a law firm where a coworker one day pointed out that every legal secretary hired by the office manager (“OM”) outweighed the OM by quite a bit. When the OM was hired we had a receptionist who could have modeled high fashion. Our mailman delivered the mail to us first thing every day, and then delivered the rest of his route. The first person out the door after the OM was hired was the receptionist who was replaced by a woman who was morbidly obese, who was a terrific human being, and the clients really liked her. She also dressed very professionally for our office, much more so than most of us. We started getting our mail around 3 p.m. though. When the OM left, our new OM managed to, one way or another, get rid of every one from the old team. All of the replacements were very thin and very young. The company ended up with an age discrimination lawsuit over that one. Both OMs were unprofessional and disrespectful, and cleaned out the staff of a law firm for personal reasons.

      1. Annie Moose*

        As the AITA subreddit would put it, ESH – everyone sucks here.

        (except for the unsuspecting hirees, of course)

    1. AnotherAlison*

      My optometrist seemed to have a trend of hiring larger-than-average women who were not very attractive. I wonder if that was the scenario in the OP’s letter if the advice would be the same?

  11. HelloEverybody*

    Wouldn’t one need to know what the rejected candidates looked like in order to make a determination?

    1. Lucette Kensack*

      The point is not to make a determination (“aha! Manager is biased!”) but to correct any bias in hiring. You don’t need “proof” to decide to investigate further.

      But also, if all of the applicant pool are attractive women in their 20s, that’s also a problem. Bias and discrimination in hiring doesn’t start at the offer stage; it starts when the job description is being written (or even before!).

      1. 1234*

        Let’s say that it turns out that all of the applicants in the applicant are indeed attractive women in their 20s. How can a company prevent that from happening? Assume the company wrote a decent job description without words like “rock stars wanted.”

        1. Oof*

          Then it’s time to diversify the applicant pool. I’d look at our marketing materials to see what our company image is, and examine where and how we attract applicants.

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Another way to do it is looking at where the company is advertising for new jobs. Are they posting on certain sites that tend to attract a certain demographic, or are they posting on various job boards the will attract different applicants.

  12. Zephy*

    I think the LW’s heart is in the right place, but it’s also true that bringing this kind of thing up is hard to do in a way that doesn’t come off as accusatory or weird. I like Alison’s approach – “hey, this might seem strange, but I noticed this pattern, what’s up with that?” The fact that other people have noticed and are making jokes about it does give LW an in to start the conversation, I think.

    The hiring manager in this case might not necessarily be building a team full of potential girlfriends, though – look up “Halo Effect.” It’s a natural tendency of people to make assumptions about other people based on the barest of “evidence.” If you’re good-looking, you’re probably also smart and successful and fun/advantageous to be around, so the logic goes. Doesn’t mean the hiring manager has not and will never engage in any workplace-inappropriate behavior or relationships, but he isn’t necessarily consciously making hiring decisions to that end. That potential-for-impropriety is, I think, what’s niggling at LW, but they say they have no evidence of any wrongdoing at this point in time. Good on you for keeping an eye out and recognizing that potential, but be careful; once again, human brains do dumb stuff sometimes, like seeing patterns where there are none, and if you’re going around expecting this hiring manager to be Weinsteining it up out there, you’ll eventually encounter something that seems to confirm that bias, likely as not.

    1. Mazzy*

      Who knows, maybe OP has a response and has thought about it before. I struggled with something very similar and took two weeks to make a hiring decision once because I didn’t want to be seen as hiring the most conventionally attractive and outgoing person, and I reanalyzed their application material multiple times and eventually decided that they were in fact the best candidate. Though a whole team of good looking people seems off and may warrant training on hiring or more specific information to be plotted in a spreadsheet before a hiring decision is made.

    2. J*

      This is the truth. People will very commonly look at someone beautiful and project all kinds of imaginary virtues on them. Or they overlook their flaws. It sucks.

  13. Lucette Kensack*

    It’s also worth looking at the organization’s overall hiring processes, since it sounds like there are some significant disparities showing up there. What’s happening to create an applicant pool with 50+ people per role, but fewer than 6 applicants over 40 over the course of an entire year. That’s a shocking number.

    1. Platypus Enthusiast*

      I was thinking it might be more entry level jobs, especially if one candidate has made a career switch. But you’re right in that it’s another possibility!

      1. Mazzy*

        Yeah, the age thing isn’t necessarily sticking out. I can get two hundred resumes and most of them being in their 20s, due to the lower nature of the role

    2. pally*

      And these are the applications where one can tell the age of the applicant. Resume advice for the over-40 job seeker is to remove all evidence that indicates their age is over 40. So there could be considerably more over-40 folks in the applicant pool than first glance would indicate.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      If it’s a “next new thing” type or youth-driven industry, it could be that younger people have been faster to create or adopt new technology or trends … not exclusively of course which would account for the few over 40 applicants.

  14. "It's only a model"*

    I’ll preface this by saying I’m an average looking person and have previously been in a position where the more attractive and stylish women got better assignments once hired, so I feel like I should be on LW’s “side” here…but I’m not? If the people hired are well represented in terms of racial and gender makeup and otherwise are in line with the demographics of applicants, in addition of being well qualified and good employees once hired, I’m not sure how to even bring this up without it being super weird. Being average-looking isn’t some kind of protected class, and honestly I’d personally rather pass on having shallow boss and being the only 6 in a department of 10s.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      Being average looking isn’t protected, but age and disability are. For instance, if one applicant is a 45 year old stroke survivor with the left half of their face paralyzed and thus considerable drooping and you choose to hire the 23 year old Miss USA contestant “because she’s pretty” you’ve essentially discriminated against the other applicant because of their disability.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        This is interesting, and I want to pivot just a little.

        If you have two candidates of equal experience, rockstar ability, and age but one is attractive and one is ugly, is it not normal to hire the one that you have a better connection with, which I suppose is where the biases – unconscious or otherwise – feeds into this.

        I’m not saying it’s correct, but I’m wondering how it would play out as discrimination because they’re absolutely equal across the board – except in terms of attractiveness, but as you point out being average-looking/ugly isn’t a protected class.

        Would someone be able to file a legal complaint about being rejected because the hiring manager doesn’t find them attractive?

        This is such a complicated situation to me that I’m struggling to understand what steps to take.

        1. ElizabethJane*

          I think the bigger issue is the trend. If it’s an isolated incident then meh, probably not a huge deal. And I don’t think you (general you) would have a legal case based on one hiring instance. I own (very very VERY) small business. Right now it’s just me though at some point I may hire an assistant to help with shipping and record keeping. That assistant is only going to check so many boxes, which means by its very nature I’m “only” going to hire people with ABC characteristic.

          But when you do it 12 times in a row… that’s a problem.

          Plus at a certain point it’s impossible for people to be “absolutely equal”. Eventually you need your team to have various life experiences. They may both have a 3.98 GPA from the same university with the same major and 4 years of work experience at a big 4 consulting firm, but one of them has a prosthetic arm and understands the specific challenges of voice-to-text software because they used it while they got used to typing with their new arm. IDK. I realize that’s a weirdly specific example. Basically qualifications are more than just what school/what degree/what technical certification. A truly diverse team should have a variety of life experiences as well.

          1. Asenath*

            I think that often the is no need to check into potential employee’s life experiences. You hire for people with skills X, Y and Z, and other aspects of their lives are not important. I’d certainly be deeply offended if I thought my life experiences rather than the skills I brought to the table were the reason I was hired (or not hired). I also think that for jobs that many people can do, it’s quite possible to have a number of equally-qualified candidates, which can make choosing a finalist a matter of characteristics you can’t measure well and aren’t really essential, such as “likeability” based on the impression they made in the interview. I can certainly see a team that hired a lot of young people getting a lot of conventionally attractive candidates simply because a lot of young people are conventionally attractive. Some jobs also attract an applicant pool that skews very much either male or female. I’m not convinced that there’s necessarily a big issue here, even considering the CSI jokes .

            1. ElizabethJane*

              I think life experiences can absolutely plan in, depending on the role. If you’re trying to expand your line of feminine care products you probably want people who menstruate on your design and marketing teams.

              If you’re designing a line of beard care products you probably want people with various stages of beard and beard experiences to be represented on your team.

              If you’re company recently acquired a new division in a different country having a person who has lived in that country and your home country and thus is familiar with the customs of both can be a valuable asset to your change management team.

              Or for example, let’s say I’m working for a startup and I’ve been hired to figure out the benefits package. I’m a woman in my early 30s and I have one child (that part is accurate). My boss has given me free reign to do whatever I want within the budget. With my life experiences I might say “Our benefits package is 1 year of parental leave paid at 100% of your salary” which is a great benefit. But maybe if we had a person 2 years out of college and a person in their late 50s on our team we would settle on 4 months of maternity leave paid at 100% (which I realize by global standards is lacking but it’s solid in the US), $10,000 in tuition reimbursement per employee, an a 10% 401K company match.

              Humans are so much more than their technical skills.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                To continue with your examples, they make complete sense, and your last paragraph about having people with completely different perspective can help.

                Sometimes with certain products you are not advertising to the actual end user, but rather the purchaser. I am a man, and often buy feminine care products for my partner. We have now been together long enough that that I know the specific brand and kind she likes. But when we first got together has I been sent to purchase tampons, pads, cups certain things would probably grab my attention differently vs my partner.

                Similarly my partner usually purchases beard care products for me before, so having a women’s perspective (in addition to men’s perspective) when designing an ad/packaging campaign would also be helpful.

    2. Observer*

      Something doesn’t need to be a “protected” class to be a problem, though.

      Also, he’s not balancing out his team, gender-wise.

    3. Close Bracket*

      “honestly I’d personally rather pass on having shallow boss and being the only 6 in a department of 10s.”

      Which is one why any potential bias needs to be rooted out and removed — you don’t want to drive off good candidates who are afraid of middle school looks contests.

      1. ...*

        If someone wasn’t comfortable working with people more attractive than them it would point to a seriously maturity problem for me. Also what is “Attractive”??

        1. knead me seymour*

          I find it so funny how many people on this thread claim to not know what conventional attractiveness is. Haven’t you ever read a magazine or watched a Hollywood movie or looked at a makeup ad?

