In order to become a CEO you need to “look like” a CEO. And it’s not about wearing the right suit, climbing mountains, or having a cruel handshake. No, the main indicator of whether you “seem like” the CEO type is that you have a complete absence of baby-face.
The research paper is entitled “A Corporate Beauty Contest” published in July 2016 in Management Science. The research was entirely about men because status-quo data is already sexist to begin with. The authors are John Graham, Campbell Harvey, and Manju Puri, all from Duke University. There’s a good news article about it in the Wall Street Journal, but I’ll summarize it more briefly:
- Survey participants can easily identify if two people with identical demographics are a CEO and a non-CEO.
- People judge the CEOs of larger organizations as being “more CEO-ish” than the CEOs of smaller organizations based on the same facial features.
- Those executive with more “mature” facial features were paid more than those with less-mature facial features. To clarify, even within the arbitrary demographic category of tall straight white able-bodied males with a bit of grey hair, there is an additional category of pay discrimination based on genetics: mature-face.
- The authors found the findings surprising because it is assumed that CEOs are selected by corporate boards based on metrics and expertise. The main driver of a successful executive search is metrics about the shape of the executive’s face.
- Just in case you’re about to ask if super-effective people tend to develop a mature face over the years, hold your horses. “The look of competence isn’t correlated with superior [business] performance,” says co-author John Graham. That is, discrimination based on looks can forgive corporate performance altogether.
We just throw certain types of people into high-level jobs regardless of how good they are at running our economy.
What to do? First, thou shalt laugh.
Second, you should actively recruit people who don’t look the part but who have good formal indicators of competence. In the book Moneyball, Billy Beane relied exclusively on metrics to decide which baseball players to recruit into the Oakland A’s. He ended up with an team of weird-looking people. One guy pitched under-hand, some people had a lot of moles and birthmarks, and there was a legend about that once you look at the numbers, overweight catchers tend to be selected because of their great batting performance. We’re not selling blue-jeans.
If you could identify the most baby-faced darlings who had exceptional corporate performance, those might be your best candidates for CEO. And their salaries would be a total bargain, too.