Babyface look gives execs the advantage

Black Fortune 500 chief executives with a babyface appearance are more likely to lead companies with higher revenues and prestige than black chief executives who look more mature, an upcoming study says.

Black Fortune 500 chief executives with a babyface appearance are more likely to lead companies with higher revenues and prestige than black chief executives who look more mature, an upcoming study says.

In contrast with research showing that white executives are hindered by babyface characteristics, a disarming appearance can help black chief executives by counteracting the stigma that black men are threatening, according to the study from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

The study is scheduled to be published in the journal Psychological Science in September.

A babyface is characterised by combinations of attributes, including a round face, full cheeks, larger forehead, small nose, large ears and full lips, the study says.

Decades of research has shown that people believe babyfaced adults to be more trustworthy, and respond to them with greater patience, sensitivity and compassion, according to Robert Livingston, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of organisations and management.

In the study, a group of 21 college students was shown photographs of 40 current and past chief executives of Fortune 500 companies. Eleven of the students were white, 10 were Asian and 10 were female.

Of the 40 chief executives, 10 were black (only 10 blacks have ever led Fortune 500 companies). For every black chief executive, a current or former white chief executive from the same company was included.

Another 10 chief executives were white women, and 10 white male chief executives were chosen at random.

Participants rated each photo on scale of one to four for "babyfaceness", leadership competence and personal warmth.

To account for differences in perceptions about blacks or whites in general, participants gave separate ratings on warmth and competence for blacks, whites and women, which were factored into the results.

The results showed that black chief executives who rated high on the babyface scale worked for companies that ranked higher in the Fortune 500 and had higher annual revenues than blacks with more mature faces.

The reverse was true for whites - the more babyfaced chief executives tended to work for companies that ranked lower and had less annual revenue.

Black chief executives also were described as significantly more babyfaced than white chief executives. The female chief executives were rated as having more mature faces than both blacks and whites.

The study was duplicated with 106 student participants, with similar results.

Livingston said the study indicates that "disarming" characteristics, which have been shown to hinder white executives, can help black leaders. - AFP

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