          1. Lissa*

            Yeah, it’s the “I don’t see race!” of looks bias. I’m sure a lot of people absolutely believe they have no bias, but it’s still a big societal problem and factor, and pretending it doesn’t exist or the real problem are the people who notice the problem isn’t helpful.

        2. Close Bracket*

          The “what is attractive” question has been covered else where.

          Can you tell me why you think wanting to avoid being put in a position where you are competing for assignments based on looks shows more immaturity than creating an environment where better looking people get better assignments?

        3. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I have no problem working with more attractive people, or white men etc…. but if I realized that I would be applying at a department of 12 model level people, or 12 white men, and others within the company were making jokes about it being the CSI department or the country club department it would make me a little apprehensive.

          Again it is not anything against people that belong to certain groups, the issue is when it becomes a pervasive and wide pattern that even others in the company notice and comment on it. To be clear this would still be an issue even if other in the company were not joking about it.

    4. Mia*

      But these kinds of hiring practices don’t just impact self-proclaimed average-looking people. They also prevent fat people, visibly disabled people, people beyond a certain age, and visibly queer people from getting hired. Those are all marginalized groups, and three out of four of them *are* protected classes.

    5. Tinker*

      The company may wish to aim higher than “it isn’t actually illegal” in its hiring practices. Having a team that is diverse across many axes of life experience has repeatedly been proven to produce better outcomes, and even if that were not true “I’d personally rather pass” is not a desirable sentiment among the people one wants to hire.

  15. Junior Assistant Peon*

    Are these positions relatively entry-level? If the manager hired a bunch of twentysomething-year-old women to fill early-career positions, it might be legitimate.

      1. Quill*

        I got rejected for a job at Coach when I was 19 for not being pretty enough… sorry, not “fitting the team.”

        Went home and learned they’d been lying to me on the application and that the salesgirls made commission instead of “more than minimum wage” so I didn’t feel too bad about it, though I was a little mad on behalf of my curly hair and visible limp…

        1. RaeaSunshine*

          IIRC, this is why – at least back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s – A&F had their ‘salespeople’ and ‘cashiers’ with the title of Brand Ambassador / Model. It allowed them to legally be all kinds of discriminatory in their hiring practices.

          1. Quill*

            I ended up getting a job at coldwater creek, where the demographic was more “petite and stocky middle aged woman” and they actually were relatively nice about my limp and time limit on standing, considering that I was the youngest person on the team by three decades most of that summer…

          2. Zephy*

            I believe this is also why Hooters refers to their waitresses as “models.” I don’t have a source for that, though.

          3. noahwynn*

            Yup, I worked there in high school and even the slightly less attractive people were treated horribly. Super attractive people never had to actally fold clothes or work, that business was left to the rest of us. I lasted about 4 months until I quit for a job at a bookstore.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’m a twentysomething-year-old woman and I’m definitely not conventionally attractive. Neither are any of the other six women roughly my age who I work with, now that I think about it.

  16. Foon*

    About ten years ago I was studying abroad in Australia and was fortunate enough to tour a high end hotel with some spectacular views. As part of the tour we were led through the back offices which were really extensive for a hotel, I think there must have been some part of the brand’s operations going on in that space. As we were walking through I couldn’t help noticing a different kind of spectacular view. Seemingly every employee would qualify as (if you are the type of person who rates people) a 9 or a 10. I pointed it out to some friends, in case I was just experiencing positive confirmation bias but they agreed with my assessment. It wasn’t just “Australians are hot” either, they are just as varied as US citizens. I’ve always wondered if it was done on purpose because of the nature of the hotel or some manager’s whim, or if it was all coincidence.

    1. Amber Rose*

      When I worked at a certain grocery store slash warehouse, it was well known that the hot people were cashiers, and everyone else was merchandising, inventory and other back room type jobs.

      Doesn’t seem to be the case in recent years, so either they ran out of hot people or they smartened up.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Same when I worked at a summer resort, 20+ years ago. The dining room, bar, and child care staff were conventionally attractive and came from prestigious universities; the kitchen, housekeeping, and caretaking staff were average to below-average looking and either came from community colleges or were locals.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          Also, ugh, to having to describe people as “below average looking.” But it’s an important conversation, and unfortunately I don’t think there’s a way to have it without drawing those particular lines.

        2. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

          Sadly, it felt like this at a sports bar I worked at in college. The kitchen staff was mostly men – not all, but most. Some of the kitchen staff would ask to be moved to serving after a couple of months, but it seemed like the only ones who were ever moved to front-of-house were the “attractive” ones. Not all of them would want to be FOH, but of the ones who asked and were approved there was definitely a pattern. The ones who weren’t approved would usually quit not long after and get a job somewhere where they felt they had opportunity.

            1. Lissa*

              Yeah, for all the people in this thread who seem confused about what conventionally attractiveness is I’d point to many higher end restaurants – often all the waitstaff are young women whose makeup is “on point” with long hair, symmetrical features etc. In a way that doesn’t happen just by chance and stands out even from a group of people who work at say, Starbucks or other jobs that work with the public.

          1. J*

            I hate to be the devil’s advocate here, but…

            I don’t see the problem with putting the attractive people in the public-facing roles. Especially when you’re talking about a bar. If your entire business model is getting drunken people to hand over their money, OF COURSE you put the pretty ones out front!

            1. soon 2be former fed*

              Bull. Likable, personable people come in all types and should be put out front, people that everyone can relate to. Not everyone relates to beautiful people, who also face certain stereotypes.

      2. annakarina1*

        I felt like that when I worked a summer job at a movie theater when I was 20, noticing that the cuter staff were in the front at the box office and everyone else, including me, were at concessions or cleaning up movie theaters.

  17. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — This is, indeed, very awkward, especially since the results aren’t bad. The team your subordinate has built is diverse and doing good work, so it will be hard to phrase your concerns as dissatisfaction with the results of his hiring process. He isn’t actually making poor choices, but the results skew obviously enough that people are making jokes about it. And you don’t want him to overcompensate and rush out to hire a token ugly person.

    I admit, I’m not sure how I’d handle this, but I would invite myself to participate more actively in his next round of hiring. Get him to talk candidly about what he’s looking for, and how he assesses individual applicants.

  18. KayEss*

    You should also absolutely shut down the “jokes” about the team members’ attractiveness. That’s super inappropriate, and likely incredibly demoralizing especially for the professional young women on the team.

    1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      Thank you for saying this. Being pretty isn’t always an advantage, especially given the frequent sexism focusing on a woman’s looks.

      But even if the jokes are not coming out, people are thinking it, which itself is another reason the manager’s hiring process is problematic.

      Plus, it’s simply unfair to people who are not conventionally attractive.

      1. KayEss*

        Regardless of how the manager’s hiring practices are dealt with, the commentary needs to stop yesterday—they’re separate issues that both need to be addressed.

        It’s not okay for people to be openly commenting on their coworkers’ appearance, and doing so in a way that creates an “us vs. them” culture is 100% toxic to the office. They can feel however they feel about it (and believe me, I am a ranking champion in being bitter about society’s standards of beauty) but voicing or letting it affect interactions with that team is heinously unprofessional and should absolutely not be tolerated.

    2. londonedit*

      Really good point. Imagine being really excited to start a great new job, and then hearing that the rumour around the office is ‘Oh, Steve only hires hot blonde chicks’.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      +100000

      Shut that down immediately.

      I am not a model. I am just EC. I don’t consider myself anything but average on a good day. It is indeed demoralizing to be distilled into “the cute young thing”.

      For example:

      Shitty way to do it: We’ll send EC out to (grumpy older male contractor) to deal with this permit. She’s cute and young and he’ll get along better with that.

      Better way to do it: We’ll send EC out to (grumpy contractor) to deal with his permit, she’s good at deescalating a situation while tactfully enforcing codes.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      Yes this. Anytime someone says something about the CSI team, pause, give them a look, and say, ‘They’re doing a great job, I’m really happy with their work.’ Make it clear that you are changing the subject, and don’t find the joke funny.

    5. Lyra Silvertongue*

      Yep, exactly this. I was surprised this was not mentioned. Those “CSI” comments might be targeted at the hiring manager but surely it’s more likely that they’re a snarky and gendered remark at the expense of the diverse team of women who are doing their jobs just fine, according to OP.

    6. Zillah*

      This is a really good point. If something is going on with the manager being biased, that needs to be dealt with, but the team itself should be kept out of it – this isn’t on them.

  19. Not A Manager*

    I’m surprised Alison didn’t lean more on the fact that people are not only commenting, but commenting in a belittling way. It’s not good for the rest of the company, for the manager’s team, or for any outside customers or stakeholders to think of this one team as the “[insert your demographic here] team.”

    I also wonder if the “great team dynamic” could partly be because this is a group of people who are similar in a way that’s highly relevant in our society, who are likely to have some shared personal experiences on account of it, and also some shared expectations of social norms. It reminds me of the letter from the guy whose company had just hired some women and he wanted to know what to do with them on the traditional team-building golf trip. Or the one from the manager who liked to party with her whole team except for the one wet-blanket outsider. Having a team with “great dynamics” is comfortable, but it’s not always completely healthy.

  20. MicroManagered*

    I interact with a manager who does this. In 3 years, I’ve only ever seen him hire attractive, younger white women. I thought *I* was weird or insecure for noticing it.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      ooh – but that’s a different and more obvious problem! Hiring only one race is way more visible, and OP implies that his subordinate is hiring multiple races, and the age / gender ratio is skewed to match the industry.

    2. Jennifer*

      That could be racial discrimination, which is much more serious and not the same at all. I don’t know why people keep equating the two.

  21. Lark*

    One thing: Prioritizing “conventionally attractive” people shuts out many queer and gender non-conforming people, especially queer women, because we are rarely considered “attractive” by straight people. Take a butch woman who is really attractive to other women – straight people will at best find her unattractive and at worst say really gross, unflattering things about her. (I, a gender-nonconforming woman who is “normatively good-looking” among gender-nonconforming people, get this a lot – it’s weird, because I have no trouble date-wise, but get a lot of negative stuff from straight people.)

    If your straight guy report is hiring mostly women he finds attractive, I am virtually certain that he is hiring straight women and not even considering gender-non-conforming people.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, there’s a huge bias (especially towards afab & assumed to be female people) about performing gender heteronormatively being what makes you attractive.

