Mindy Kaling, creator and star of The Mindy Project, recently told NPR the sexism she experienced on the set of former series, The Office, was “a little bit gentler, but still debilitating.” Kaling got into the habit of leaving a room after she made a decision so that it wouldn’t be up for debate. Her experience, unfortunately, is not unique. Beautiful women in particular continue to be passed over for more masculine jobs — something science wants to better understand, and even solve.

"Turns out there's merit in the old Pantene ad, 'Don't hate me because I'm beautiful,'" Stefanie Johnson, lead study author and assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado-Boulder's Leeds School of Business, said in a press release. "If a sufferer of female-beauty stereotyping addresses the issue, the perpetrator leaves behind preconceived ideas and is able to more clearly see her professional qualities."

Johnson and her team refer to this as the acknowledging method, in which an applicant will work a phrase into an interview that goes something like, "I know I don't look like your typical applicant," or "I know there aren't a lot of women in this industry," prior to rattling off highlights from their resume. And to see how much, if at all, this method makes a difference, researchers divided 355 participants into three groups that each looked at fake applications from attractive and unattractive candidates. Each application included a photo, a written statement and a resume, while some of the applications were manipulated to either acknowledge a woman's appearance, sex, or none of the above.

If participants in this group received the application of an attractive woman who acknowledge her appearance or sex, they gave her higher marks compared to applications from attractive women who did not make these acknowledgements. So in the second group, researchers wanted to understand why that was. With only one application from an attractive woman making similar acknowledgements, participants were asked to rate how masculine, spiteful, and suitable she was for the job.

"The participants' perceptions of how bitchy she was decreased and their perceptions of how masculine she was increased because of the acknowledgment she'd given in the interview statement," Johnson said. "Recognizing the fact that her appearance was atypical reduced the violation of her gender role and conveyed that she was capable of performing the job duties."

Johnson added this brings to light two different types of sexism: hostile sexism, “in which attractive women were seen as violating their gender role when applying for masculine jobs, creating the impression that they're cold and belligerent”; and benevolent sexism, “in which they're seen as too feminine to do the job because of their beauty.” The acknowledgement method seemed to lessen the chance of both from taking place.

The third and final group surveyed male construction workers on whether or not they were sexist, and if so, what kind of sexist they were — hostile or benevolent — before reviewing a now video application from an attractive woman. Hostile, sexist men rated the woman less negatively, and benevolent sexists rated the woman more positively. Overall, the acknowledgement method worked in an attractive woman’s favor, but not an unattractive woman. "In fact, it made the situation worse for unattractive women when they acknowledged their looks," said Johnson. "They received lower ratings."

We just hope forthcoming science takes it a step further and figures out a way women, beautiful or not, can apply for a job without having to work out some kind of strategy; rather, let's let her skills and experience do all the talking.

Source: Johnson S, Sitzmann T, Nguyen AT. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful: Acknowledging appearance mitigates the “beauty is beastly” effect. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 2014.