Deema Tamimi
Sep 30, 2015 · 7 min read

In my last post, Your Ponytail May (Or May Not) Land You a Million Dollars, I sought to examine whether a woman’s hairstyle (up or down) would influence an investor’s decision in whether she would make a good CEO. While I did not specifically survey investors, hair up vs. hair down did not alone seem to be a strong determining factor in whether web surfers would consider a woman a good CEO or not.

One thing I wondered while analyzing the data was whether people felt that they could really make a call from just looking at a photo. Would respondents be able to describe a woman’s attributes when looking at a simple photo, and what kinds of words would they use to describe her? What I was trying to uncover here is whether a photo of a woman evokes certain thoughts or judgements that could be impacting a person’s perception in her ability to be a good leader and manager. And eventually I’d like to see if this perception differs if the photo is of a man.

To research this I used the same images from the previous survey and asked people to use free form responses to describe the person in the photo (me). And I did one survey with a photo of myself with my hair down and one with my hair up. This is what the two surveys looked like.

Don’t Put Words In Their Mouth

Even though Google Consumer Surveys suggests you provide hints or examples, a large percentage of people answered “nice” or “smart,” copying directly from the examples. So, I plan to run this same survey again, but without the example prompts.

Many of the responses that were not copied from the examples, though, had to do with my looks. This is not surprising, given that all they have to go off of is a photo. Several folks said I looked confident and friendly, but a long list of adjectives were used to describe my level of attractiveness (hot, sexy, cute, ugly).

For a future survey it would be interesting to see what happens when the photo is of a man. Would the free form answers to the same question be mostly about looks? I’ll save that for another post because the results of just these two surveys opened up an interesting finding. Take a look.

Hair Down for the Beauty Contest Win

Hair Up for Less Attractive but More Confident and Professional

Screw her Hair, Look at That Chest

More people thought I was confident with my hair up, but there were also a lot more negative responses to my level of attractiveness than when my hair was down. This seemed fairly trivial to me, though.

What really struck me were the responses in both surveys that indicated that people felt I was not professional as the questions stated. Responses like “too much cleavage,” “unprofessional,” “trashy,” and “inappropriate” when all added up, were enough to make me want to delve deeper into this. What if all the results from these surveys were being impacted by the fact that my dress was low cut?

Time for Some Strategic Cropping

Given this finding, I felt it was necessary to rerun the first survey without my cleavage showing. So I cropped out my chest and reran the survey.

Take Those Breasts and Cover Them Up, Ladies

Low and behold, more people thought I would make a good CEO when my breasts got out of the picture, 60% vs 54% when they were in the shot.

Cleavage Is More of a “No-no” with Women

When I compared the answers of the two surveys by gender, it seemed that my cleavage had a bigger impact on women than men. The percentage of women who thought I would make a good CEO went from 53% to 64% when my chest was cropped out of the photo while it pretty much stayed exactly the same for men (55%).

Results of the Uncropped Photo

Results of the Cropped Photo

Cover Up Where It Gets Cold: The Midwest and the Northeast

What about region, you ask? That would be a great question, because region seems to play a big part in this too, mainly in the Northeast and the Midwest. There was a whopping 12% increase in respondents in the Northeast and Midwest thinking I would make a good CEO when my chest was cropped out of the photo. The West had less than a 2% increase and the South had about a 4% increase.

This finding really resonated with me because one of my East Coast colleagues at work, whom I deeply respect, mentioned after reading my first post, that I should consider wearing a little tanktop/camisole thingy under my dresses (eeek!). Btw: I haven’t worn that dress to work since this little experiment and I have been more conscious of how low cut my clothes are.

I am not going to go all crazy and start donning blazers and such (sorry for those who love them, but the hippie in me just won’t allow them). I’m okay with adjusting my clothing a bit if it helps people see me as more professional, though. See my postscript for more on this.

Ok, so back to the numbers and my last insight.

Things Get All Flipped Around in the Suburbs

This one threw me for a loop. Google Consumer Surveys called out an interesting insight about one specific demographic in my cropped image survey: the folks of suburbia. Women in the suburbs were more likely to think I would make a good CEO (72%) than men in the suburbs (43%). That’s pretty striking.

So then I was curious what did the numbers look like when compared to the uncropped photo. Oddly suburban men were more likely to think I made a good CEO with the uncropped/cleavage showing photo (50%) than the cropped version (43%). The data for suburban women is flipped and the difference more pronounced. Women in suburban areas, were less likely to think I made a good CEO with the uncropped/cleavage showing photo (53%) than when the photo was cropped (72%). The insight here is that my cleavage seems to elicit a slightly better perception of my professional abilities in the case of suburban men, but it has a big, negative impact on suburban women.

Results of the Uncropped Photo

Results of the Cropped Photo

The Moral of This Chesty Story

Net-net, the cropped or covered up version of myself is the safest route to go if I were to choose to alter my looks for maximum effect in light of unconscious bias and quick judgements (read more about this in my postscript). So perhaps Steve Jobs, with his signature turtle necks, had an extra-keen sense, beyond personal branding, that you should cover your skin for the win.

Next up: I’ll be investigating how the results change when there are no example prompts (nice, smart, etc) and when the photo of the professional is a man rather than a woman. Stay tuned for those findings and more.

P.S. I have received some feedback from people that my ponytail post seems like an endorsement for women altering their looks for the benefit of society, investors, etc. I by no means am advising anyone to do that. I use playful language about the results and what one should do if they were to blindly alter how they dress or their looks based on the data. I do it half in jest, but I am serious in my belief that we live in a world where unfortunately quick judgement calls and unconscious biases are constantly at play.

I hope to expose these biases, both so that people will catch themselves and alter their thinking and behavior when they are in the position of judgement and so that women and men are armed with insights that they can use as they see fit to navigate the society that we live in.

I’ve chosen to make some minor adjustments based on my findings. That’s my choice, but while I now wear a tanktop/camisole thingy under my dresses I continue to speak up at work and on the Web about unconscious bias and the importance of diversity. We all have to make choices to navigate the world we live in and everyone’s choices are different. Let’s celebrate that diversity and not add another layer of judgement on top of judgement.

If you like this, heart it! Have thoughts you want to share? Comment away.

Photo Credits:

Photos for surveys by Megan Wilkinson: http://www.meganwilkinsonphotography.com/

Vintage Barbies — assorted Swirl Ponytail Barbies by Romiagirl67: https://www.flickr.com/photos/romitagirl67

Deema Tamimi

Written by

💜 sustainable + equitable food, diversity, equity, ☮️. Worked @ xbox, youtube, flipboard. Now @ Land & Ladle. Editor: https://medium.com/land-and-ladle

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