    2. Mia*

      Yeah, I thought about this too. If the manager is solely hiring people who would blend in on a long-running network TV show, they’re probably subconsciously overlooking any visibly queer or gender nonconforming applicants.

    3. knead me seymour*

      Yeah, in general conventional attractiveness tends to correlate with social status–youth, wealth, health, ability, gender presentation, and so on. It’s also just a sign that this hiring manager is allowing his personal whims to influence hiring decisions, which could lead to all kinds of bias.

    4. Monokeros de Astris*

      Yeah, another +1. I feel like I used to be reasonably conventionally attractive — back when I was presenting as a man. Now that I’m visibly a transgender woman, I would be terrified of hiring practices like this, and of the work culture that these practices will produce.

    5. Zillah*

      I agree with your overarching point, but I think that you’re overgeneralizing here. Plenty of queer people are considered attractive by straight people – bi people frequently end up in opposite sex relationships. A lot of queer and gender non-conforming people are definitely shut out when only conventionally attractive people are hired, but it’s a huge leap IME to assume that everyone hired is straight because of that.

      1. Doris*

        I think whether you think Lark is overgeneralising depends on how you interpret the ‘queer and gender nonconforming’. She’s focusing on being gender nonconforming, which is not often recognised as conventionally attractive to straight people.

        If you take queer as meaning ‘not straight’ then yes, there are plenty of gay and bisexual women who meet conventional beauty standards. But queer generally signifies some kind of non-conformity, political or otherwise.

        I’ve even had otherwise very nice straight friends comment that I would be very attractive if I made more of my appearance. I didn’t want to have to explain that I like my short hair and don’t want to wear much make-up.

        1. Zillah*

          Sure, but Lark explicitly said: “I am virtually certain that he is hiring straight women and not even considering gender-non-conforming people.”

          It is overgeneralizing to say that he is almost certainly just hiring straight women, and the idea that femme women don’t “count” as queer is really exclusionary.

          1. Zillah*

            Lark is also not the only person in the comments who has explicitly jumped to “straight.” If people mean something different than “heterosexual,” they should be using a different word.

  22. AnotherCorporateStooge*

    I don’t see the issue here — there’s no reason to say the manager is hiring-to-date when in fact the dynamic is great. There are no reports of harassment, that is known. The people being hired are qualified, but happen to be attractive? Okay? So what? What’s the issue?

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      I would suggest reading Lark’s comment immediately above yours, for a great answer to your question. This person is almost certainly excluding whole groups of people from their hiring, intentionally or otherwise.

      1. AnotherCorporateStooge*

        LOL it would throw everyone off if they knew what I actually look like and what I actually do for a living

    2. WellRed*

      If they were all qualified but white? Men? Skinny? Affluent? All golfers with a great greens dynamic? Would that be OK?

      1. AnotherCorporateStooge*

        Yes, but in THIS scenario the OP is talking about their definition of ‘conventionally’ attractive — it’s too subjective. If they were all qualified white/men — that’s obvious. You can’t change that fact; however, if they’re hiring qualified skinny people — this one is trickier, but still, very subjective. If they’re hiring all golfers, that’s a non-issue too because that can be ANYONE. All I am saying to your comment is that to expand the girth of discrimination here is not fair or just because your qualifiers are not apples to apples.

        1. knead me seymour*

          Conventional attractiveness is really not as subjective as many on this board seem to be suggesting, though. It’s actually a pretty narrowly defined category. It’s clearly not just the LW who has noticed it, as others in the office have been commenting on it as well.

          1. AnotherCorporateStooge*

            Just because other people notice does not mean it makes the ‘issue’ any more true. It’s still subjective. We can look at the same pool of people and be like, ‘hmm everyone is really attractive or really meh.”

            1. Mia*

              Saying someone fits societal standards of beauty is not a subjective opinion. While they may evolve *some* over time, what Western culture views as attractive is pretty obvious to anyone who even kind of engages with pop culture. And given that multiple people have noticed this trend, clearly folks in LW’s company are on the same page about it.

            2. knead me seymour*

              I don’t think the attractiveness of this team needs to be scientifically confirmed in order to be a sign that something might be off in this manager’s hiring practices. It’s not like the LW is considering firing everyone who looks too pretty.

      2. ...*

        But they aren’t…..They’re diverse and effective workers with no reports of harassment or problems. The problem is other people commenting on their looks which is not appropriate!

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Yes they are diverse, but just because a company is racially diverse does not mean it can never be discriminatory. If the team was 12/15 men of all different races, it would still raise eyebrows that there are no women on the team.

          Just because the current employees are effective, does not mean that the hiring manager hired the most qualified candidate for the job. Again no one is saying that the hiring manager is biased, just that the way things have shaken out there could be bias at play and that it should be looked at with a closer/critical eye. No one is demanding that OP force the manager to hire a conventionally unattractive person for the next role, just to balance out the scales.

    3. The Very Worst Wolf*

      Well….some years ago, people could make the arguement that workplaces and dynamics were great without women, people of color, or other under-represented groups included in the upper-hierarchies of
      the corporate workplace. Today, we can look back, see the problem, and point out the myriad benefits inclusion and diversity offer.

      When the hiring pattern benefiting ‘attractivenss’ is obvious enough that other departments crack jokes about it being a qualifying job requirement, you’ve got a situation that requires examination. Even if the department is running well, you’ve already got an emerging problem in the optics (no pun intended). It’s very likely, though not certain, that a few modifiactions to the hiring process would lead to different results.

      For instance, if the hiring manager is looking people up on LinkedIn or Facebook while sorting through resumes or before conducting phone interviews – we don’t know this is happening; I use this to illustrate a point – then a bias may be in place before someone less conventionally attractive (or who doesn’t include a LinkedIn photo or whose social media accounts are private) even has the opportunity to impress over a call.

      Or, if the hiring manager is the only person conducting phone and in-person interviews, then all candidates are subject to the subconcious biases of a single person from a single department of a company. I’d think any hiring process would be stronger with multiple viewpoints. As someone who does a fair amount of hiring myself, I *know* I rely on other perspectives, work-related exercises, and work samples reviewed without candidate names attached to help ensure an unbiased hiring process.

  23. kwagner*

    I’m kind of struggling with this one. Usually when discussing “attractiveness” and it’s link to discrimination, there’s a few places to go. One is race and the concept of valuing Eurocentric beauty standards, especially in woman and doubly so if they are the face of the company. Another is fatphobia and seeing only thin people as capable/smart/good. And disability would be another, in that disabilities that affect how people look are “off-putting” or “distracting”. I literally cannot think of a way to address “attractiveness” in the workplace without talking about one or more of these things.

    1. kwagner*

      Actually I’d also throw gender nonconforming people in there too as you say they’re “conventionally” attractive and that tends not to include GNC people.

  24. Employment Lawyer*

    I would leave it entirely alone, but that’s just me. You have no evidence of bias per se. You do, however, have evidence that the team is diverse, happy, and well regarded. I don’t see anything about bad performance; they just happen to be good looking. You have no complaints and you have not even an iota of personal knowledge that they are rejecting anyone on any protected basis. Hotness is not a protected class. Practically speaking, don’t mess w/ it.

    That was going to be my whole post. But then I read “in a way which feels way too overwhelming and consistent to be a coincidence” and my inner statistician and scientist came out.

    So. DO NOT TRUST THOSE FEELINGS.

    To be entirely clear:

    1) This sample is tiny and you would expect very high variance between samples of this size.

    2) Unless you literally study this yourself, your personal knowledge of the field is almost certainly inadequate to assess this. How many teams do you personally know, across how many companies, with similar characteristics and size and hiring practices, where you personally have assessed the attractiveness of everyone on the team? probably not enough to make good statistical power.

    3) It’s probably more random than you think; people are very bad at assessing randomness and people are NOTORIOUS for seeing patterns where none exist.

    4) There are a ton (let’s say 100) “confounding factors” here. Which is to say:

    On one side of the scale, you have the theory “this team is hot because the manager only hires hot people.” On the other side you have 99 other possibilities, a few examples:

    -random chance
    -there’s a large proportion of hot applicants (don’t make the mistake of looking at population; you need to look at qualified applicants.)
    -the manager is seeking out some other positive trait which is reasonable in the business context and which happens to correlate strongly with hotness–which is quite common, FWIW.
    -applicants are self-selecting because they don’t like working w/ hot people
    -etc.

    There are literally hundreds of these. You can’t blame this on the manager until you eliminate them all. If you really care, you can do so, but you need to work to find out the trust and not (as humans are wont to do) just seek to confirm patterns, assumptions, or beliefs.

    Also, every one of your managers probably has some sort of bias of some sort. You probably just don’t know about it, perhaps because it’s a “invisible” bias (D&D players, Yankees fans, progressives) and not a “visible” bias (race, looks). From a scientific perspective, *IF* you want to look into this at all (which is a big “if”) then you will need to accurately assess all of your teams; you should not just do the ones you notice.

    But I would just move on and manage something else.

    1. Allypopx*

      This is all very true and very thoughtfully observed.

      But I think the basic thing that needs to be remembered is that it’s causing some disquiet between teams. Joking often hides deeper issues. There’s absolutely no problem in auditing the next set of interviews and being able to say “we’ve taken a thorough look at hiring practices (across the board, ideally, not just with this manager) and are confident the best people are being hired for their roles. We need the CSI jokes to stop, because it’s objectifying and disrespectful to your colleagues.”

      The latter should be said ANYWAY but the former shows that you’re tuned in to the culture and take these concerns seriously.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        Just want to point out that it could be more than the interview. The issue might come from earlier in the hiring process – perhaps the phone screens, perhaps even the places the position is advertised or the schools they pull from.

        I remember doing college visits way back the day when I was in high school, and one place had noticeably more attractive students. That was also the only school I visited that required a photo with the application. So I think the application to the college was bringing in a certain skew, which might later be replicated in hiring from that school. There were at least two other colleges in that town, but the one with the good looking people was supposedly the best. If a local hiring person really discounted the other two schools, that could affect the pool of applicants in terms of attractiveness.

    2. Observer*

      The idea that something should be ignored because it is not a legal problem tends to lead to major problems. For one thing, good management is not the same as legal management – You can be the worst manager on the planet and still be within legal guidelines.

      By the same token, conflating “legal” and “fair” is pretty ridiculous. Legal is just the BASELINE of fairness. But just because something is legal it doesn’t mean it’s fair or decent.

      I’m also going to point out your misuse of statistics. For one thing, even though you can expect variability, when you see this many hires be so consistent, that is definitely something that is not likely to be factors unrelated to that consistency. Sure, it’s not impossible, which is why the OP should not jump in with accusations. But it’s unlikely enough that for the OP to ignore it and fail to do some checking would be stupid. Especially in the context of a characteristic which we know plays a large, and unfortunate, role in decision making even when it makes no sense.

      1. ArtK*

        Yup. If you’re 2 or 3 standard deviations out from the mean, that certainly could be chance. But hiring is not a random selection process and bias is a real thing. It’s enough of a flag that it warrants a deeper look.

      2. Employment Lawyer*

        Er… “misuse” how?

        If you think I’m making a statistical error, you should explain how. No offense, but I’m really quite good at statistics, and your comment is not really supported.

        Or, here’s another way:
        The chances of taking all us workers and assembling a random team of 10 people, all of whom are over 50% hotness, is 1/1024. Super suspicious, right?

        Or… maybe not?

        As there are 130,000,000 workers, then you’d actually expect about 127,000 people in those teams across the country, which means there are about the same number of “people in a hot team” as there are “Ferraris ever made in the whole world.” How surprised are you to see a Ferrari? How many of them have you seen in your life? How surprised should you be when someone is in a hot team?

        And that doesn’t even touch confounders.
        b) you need to look at a ton of other factors which would explain it.

        1. Lissa*

          If you were talking about a different quality than attractiveness here, like all men or all one race, I guarantee all of this statistics lecture wouldn’t fly though, so I’m not sure how arguing about cofounders and so on is really relevant – if just stating statistics was enough to say “actually, you can’t prove discrimination” then nobody would ever be able to make such a complaint because hardly ANY companies would have a large enough sample size. Yet people do, all the time.

        2. Undine*

          On the other hand, there are definitely managers who are hiring for attractiveness, consciously or unconsciously. Suppose 1 out of 1024 managers would do that. That would mean that there is a 50% chance that that’s what’s happened on this team, and that warrants raising some concerns.

          The percent of managers who are doing this might not be as high as 1 in a thousand, but my impression is that we not talking 50% hotness, but a much narrower demographic. (After all, all women is already 50%). At 20% hotness you would be talking 1024/10,000,000,000 –approximately 1/10,000,000 — which is a little less likely.

          I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Ferrari.

          1. Undine*

            How you’re looking at your randomness matters. For example, most abnormal mammograms are not cancer, but the percentage of breast cancers in women with abnormal mammograms is much higher than in the general population. So an abnormal mammogram absolutely warrants a follow up.

    3. Employment Lawyer*

      More advanced stats:

      DIVERSITY AND SELECTION ARE TRADEOFFS.

      Because a lot of distributions are correlated and non-normal, then when you make a selection on any criteria then, of course, the set of remaining applicants will shrink. Everyone knows that. “Applicants who type 60 wpm” is always a smaller group than “all applicants.”

      But what also happens is that you will skew the remaining distributions. This is not widely understood.

      Then, every time you take a subset on Criteria A, you make it less and less likely that the remaining applicant pool will retain their average on the REMAINING criteria.

      Ask anyone who tries to staff a panel and who wants a) years of experience; b) gender diversity; c) racial diversity; d) gender identity diversity; and e) diversity of thought/position. You can get some of those but it’s virtually impossible to get them all at the same time. That’s just math: hello, tradeoffs!

      It sounds like your manager is focusing on “highly qualified” and “racial diversity.” And it sounds like their teram works well. Before you consider forcing them to include another criteria, what do you expect them to trade off to get it?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That isn’t at all in line with what I’ve seen and experienced. I’m working with a team right now that’s strongly committed to getting all of those things, and they get them.

        But even regardless of that, average-looking people aren’t such a hard-to-find, rare commodity that this would be applicable to the OP’s situation. By definition, they’re most people.

        1. Employment Lawyer*

          “Ask a Manager*
          That isn’t at all in line with what I’ve seen and experienced. I’m working with a team right now that’s strongly committed to getting all of those things, and they get them. ”
          At what tradeoffs? You can get what you want, but there are always, always, tradeoffs. Time and money are tradeoffs. Even things like AA or other proactive anti-bias actions are tradeoffs.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Again, it really doesn’t take a ton of time of time or money to hire a team whose looks are roughly representative of the community at large. It’s what normally happens on its own unless something unusual is happening.

            1. NotConvinced*

              Have you hired in all fields for all positions at all levels in all geographies and pay levels? Or is the ease that you have a product of what you have hired for? I hire in the trades, I absolutely have the trade-offs described.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                No, of course I haven’t. And I know it’s harder in some contexts than in others when it comes to some characteristics. But in regard to looks? I’d be very, very skeptical of that unless there were an unusual circumstance that explained it.

                Regardless, though, the answer here isn’t “assume this man is a creep and fire him.” It’s “take a closer look at what might be going on, get more data, ensure you have strong hiring processes.”

            2. Diahann Carroll*

              This. Most people are average looking so the fact that OP’s employee hasn’t hired a single average person is bizarre.

      2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “DIVERSITY AND SELECTION ARE TRADEOFFS.”

        That *might* be true in the short-run, within a particular of applicants.

        But in the long-run no, there is no need for such a tradeoff. Figuring out how to case the net wider in the first place can improve both.

      3. ArtK*

        I’m afraid that your lecture on statistics sounds a lot like a defense strategy in a bias lawsuit. Nobody, least of all Alison, is claiming that this is unquestionably bias. We’re all saying that it warrants a deeper look.

        Some of your arguments are suspect at best. The idea that the pool of people qualified to do this entry level job (by all concrete criteria), is somehow strongly correlated to looks is dubious. While this might be an artefact of a small sample size, we don’t know the sample size. That would be the pool of qualified candidates who applied for the job. That could easily be in the hundreds, which is a perfectly good sample size. The whole point of Alison’s advice is for the LW to get more involved and look at the incoming candidates and see if there is some bias in play. Frankly, that’s a lot better approach than waiting for someone to sue and then trying to baffle a jury with advanced statistics. An ounce of prevention and all that.

        Finally, whether or not there is actual (conscious or unconscious) bias is less important than the fact that the appearance of bias is being noticed and commented on. That alone should be grounds to look into what’s actually happening.

      4. Anononon*

        This sounds fancy and informative, but it’s really not applicable here at all. You’re implying that that being conventionally attractive is somehow related to being qualified for the job.

      5. Allypopx*

        Oof okay I agreed with your initial basic point but now you’re diving deeper into the arguments people make for “reasons our firm happens to be all white men” and you’re quickly losing ground.

        You will not have a perfect corollary of 1 person of minority x per department:100 people of minority x per capita, but if your hiring is way off the population averages then you should, are supposed to, and absolutely can take a look to see where bias may be entering into your process. That’s very basic HRIS principles.

      6. Tinker*

        This sounds very convincing until one remembers that “people who both are and are not conventionally attractive” is not a subset of “people who are conventionally attractive”.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      Ah, but Alison’s solution boils down to ‘collect more data to assess whether the perception might be due to some of these other possibilities’. You don’t have to eliminate them all, you only have to see if there’s 1 – 3 likely possibilities, and then experiment with what happens if you tweak those possibilities. Eg, is that ‘business reason’ = ‘from similar schools’? Maybe ask to partner with a new school or two, or a veteran’s group.

      If they’re hiring 10 people / year, that’s some serious growth or turnover, so there’s good opportunity for experimentation. People shouldn’t dismiss doing an experiment just because of small sample sizes and biases!

    5. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “-there’s a large proportion of hot applicants (don’t make the mistake of looking at population; you need to look at qualified applicants.)
      -the manager is seeking out some other positive trait which is reasonable in the business context and which happens to correlate strongly with hotness–which is quite common, FWIW.”

      These all may well be true. But they are certainly worth the manager, the OP, and the organization thinking about *intentionally.* I’m not talking about what is legal and illegal, but what is fair and perhaps in the long-run, best for the organization.

  25. Anon always*

    Wowwww. There’s a high performing team of diverse women and people will still find issue.

    I would be making the fastest HR complaint of my life if I learned someone was questioning if I was the best candidate due to my appearance.

    OP, shut the unprofessional “csi team” snarky comments down, manage those people, and take a more engaged role in the next hiring process and offer feedback if you observe anything problematic.

    If other managers are failing to properly hire diverse candidates offer them PD to help other departments correct that failing.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      That’s literally what’s being suggested here. It’s “Maybe this is a problem, maybe it’s not, how do I effectively find out”. Not “this team is too pretty”.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      They’re not questioning if you specifically aren’t the best because of your individual appearance. They’re noticing a trend in which only conventionally attractive women are being hired. It’s a trend of “These are all the same type,” not “here’s one specific woman who is attractive.”

    3. Mia*

      A team of people who are 99% the same gender, all thin, and all within the same age range isn’t actually all that diverse though. While ethnic/cultural inclusion is important, race is not the only marginalization factor that exists.

      1. Jennifer*

        But it’s simply not possible to be 100% inclusive in every possible way. My time is nearly 100% women. For some reason, in this area, mostly women apply for these roles. Inclusivity should be the goal, not universality. Plus trying to have “one of each” is offensive in a different way and could lead to people being unfairly passed over for jobs.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          I think Mia is saying just because this group is not made up of just white people, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a diversity issue. The team may be made of up white, black, Asian, and Latino people for example, but if they’re also all very young, very thin, straight women with no disabilities and from the same socio-economic background, then you still probably have some discriminatory hiring practices and biases in play.

          1. Jennifer*

            I understand where Mia was coming from, I just don’t agree. I don’t think universality is possible in every company on every team, for a lot of reasons.

            Plus – how do we know all of these people are straight? Not mentioned at all in the letter. A lot of people are assuming that, which is very strange.

    4. theguvnah*

      Yeah, I would leave my org and take my entire team with me if someone brought up that we were all attractive. Which would be a shame, since we are the highest performing department in my org.

      1. Lissa*

        That seems like a wild overreaction. If someone left and took their high performing team with them because somebody mentioned that the team was all one race or other demographic, would that be reasonable? Or perhaps be worth considering even if it’s eventually decided there’s actually no bias?

  26. ElizabethJane*

    Also, there’s a lot more to diversity than just racial diversity. You cannot have a diverse team if you are not capturing a solid representation of age, disability, gender, marital, and life (ie: parents vs. non parents vs. grandparents vs. childfree by choice, etc. etc. etc.). That’s like saying “But my team is diverse! I have a 23 year old white man, a 37 year old white man, a 45 year old white man, a 50 year old white WOMAN, and a 62 year old white man! And one of them is even a grandparent!”

    Again, for the people in the back: RACIAL DIVERSITY IS NOT THE ONLY TYPE OF DIVERSITY

    (which not to say that it’s not super important to also be racially diverse, but having a team of many races is not necessarily a diverse team).

    1. Asenath*

      You can also not hire a team that includes members of all the categories you listed unless you have an extremely large team and a job that can be done successfully by people of any age, size and level of ability. All you can do is advertise your job and hire the one who, based on training and previous experience, seems most likely to be able to do the work.

      1. Oof*

        This is one of the reasons I disagree with Alison that it is easy to assemble a team that roughly matches the population. That’s another question – do you represent it as % of general population? Of your region? Since that may omit certain smaller groups, should it be more as a way to represent facets of society?

    2. ...*

      Genuine no-snark question how can you hire for those things when you typically would never ask about them in the hiring process? You don’t ask people hey are you disabled or married?

      1. ElizabethJane*

        It’s not that you look for those specific people, it’s that you make sure you aren’t doing something to inadvertently exclude those types of people.

        Ex: if you put “Must be able to lift 50lbs” does your job actually NEED you to lift 50 lbs? I worked in a small locally owned craft store. Our heaviest package in the 2 years I was there was 17 lbs. We did have furniture come in that was heavy, but we also paid for a service to bring it in and set it up. So did we exclude someone who’s disability excluded them from lifting 50 lbs?

        If you have someone internal who fills a gap that your team is missing (since you know your internal people better and probably know a bit about their lives) you can encourage people to apply.

        And then if you notice your hiring practices are predisposed to a certain type of person you take a step back and examine your biases. Maybe it’s coincidence. If it is you’ve just taken a bit of time to validate your hiring. And if not you learned something.

  27. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

    This has happened in my world.

    The senior manager who was doing the hiring was a truly good guy, who hired well and usually hired diversely, as non creepy/respectful as they come, yet somehow he ended up with a substantial string of hires who were well above the norm in conventional attractiveness level . Both HR and other senior managers spoke to him about (serious conversations and also ribbing).

    This guy is a good egg. When he insisted that it was all just a long coincidence, I believe he believed it, but I never believed it. *Something* was going awry. Anyway, HR worked with him closely and the string did break. Attractiveness of the hires now more closely matches a normal distribution of our local population.

    1. Allypopx*

      “I believed he believed it”

      That’s the hard part, and I feel for the OP (and you, for when you had to deal with it) because that’s such a fine line to walk.

      We should absolutely talk more about unconscious bias and call these things out more regularly but people just cannot see past the end of their own nose sometimes and that is so frustrating and hard to manage, especially with high performers.

      1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

        We don’t talk about it enough and we need to.

        If I described someone hiring a string of young, thin, fashionably dressed, very attractive young women (most of them blonde) for not-a-modeling agency, people would leap to “what a creeper”. But what if the guy *isn’t* a creeper and he knows that he isn’t? He’s surely going to be defensive and nothing gets solved.

        To me, we have enough employees at Wakeens that it is easy enough to say ” we should be shooting for an employee population that is representative of our local population”. If your hiring doesn’t match that, let’s look at why. (I think part of this issue came from an employee referral system, which, I know they are supposed to be awesome, but I’m not the biggest fan because of things like this.)

        1. Lissa*

          YES. Subconscious bias is so huge, and people get so incredibly defensive when it’s pointed out or even suggested as a factor that it’s so hard to do anything about. I genuinely believe that many of these people truly believe that in their hearts they have no bias, so they react like an angry cat when it’s suggested that there might be a trend. It’s also just really hard to see in ourselves, and especially when we equate any form of bias with “evil evil person” it’s easy to see why people react like that. But it makes it super hard to solve.

          1. Allypopx*

            Absolutely. And how we approach it can make a huge difference and we aren’t really trained to do that either. If someone told me I was racist I would be angry. But if someone told me that, as a white woman, assumptions I have made because of my privilege have created a racial bias I may not be aware of and I need to step back and rethink my approach to something – I’d still be very upset but I wouldn’t bristle as much because yeah, that’s likely to be true.

            And it can feel very tedious to have to handhold people like that but it gets better results, especially in a professional setting. But the pendulum swings between accusatory and condescending and as much as we need unconscious bias training for individuals we need to train managers how to address it when they see it.

            Which might be a pipe dream since managers tend to get so little training to begin with. But it feels important.

            1. Lissa*

              Yeah. I think this also plays into why people resist measures like say, looking at resumes with no name attached. because they may have read all the studies about how Steve will get hired over Melissa or Jamal with, but they are SURE that they would never do that, only bad people would do that…but so much of this happens without conscious thought.
              I’m a woman who doesn’t wear makeup, and I know that people will sometimes just not think of me as “polished” or “professional looking” as they might my female colleague. They don’t ever think “I dislike women who don’t wear makeup” but the calculation still plays into things in their head.
              That’s how you get “I just coincidentally hired 18 people who are all hot/white men/graduated from Harvard/grew up in the same region as me. They were all just the best candidates for the job!” happening.

  28. F Sharp*

    I think the problem here might be that it’s a man hiring mostly attractive women. Otherwise, personally, I wouldn’t have an issue. Appearance matters, whether we like it or not, especially depending on the field (eg., sales). AND they’re qualified as LW says, so there’s no real issue there. But the power dynamic of a male hiring a bunch of women who are conventionally attractive does make you worry what his motives are.

    1. Mia*

      Appearance matters in that people should show up to work clean, groomed, and dressed to whatever standard their workplace requires. Saying that innate things about your appearance, like facial symmetry, complexion, size, etc., should “matter” in a hiring decision is just reinforcing a really awful, discriminatory POV.

    2. Observer*

      Saying “apperance matters” in many cases is like saying “gender matters.” Which is sometimes genuinely true and reasonable, but is more often just acceptance of a status quo that is not healthy.

      If you’re putting on a play it makes sense to hire people who look feminine for the female roles and masculine for the male roles. But, if you’re hiring a database developer, what difference does it make? If you’re hiring for that role, why should appearance (past the basics of neat and clean, and basic office dress code / formality level) matter?

  29. Guacamole Bob*

    I’m really surprised by the number of people who don’t see an issue here. Any time you are consistently hiring based on criteria that aren’t relevant to the job it’s a problem, whether it’s conscious or not.

    Would people who think this is fine be okay with a dozen hires who were all left-handed? Whose names all started with the same letter? Who all listed CrossFit as a hobby on their resumes? Only Eagle Scouts or Peace Corps alumni?

    1. Anon Here*

      But we don’t know if it’s intentional or not. These could just be the most qualified people who’ve applied so far. OP needs to do more research.

      1. Observer*

        True. Which is why the advice is not to come in with guns blazing, but to raise the issue and give a good, hard and honest looking at what’s going on with hiring. It might turn out that this really is a coincidence, but it could also be that the hiring manager is acting in a way that is biased, intentionally or not.

      2. Avasarala*

        I’m not sure it matters if it’s intentional. You can unintentionally hire for racial or gender bias, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.

    2. Employment Lawyer*

      On an individual basis: Yes. We allow maximal freedom to everyone on both sides. If Jo prefers to work for Peace Corps alumni, do you have a problem w/ it?

      On a company basis: Not if it interferes with team success. As I noted above, subsets are inherently limiting. But then again, shared traits are often correlated w team success (“the team that watches CSI together, stays together!”) so this can also be a tradeoff.

    3. knead me seymour*

      I feel like attractiveness is more of a concern than something truly miscellaneous like the letter of their name. It’s kind of like if the manager was an avid skiier and only hired people who also loved to ski–it seems innocuous on its face, but it’s a sign that the manager is letting his personal preferences influence his hiring decisions, which could lead to other kinds of bias. It may also filter out certain groups of people in itself, like people who can’t afford to ski.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        But with letter name, I’m still going to be pissed if I’m a candidate who doesn’t have a fair shot at the job over something irrelevant, and if I’m the company I’m going to worry that I’m not hiring the best possible employees. If it’s truly just chance then it doesn’t matter, but if a hiring manager is using something miscellaneous to screen employees then that’s bad pretty much no matter what that thing is.

        My bias here is that we generally have only a handful of great candidates in our hiring rounds, and so excluding anyone on grounds that aren’t 100% work related feels like it has a direct impact on the quality of the team. If I were hiring for a position that had 200 strong applicants and 50 of them would be fantastic then I might have a less strong reaction to what a bad idea it is to use an irrelevant screening factor. But I’m also in government and feel pretty strongly that we should strive to be as unbiased as possible along all dimensions in our hiring.

    4. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      Yeah, I’m kinda stunned.

      Unconscious bias is very real and also because it is, you know, unconscious, you can’t see it until you look at a pattern of results.

      Good, honest, kind people can also be unconsciously biased. We aren’t going to get anywhere on this stuff if folks can’t just stop a second and think, okay, since it is unconscious, maybe I too might be working out of unconscious bias, let me check on that. (I have an affinity for people who are like me. I can’t just hire people who are like me.)

    5. Qwerty*

      Sadly, I’m not that surprised. I pointed out at a previous job that we had more programmers who were “white, male, aged 20-25, and named Matt” than “women”. The immediate response from almost everyone was to question why I brought up race and that I was overreacting.

      Meanwhile, a friend at a different company had a similar issue, only swap the name out for “Mike”. All it took for the hiring process to become significantly more diverse was announcing “Sorry, but if you want to hire another Mike, you need to explain to the director why he is more qualified than the other applicants”. They chose the more open minded reaction of checking their hiring process and realizing that their pipeline was skewing their applicant pool towards a very specific demographic. Once they advertised in more places the applicants became more diverse and the problem resolved itself. I was more surprised by this scenario and that people were willing to change.

      1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

        YES. I referred to this further up but not clearly.

        What if, after a stream of above conventionally attractive hires, you find out that the job ads were only being placed on the local sorority bulletin board? And the hiring manager only had recent grad sorority sisters to choose from?

        Absurd example of course, but not really. Applicant pool (which the manager may or may not be involved in driving) is every bit as determinant of diversity as actual hiring decisions are.

        When we see demo skews, we can’t be afraid to ask why. Why should we? It is a question, not an accusation.

        “Hmmm, okay, I wonder why. What do you think? “

      2. Lynne*

        And in this case, I suspect if you asked the HM, you find that he hired the woman who was the most articulate and thoughtful, etc. And this HM has likely never considered if they automatically consider beautiful people to be better spoken and more intelligent than others. Seeing and fixing a halo effect in yourself is hard.

  30. arcya*

    Oh man, I have seen this more than once! The wild part was, the guys doing the hiring (it was always guys idk) were pretty open about it. If you mentioned that their teams all looked like models they usually just laugh and give a pretend shrug, bc mostly they were proud of it. TBH the letter writer might not have to push the hiring manger too hard to have the truth come out.

    1. ampersand*

      It definitely happens! I worked for someone who, I realized after a while, had a propensity for hiring young, attractive women (I don’t think he consciously did it, but I also don’t know). It wasn’t the sort of thing I could ever bring up at work, for obvious reasons, but it became noticeable after the fifth or so consecutive young and attractive hire on a team of about 10 people.

  31. Bunny Girl*

    I had a boss do this once. He hired three front desk staff and when we were in a meeting one time he admitted that he hired the three of us because he wanted to do some promotional advertising with women in bikinis. Really gross. I would definitely do what Alison suggested and get more involved in his hiring next time. Maybe he really is hiring the best person for the job and this is just a coincidence. Who knows? But you won’t know unless you do some more digging.

    1. 1234*

      Then he needed to hire (and pay!) for 3 women who are bikini models for those ads, separate from whatever job he hired the three of you to do.

  32. Dagny*

    I’m wondering what industry this is in.

    There are a few situations in which very attractive women have trouble getting jobs, i.e. they are perceived as “not technical” enough or “not serious” about the job. It’s entirely possible that he’s getting talented and diverse candidates because he’s scooping up the people who are “too attractive” to be hired elsewhere.

    Regardless, part of what you should do is to scan through the resumes of the people who went from application to phone screen, phone screen to interview, and interview to hiring stage. Try to see if there are any consistent patterns, e.g., a really talented woman gets through to the interview stage, but doesn’t get hired, and a scan of her LinkedIn shows that she doesn’t have the same look as the other hires. Or try to see if the people getting hired are actually stand-outs.

  33. Anonymous Educator*

    Another point of inquiry here may be what kind of image your company or department projects. If someone feels you have to be conventionally attractive to work there, they may self-select out, and you may be missing out on tons of better qualified applicants who just don’t see themselves fitting in there. Monoculture is bad.

  34. Topmountaintop*

    Please don’t. If I were one of those women on the team and I heard of this, I would be gobsmacked. If I was the manager, I’d be gobsmacked. While Alison isn’t wrong per say….. you will hurt your own reputation disproportionally to any good that could possibly come of this.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      That’s why I like the suggestion of joining the interviewing process as a good practical solution though. You’re not calling attention to the issue, you’re just observing. Then you can note: what happens to an unattractive candidate? Are they being treated well, considered fairly, etc? If so, you can put your mind at ease without ever going out on a limb. And if not, you’ll have a more specific complaint to register – “I was shocked that you didn’t seem to seriously consider Griselda when she seemed very well qualified, I don’t understand why you preferred Staci as your candidate, what exactly do you mean ‘fits better with the team culture’ …”

    2. Important Moi*

      Given that LW has already mentioned that people have noticed the attractiveness of the group of the group, not doing anything would be more damaging to the reputation of LW.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        meh, this is subtle enough I don’t think LW’s rep is on the line – they’re not directly hiring, the team hits objective diversity standards, the team appears to be doing good work. The subordinate manager’s rep, yes absolutely. If LW values the subordinate manager, LW should quietly intervene as Alison suggests.

        The problem is that this is pretty subtle – a letter that *doesn’t* boil down to ‘talk to X person directly’ or ‘Run Away!’.

    3. SimplyTheBest*

      Really? Cause I think conventionally attractive people are just as informed and nuanced as the average and ugly ones and can see why LW would a) want to make sure their male boss isn’t a creep (something I wold be grateful for), b) want to make sure they aren’t hiring in a biased manner, and c) want evidence that myself and all my coworkers *are* the best hires for the job and can not just shut down but refute those “CSI” comments so that *my* reputation stops being hurt.

  35. kayakwriter*

    There’s a trendy bar/restaurant chain local to us that definitely has “a look” when it comes to waitstaff: they’re all young, “exotic” (i.e. non-Caucasian), female, slim, graceful,and stunningly attractive by every conventional standard.
    A few times a year we’ll walk by one of the branches, and they’ll have a “Hiring Today” sandwich board out front. I joke to my wife that I should apply and pitch them on the grounds I’ll take care of all their diversity hiring in one package: I’m old, white, male, pudgy, clumsy, and unremarkable in looks. I’d even be willing to work in the back of the house to minimize the damage I’d do to their brand and their crockery.

  36. BusyIzzy*

    This is interesting and so tricky! I had a manager who was like this as well, but the nature of the work we did typically attracted younger folks to the job. The part that got creepy was that a majority of the candidates he brought in were young (attractive) females and he’d spend TONS of time training them one on one if they were hired. He didn’t spend nearly as much time with the men we hired so it was hard to ignore. It became a running joke (among the rest of the of the company) that I always failed to see the humor in. I liked to think that I got the job based on my skills and work ethic but it became hard to justify that thought as more and more pretty girls kept getting job offers in our department. None of them were bad or unqualified by any means….but was everyone really the BEST candidate for the job? Guess I’ll never know. No one ever did anything about it since it was a tech company and the more women we hired the better it looked for our EEO report…

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, I had an old coworker like that. As far as I know he never actually hit on the people he hired, but he obviously figured he’d enjoy spending his days surrounded by young attractive women and I still thought it was pretty gross.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          He was a middle aged guy hiring for more entry-level positions and I could almost *hear* him thinking, “hey, if I have to pick somebody out of this group, I might as well pick someone nice to look at.” Ugh.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “enjoy spending his days surrounded by young attractive women”

        I’d a guy and I’d enjoy that. And I’m aware of it and check myself. Really, we all have biases – and we’re better people if we are aware of it and work to do better. We can’t be perfect. We can try to be better. To be a good manager and a good person we have to.

  37. Lemon Fizz*

    This reminds me of a team I used to be on!! The manager would never cop to only hiring attractive people, but she LOVED to point out what an attractive team we were (she got away with saying stuff like that because the team was all women and gay men I think). Anyway, perhaps unsurprisingly, she was an inappropriate manager in a ton of ways and cultivated a cliquey as heck team.

    Anyway, I feel like shutting down the condescending CSI team jokes is the first step here.

  38. AG*

    To add – other people in the organization may take notice as well. When I led hiring efforts in a previous consulting job a couple executive assistants felt comfortable pulling me aside one day to ask about the firm’s hiring practice for consultants. They noticed certain (predominantly male) partners were hiring young, attractive people, particularly women. The EA’s asked if there was specific intent to do so. None that I knew of, and all the qualification criteria were being met, but it led to questions of integrity/ethics of the partners, gossip within the office, insecurity from those who viewed themselves as less attractive, etc. From a client perspective, it also made us appear less approachable, less human, to have so many perfect looking people. Furthermore, it’s an unfair position for attractive people if they are qualified for the job.

  39. Anon Here*

    Look at application materials for candidates who applied and were not selected. Compare those resumes with those of the people who were hired. Are more qualified people being turned away?

    If you reverse the way you’re framing this, it gets easier to bring up. “Are less conventionally attractive candidates being discrimminated against during the hiring process?” That’s a straight-forward and reasonable concern. I would gather as much info about past hiring decisions of his as you can, and then, as Allison suggested, be more involved during the next round. Read all of the applications yourself. Ask about anything that doesn’t make sense. “Wow! Jane can fly airplanes blindfolded while juggling! Why did you put her in the no pile? I would do a phone screen if it were my choice.” Be there during the interviews.

    It also might be worth reaching out ti the current team a bit more, meeting with them individually, and being receptive to their feedback. Keep cultivating a kind of relationship where they would feel safe confiding in you if anything concerning was going on.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, I think this is really the way to go. It’s sort of like when people say “This person is coming in late to work, and I’m worried about her performance”—Alison always says to focus on the performance and not the tardiness (even if they may, in some way, be related). If the manager’s real concern is that otherwise qualified (or even better qualified) candidates may be losing out, that should be the focus, not “Why are there are only conventionally attractive people?” The two may be linked, but the best thing to focus on is “Are we missing out on quality candidates?” by focusing on the actual hiring process going forward and not doubting the qualifications of the current team members.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      This is really good advice since OP is already concerned about coming across oddly themselves. Also just review the process generally: we’re doing a phone screen first, then picking the top five from there, right? or (as someone else suggested) we’re not using linked-in to make the decision with an emphasis on looking at the pictures … right? We’re comparing apples-to-apples questions and using skills to make the final cut … right?

      1. Anon Here*

        Right! And, come to think of it, this could be a good time to consider how the whole process works. For example, maybe OP’s team should switch to anonymized applications (names and demographic info removed) so they can only find out what people look like when they show up for an interview, at which point they would talk to several people who would ask every candidate the same questions.

      2. Marie*

        Yes, I would go this route. Be more involved in the hiring process. Bringing up observations or the comments of other teams will not elicit objective information. Seeing and being part of the process would be more helpful.

  40. Sloan Kittering*

    My guess would be that Alison is right, this hiring manager is over-emphasizing his gut reaction to the in-person interview, not realizing that this will naturally lead him to over-value physical attractiveness. It may be entirely innocent on his part, just a classic implicit bias where good looking people are perceived to also be more competent, kinder, etc (link in my next comment). Focusing more on the skills component earlier in the process and doing the in-person later, with less emphasis on how you “feel” about each candidate, would probably help.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I believe people who are conventionally attractive and/or taller generally tend to be “more successful” in the workplace in general, and that’s probably because of implicit bias.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah but even *within* an office that presumably suffers from the same implicit bias already that society does as a whole, this specific department is considered *even more unusually good looking.*

  41. Tammy*

    Fresh out of a day of training about unconscious bias, and I find it super interesting how many people are commenting about ways to explain the pattern away. To be clear about my own biases: I am middle-aged, transgender, neurodivergent, not skinny, and have a (mostly not visible, so far) chronic health condition which puts constraints on my mobility. I worked once in an office full of young and conventionally attractive women (and mostly older men who were less homogeneously aligned with male standards of attractiveness). I was told by a coworker “you already have three strikes against you, because you’re Jewish and transgender and fat, and you should really try harder to fit in.” I was fired when I complained about it.

    That said: It is entirely possible, even probable, that this manager is not consciously choosing to only hire conventionally attractive women. That’s how unconscious bias works. Nobody (I think) is suggesting accusing the manager of discrimination. But – and it’s a big “but” – the pattern is apparently clear enough that people are commenting on it. Under those circumstances, it’s worth taking a look at whether unconscious biases might be in play, and at how the hiring process is being managed. That look might, in fact, reveal that it’s all a huge coincidence. Or it might not. But asking the question is a good idea, both because there could be potential legal ramifications if there is indeed bias (conscious or otherwise) in hiring, and also because getting the best candidates you can means challenging those biases and the impacts they have on marginalized groups.

    Think of it this way: There are all manner of explanations for why you might randomly start getting a bunch of nosebleeds. Many of them are completely innocuous. But there are enough potentially serious reasons that, if I randomly started getting nosebleeds, I’d want to visit a doctor and check out what might be going on. The doctor may well discover it’s nothing, or something innocuous. But it could be a symptom of a serious problem. Dismissing it as a coincidence is probably not the best choice.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      This is putting it well. It’s certainly possible the manager is being creepy and hiring people he’d like to get a chance with in the hopes he’ll boost his odds – but even if OP never observes any incidence of creepy behavior, that doesn’t rule out the implicit bias that’s probably going on, because it can be unconscious (but it’s still a problem).

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Yep this. Also: Holy sh*t on that comment / firing. Wow. They suck. Hope you’re in a better place now!

      1. Tammy*

        I’m in a much better place now. And also, this was many years ago and I know better now. I would not stand for that kind of behavior today, and would not quietly just walk away like I did back then

    3. mcr-red*

      So I once had a friend that worked at a small television station. Every female anchor the hiring manager hired was a young pretty blonde white woman, and if he hired a brunette (still young, pretty and white), they were pressured into getting blonde highlights, because he said that was what “appealed to the local demographic.” My friend happened to be running a camera for an interviewing anchor, a pretty young Indian woman. My friend said everyone thought she did a good job and would be the one to get hired. Instead, you guessed it, a not as qualified pretty young blonde white woman got hired. My friend said no one had thought anything of the hirings until this happened and suddenly they noticed the pattern. Someone said something to him and the hiring manager again through out the “appealing to the local demographic” excuse. At some point after my friend left, the hiring manager got fired, and instantly there were anchors of all races and all hair colors. It most definitely was a symptom of a problem.

  42. Fibchopkin*

    Yep- came here to say the same. I immediately regressed 20 years to that awkward, stout 15 year old with extremely average looks who was so psyched to make the varsity soccer team until I looked around and realized I was surrounded by a group of Amazon Goddesses. Even two decades later, I remember my beautiful teammates fondly, but with a definite measure of awkward chagrin . Every single one of them outshined me in practically every way except on the field, and even though they were lovely, skilled, fun, and inclusive, it did not feel great to ALWAYS be the ugly duckling every single time we went anywhere together. Honestly, even though I truly loved them all, if I had to work, every day, in a professional setting where it was just me and them, I’d either have to quit out of sheer self-preservation or make enough to pay for daily self-esteem therapy.

    1. Important Moi*

      That’s okay. I just want you to know that your comment was heard. I’ve had the same feeling in too many situations.

  43. Secret Identity*

    I think this might be the opposite of what this whole post is intended to do, but I just spent the last 15 minutes staffing my entire workplace with celebrities I find incredibly attractive. But then I realized I no longer fit in so I had to fire myself so I could be replaced with Jennifer Aniston.

  44. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

    It doesn’t sound like there’s actually a problem with any of these attractive workers’ performance, though. There are some fields that very outgoing, polished people might gravitate towards, like sales and marketing. Those characteristics might read as “conventionally attractive,” but honestly if you’re the type of person who puts together stunning and persuasive powerpoints, you might also be the kind of person who has impeccable hair and stays really fit.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Mm, except that out of the entire office of presumed mostly confident go-getters, this department is considered *unusually* good looking. That MIGHT make more sense if the one “hot” department is sales, and the rest are back office, or something – but it’s worth OP checking in on the hiring practices, which is all that Alison is recommending.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Conventionally attractive presumes age and health, though. It would be both a violation of federal law and bad business practices to not hire someone because of either age or health.

    3. SimplyTheBest*

      Would you also say the same if the team was comprised entirely of white men? Shrug you shoulders and say they’re all qualified, so it’s not a real problem?

  45. Trout 'Waver*

    I had a former director do a version of this. If a young attractive woman interviewed for anything, he’d try his best to get them on the team somehow. This was so he could find excuses to get them alone and ask personal questions, hoping for a spark or something. It was gross. It got so bad, we’d go out of our way as manager to interview women on days he wasn’t in the office. HR was aware of the situation, but he was protected from any real consequences.

    1. Anonymouse*

      Did we work for the same former director? Cuz mine was one touch away from a sexual harassment lawsuit having legs.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Greg and Warrick 4Ever! Though I might concede a little Sweets. It is not a coincidence that I stopped watching Bones at the end of season 10…

  46. CommanderBanana*

    Alison’s right – there is a department in my organization whose director only hires people that look like her (same age range, similar appearance and way of dressing) and people have started joking about the “clones” in that department. Everyone AFAIK is great at their job, but it’s definitely noticeable when compared to the rest of the organization.

  47. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I have a question for the OP – what is the hiring process like? How many people are interviewing the candidates? Is there a discussion, any kind of vote etc, where the majority have to agree on one candidate being the best? I find it hard to imagine that the hiring manager in question is the only one to have a say in who gets hired. With 50 candidates competing for each position, wouldn’t there be more people involved? I guess this is the one thing that makes the situation not quite add up to me. I can see one manager going rogue and being like “I want a team that’s easy on the eyes, so I enjoy coming into work every morning” or something bizarre like that, but a group of managers?

    I posted a personal story early in the thread about a manager that had gone to his friend blathering something that could be read as he’d hired me for my looks. I never took it seriously that it was the deciding factor, because I was in a panel interview with ten people, including my peers, the IT director, a PM, managers from other groups (iirc) It was a full room. The odds of everyone in that room having agreed on “yeah let’s go with the best-looking candidate just for the heck of it” were zero. If this isn’t the hiring situation here, then maybe it should be?

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “panel interview with ten people, including my peers, the IT director, a PM, managers from other groups (iirc) It was a full room”

      There are plenty of areas where HR might do a screen, then one or two people do an interview and give opinions, and then the hiring manager interview the final set and makes a decision. That whole process might surface two or three or four people who could all do the job fine, and the hiring manager picks the better looking one. I would not raise an eyebrow if that happened and I was one of the other one or two people to give an opinion. It’s only after a pattern emerged that I’d notice.

  48. What's with Today, today?*

    Attractiveness is subjective, not a one size fits all. I’m not sure how you could ever bring this up. I would seriously side-eye anyone bringing this up.

    1. Joy Keenan*

      Me too. Especially if the guy was really hiring the best people for the job, and it just happened to be “attractive” people. I mean, what do you think he needs to do? Hire a token fat person? To me, this is a silly complaint and a ridiculous thing to notice (unless there is concrete proof that he is passing over the best candidates because of their looks but, barring that, I think you’ve got nothing, OP).

    2. SimplyTheBest*

      To say we do not live in a world with conventional beauty standards is ignorant at best. I’m side eyeing anyone who says so. Do you also “not see race”?

  49. 4Sina*

    I’m sure this has been brought up 350 comments in (do y’all comment as the sun rises?) but there is real, measurable bias against “unattractive” people. Conventionally attractive people are seen as more competent and more intelligent than their unattractive, older, or overweight counterparts even when skill sets and performance levels are the same.

    This is a serious issue at play here, and calling it out helps break this stigma.

  50. J3*

    A question this raises for me is: you say that this manager’s hires are more racially diverse than those of other managers. Is there any impetus to have a similar conversation, about race in hiring, with the other managers? If not, why is this more pressing?

    1. ElizabethJane*

      – because it’s pretty straightforward to say “We need to be more racially diverse in our hiring” but saying “you only hire pretty people” is tricky. You don’t need to write in for advice on the first
      – because the LW only has this one particular manager in their department and they don’t actually have a say in the hiring practices of other departments
      – because the LW’s company has recognized their issue and has diversity initiatives in place to balance things out across the board
      – because the LW is simultaneously doing both – people can care about more than one thing at a time
      – because the LW is actually super racist but is attracted to conventionally ugly people and would like to change the hiring to reflect their own personal wishes

      There’s any number of reasons this is the only thing mentioned in the letter, and most of them aren’t “because this is the most important”

      1. J3*

        The implication of the original comment was not that “the LW is actually super racist”. That kind of racial fragility isn’t constructive here or in the workplace.

        1. ElizabethJane*

          I agree. My point was that there are a million reasons why the LW is addressing this particular issue and not the issue of racial diversity in the rest of the company. The letter is about one issue. Pointing out other bigger problems is unhelpful and deflecting.

  51. J.E.*

    What is the general salary for the positions being hired? Often if there are a lot of young people in certain areas it’s because these are entry level positions and it’s often their first job out of school. The young ones are the ones willing to take the pay offered because they don’t yet have a lot of experience.

  52. Maxie*

    I see a theme that so many people assume that the bias is unconscious. Alison, I’m not clear if you view it as unconscious or are merely suggesting that OP aporoach the manager with that statement. I think there is a high chance the bias is conscious, whether or not the manager devotes any time or thought to the issue. I would also recomend at studying how and who this manager intetacts with people not on his team, everything from who he goes to lunch with, has work friendships with, goes to in other departments/teams for support or skills and casual interactions. Since every single one of his employees fits into a certain mold. I wonder if he created a new team. Ifnit, what hapoenedto the staff he inherited. I’d also want to know about the balance of his hiring internal applicants and people new to the company and what that says. Does someone else in the company do outreach and recruitment or is he doing this on his own? What impact does that have?

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Honestly, I agree with you that the bias is very likely conscious. But I don’t think it hurts to approach this with the manager with a starting presumption that it is unconscious — essentially, a presumption of good faith. If it turns out it’s deliberate, the OP can escalate their response accordingly. If the hiring manager has a serious case of Halo Effect, that calls for a milder response from the OP than a serious case of Wants To Bang The New Hires Effect.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Also it takes the burden off OP to have to prove that this manager is being creepy or has ill intent, which is harder to prove. OP says they haven’t noticed anything off so far, but with the example of unconscious bias you don’t NEED to find evidence that this guy is doing anything creepy – you can approach the problem on its face.

    2. Observer*

      It really doesn’t matter whether the bias is conscious or not, though. And as a practical matter, the OP will almost certainly get better results by starting with the assumption that if there is bias, it’s unconscious. Of course they should be open to finding out otherwise, but really the focus here needs to be on results rather than intent anyway.

      1. Maxie*

        It absolutely matters if the bias is conscious. It needs to be addressed either way but the if the manager is deliberately hiring only people who looks certain way, that’s horrible. It’s also a sign that there are additional problems with how he treats employees that are not apparent.

  53. Jennifer*

    I think it’s great that his team is racially diverse. She admits that it’s one of the most racially diverse teams at that company. Why isn’t the lack of diversity elsewhere more of a concern?

    They are all young but that’s common in the industry. They are all qualified. “Not conventionally attractive” is not a protected class, plus beauty is such a subjective thing. I’d direct my attention to racial or gender diversity elsewhere if I were the OP

    1. SimplyTheBest*

      This being the most racially diverse team doesn’t mean the other teams aren’t racially diverse

  54. Jennifer C*

    My company had a CEO a few years ago who did this. He preferred candidates who were very professionally dressed, presented themselves professionally, and who were physically attractive. At least he didn’t discriminate based on gender or race. And – we work in an industry where being attractive and well-dressed really does make a difference in how successful you are.

    But then there was a lower-level manager in another department who really did prefer to hire very attractive young women. Luckily he was a really nice guy and not creepy or lecherous, so we all just laughed at him. (And I think he knew we were making fun of him.)

    1. Maxie*

      Looking back, do you still find it amusing or are you disturbed that qualified and maybe superior people who are not very attractive young women are not being hired? Sometimes it takes age and experience for this to hit us. Paraphrasing something Alison points out frequently is to challenge whether or not this manager is a really nice guy. A really nice guy wouldn’t deny employment to anyone who is not a very attractive young woman.

  55. Bee*

    This + the comments are so interesting to read, because this exact thing is happening on my department as well. It’s a large, fairly diverse team across gender, age, race, etc. But there is a group of probably 15 women (myself included) in our early 20s-mid 30s, who are all noticeably similar looking. To the point where colleagues often run through a gamut of names before getting to the right one when speaking to one of us–“Hey Jess–I mean Alexa–shoot sorry, Bee. Hi Bee!” This pattern has emerged under multiple hiring managers across 4-5 sub teams. One of the girls got married this past summer and each of us received congratulations on her behalf by confused colleagues. There’s not much I can do about it at the associate level, but it’s very amusing to observe.

    1. 1234*

      LOL While “Jane’s” team members were all easy to tell apart, I couldn’t help but notice a good portion of her team were women around 5’3″ – 5’4″ and either blonde or brunette. I am also on Jane’s team and thought “WTF am I doing here?” (I’m a few inches taller and not blonde or brunette)

      It didn’t help that some of the girls on Jane’s team had similar names, i.e. Jennifer, Jenny, Jen.

      1. Another worker bee*

        redheads are only 2% of the population, so “blonde or brunette” is pretty much….all of the remaining natural hair colors? (Although if we include only brown hair in brunette and not black, then there’s no one with black hair on the team, i.e. likely no one non-white)

  56. ThursdaysGeek*

    Years ago I worked at a local city government, and one manager had three women that looked so much the same that I had difficulty telling them apart: similar build, similar age, almost exactly same styled mid-length brown hair. I recall others referred to them as his troika, because it was very obvious to even the usually oblivious (me). I bet it was very uncomfortable for them.

    I think they were qualified as well, but we sure wondered why his management didn’t seem to notice. Or perhaps they did, but we don’t see his reviews, and they certainly wouldn’t fire someone simply because they looked like a peer. But knowing that city government at the time, I suspect management didn’t care.

  57. Lyra Silvertongue*

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the advice given, but I’m genuinely surprised there’s no note to also address the people making these comments, which to me seem very clearly gendered. It’s surely not pleasant for that team to constantly have it implied that they were only hired because they are attractive young women. I also wonder how diverse or not the rest of the company is; my impression from OP’s letter was that this team has a different demographic makeup than the rest of the company, but I obviously don’t know that for sure. However I can say that if I was a young woman of colour doing perfectly competent work at a company that generally skewed whiter/older/more male, I’d be pretty pissed off if there was suddenly a microscope on the hiring practices that led me to be employed there, but not any other team. I absolutely agree that this manager might need to be monitored to check he’s not just hiring young attractive women, but it also needs to be addressed that this team of young, diverse women are being sneered at by other employees. I do have to wonder if this criticism would be levelled if this was a team of conventionally attractive young men.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      Love the name, first.

      Second, I got the impression that the LW is doing what they can to fix a possible biased hiring practice. They have some control over the manager and can step in there, but may not have as much control over the other departments.

      Also, nowhere does it say those issues *aren’t* being addressed. I don’t think the LW needs to write in with how to fix the comments from the other departments. If I were the LW I’d be like “I have 2 problems. 1 is that a person I manage potentially has biased hiring practices. The other is that outside departments are making ridiculous comments. I can fix the comments by telling them to knock it off but I don’t have the faintest freaking clue on what to do on the biased hiring practices”.

      I read it as the LW didn’t expand on the comments simply for the sake of brevity and because they’ve got it handled, not because it’s unimportant.

      1. Lyra Silvertongue*

        Thank you! It’s been my go-to for years and I am just thrilled about the BBC reboot, haha.

        And while I get what you’re saying, but honestly my surprise was directed more towards Allison not flagging that as problematic than the OP not doing so. If I was to write this letter I’d include the fact that I’d already thought about how to address that part of the problem, so I don’t feel able to assume it’s sorted simply because it’s not mentioned. I get that can be a matter of reading and interpretation though. Either way I think it’s important not to alienate the current team because of the possible biases of their hiring manager.

    2. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

      This is a fair point & I am trying to think back how to how it played out in our world.

      What I remember is the overheard jokes being about the manager, not the women (although the line there is blurry, isn’t it). In my position I don’t have the luxury of joking about anything employment related. I had to straddle the line between not dismissing what appeared to be an obvious hiring bias and to not encourage anyone to lump women by or judge women by their looks.

      I agree with you that the CSI jokes should be quashed and I’m glad you brought that up. Joking about the women is not okay.

    3. Jennifer*

      I agree with you. It sucks that others in the company may be doubting these young women’s abilities because they are young, female, and attractive. The fact that many of them are women of color makes it extra icky and actually IS discriminatory. This entire letter and many of the comments just rubbed me the wrong way.

  58. Plus size woman*

    I mean, our president hires this way quite openly. What chance do we stand getting lowly employers to change?

      1. Zip Silver*

        Rick Perry has that ‘seasoned’ Richard Gere/George Cloony thing going on, but he’s more or less stayed out of the news since 2017.

      2. Observer*

        His list may not be yours, but it definitely is full of inconsequentials and external factors. Like he spoke about how certain hires look like they came “straight from central casting” (that’s what he said).

  59. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is one of those things that makes it so much easier if you have at least two people making the final hiring decision.

    Being in the large and goofy category myself, I prefer if someone who is that shallow to just pass me by though in the end. Now I’m imagining being the next few hires, I don’t want to be hired because I’ll raise the average BMI or something like that.

    And then again, I’ve been hired due to my image that’s presented as well as my skillset. Not because I’m cute though. So. Argh. This is such an interesting post needless to say.

  60. Yae*

    I know my current boss didn’t want to hire me. I was somebody’s else pick. I am fat and female, and let me tell you, I am the only one. I have never seen him hire somebody like me again. He picks pretty, young, slim, women. Who either are not competent or leave because of his behavior. Or both. And I’m not saying that they are bad hires because of what THEY look like, but I wonder if it ever occurs to him that you might be passing on somebody good for the business because you aren’t really assessing what you need? This is one of the things I learned in college – not in regards to looks – but by discriminating against any class, businesses are really doing themselves a disservice.

  61. Aggretsuko*

    Since it sounds like otherwise the team is diverse, qualified, etc. I do wonder if it’s between two people of equal qualification, the more attractive one is getting chosen.

  62. Lexin*

    Where I work all hiring decisions are made by a team of three people which constantly changes to avoid exactly this kind of thing.

    Mind you, we have a massive staff of over 6000 people about a third of which are in the town I live in, so we can do that.

  63. casinoLF*

    How old is the rest of your team that they are using CSI as a reference of “young beautiful people.”

    I would really leave this alone.

  64. Mimi*

    When I worked in retail they replaced a female manager who had been suspended for sexual harassment with a male manager who exclusively hired really attractive girls in their late teens. He then proceeded to invite them to house parties where he would ply them with alcohol. At the time I was a poor uni student who never said no to free booze, but it always creeped me out that this 40 year old married man would fill his house with teenagers and young adults and get them drunk.
    He didn’t sleep with any of the teenagers, but he did sleep with their friends. Which isn’t much better, but at least they weren’t his employees?

  65. Big Biscuit*

    Hire a few “unconventionally attractive candidates to balance the ledger? Seriously, it’s an easy fix, another set of ears and eyes needs to be part of the process to look for possible bias. I am typically the sole interviewer and decision-maker in my position, but it is so depended on a specific skill set that personal appearance is the least of my concerns!

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