NVC

Firms say school leavers are unemployable

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business_figure_with_clients_400_wht_10680Tell me something new! This has been a recurring complaint, usually by the CBI or the IoD. This time it’s the British Chambers of Commerce.

What are they actually saying?

School leavers and even some university graduates are unemployable because:

  • they cannot speak confidently to adults
  • they can’t turn up for work on time
  • they speak abruptly to customers
  • they don’t look people in the eye
  • they fiddle with their phones all the time
  • they are unable to perform simple maths
  • they are unable to write clearly (presumably more comfortable with text speak)

John Longworth, the Director General of the BCoC has called for schools, and employers, to do more to help teenagers develop the “soft skills” demanded by employers and prepare them for interviews.

He also wants schools to enhance their careers services by forging better links with employers. (Do schools still have careers services?)

The chambers of commerce produced a survey showing that over 2/3 of employers thought that schools were not effective at preparing teenagers for work. Approximately the same proportion wanted improved literacy and numeracy and almost 90% wanted better communication skills. Over half wanted better computing skills and teamwork.

Mr Longworth said “It’s a scandal that we have nearly one million under-25s unemployed in the UK. Communication skills are a real problem both at interview and in the workplace where students cannot speak articulately and don’t know how to deal with people in a polite way. Then there is the whole business of punctuality where they won’t turn up for work on time and they don’t think that’s a problem

DSCN1502As career coaches my colleague and I have delivered workshops to prepare graduates for employment for several years – but in Lithuania where they realise how important this aspect of their education is.

My colleague has also worked with a number of UK universities, on a voluntary basis, preparing students for interviews via mock assessment days. He has experienced most of the above things plus inappropriate dress and lack of preparation.

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You might be clever & work hard but unless you’re posh you’ll never make it big in the UK

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competition_corporate_ladder_1600_wht_6915If you are from a working class background, even though you are working in a higher managerial or professional job, you will still be worse off financially than someone in the same role whom comes from a more privileged background.

We’re talking about a “class pay gap” of over £7,000 a year on average but of £17,000 a year for doctors and more than £18,000 a year for lawyers.

This is almost as big a gap as the so-called “gender pay gap” but there is no legislation which deals with this kind of discrimination.

The research is based on the first UK employment survey to include questions on social mobility. The Labour Force Survey questioned almost 100,000 people in the 3rd quarter of 2014 and asked the occupational status of the main breadwinner in their family when they were 14 years of age. Even accounting for gender, ethnic origins and education and other factors the class pay gap is 10% (compared to a gender pay gap of 12%).

Daniel Laurison and Sam Friedman, the authors of the study both based at the LSE, say the study shows it’s not enough to get one of the top 3.5 million jobs in the UK. Once you get there there is a further “class ceiling“.

It’s well known that the medical and legal profession is dominated by children of higher managers and professionals but this also applies to IT, the police, and the armed forces.

There are two possible reasons working class people lose out even though they have the same qualifications and experience.

  1. It may be cultural bias. “Employers may consider as signs of talent or competence attributes actually rooted in privileged upbringing such as received pronunciation (RP), accents, a polished appearance or highbrow interests and hobbies” says Sam Friedman, one of the authors.
  2. It might also be because the upwardly mobile don’t seek promotion because of anxiety about fitting in.

41BixFZSMqL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_Mike Savage, author of “Social Class in the 21 Century” says “Employers are not allowed to discriminate by gender, race or sexual orientation but class is not mentioned … the problem is how do you detect if someone is facing discrimination because of their class?

 

See also: Social Mobility the slippery ladder

Get some colour in your life to get ahead

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business_professionals_standout_1600_wht_5372Wearing clothing with a splash of colour can help you get ahead.

According to a study of 2,000 British workers by a personalised telephone case company 20% of employees up to their mid-30s say having a splash of colour helped them get a promotion or a pay rise.

I’m not sure how they know that but wearing colourful clothes will make you stand out, and might help you to give the impression that you are more confident or creative. (1 in 3 British workers said they felt more positive wearing brighter clothes and 1 in 4 said it made them feel more confident).

Surely it all depends on where you work and the prevailing standards. If you work in a fashion or creative industry then it will be like a peacock’s tea-party and you might be better off wearing plain black a la Steve Jobs.

Experts (not sure who) cited Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and John Snow, the newsreader as high flyers known for wearing a splash of colour to make a positive statement. I can think of dozens of other high flyers who prefer a staid, although probably expensive, corporate look.

Green micro-breaks good for productivity

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P1030063Researchers at the University of Melbourne gave 150 subjects a menial keystroke task responding to numbers on a computer screen.

After 5 minutes they were given  a 40 second break during which they were shown a view of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings. Half of them saw a plain rooftop the other half a roof covered with a green flowering meadow.

Both groups then resumed the task. After the break concentration levels fell by 8% among those who saw the concrete roof as their performance grew less inconsistent. Those who saw the meadow showed a 6% increase in concentration and a steady performance.

The researchers suggest that having a green break – whether a walk in the park, looking out the window or even just a screensaver of this kind – is beneficial in improving performance and attention in the workplace.

The measure used: “Sustained attention to response task (SART)” had previously been mapped against brain imaging so they knew that the brain responds in predictable ways in these situations. People need to be able to both maintain focus and block out distractions to perform well.

The underlying theory is called Attention Restoration theory which suggests that natural environments have benefits for people. Nature is effortlessly fascinating and captures your attention without your having to consciously focus on it and thus allows you to replenish your stores of attention control.

Previous research has explored how people respond to landscapes like forests, parks, and woodlands for longer periods so this research using such a short time period is impressive.

The 40 seconds was based on a trial during which that was the average time people looked at the meadow scene. Whether such a micro-break is the optimal length is not known.

Other aspects of this research suggest that people would be more likely to help each other after a green break. It all sounds very positive and builds on previous research which shows that having access to nature helps reduce stress levels.

Source: HBR September 2015

 

Face up to it – you’ve either got it or you haven’t

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ThumbsUp-maleScientists are claiming that seeing someone’s face for less than 100 milliseconds is enough to create an impression of your trustworthiness, aggressiveness, and attractiveness.

Your personality traits, your leadership abilities and your potential criminality can also be deduced from your facial appearance.

Psychologists have argued about this for some time but new evidence from Rollins College in Florida suggests it might be true.

Marc Fetscherin, a professor at the International Business School found a correlation between company profits and the shape of the Chief Executive’s face.

51ZfQfM8obL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In his new book, CEO Branding, he describes how successful business leaders tend to have broader faces than average meaning others view them as more dominant and successful.

He said “Facial width to height ratio correlates with real world measures of aggressive and ambitious behaviour and is associated with a psychological sense of power. It is therefore possible that it could predict leadership performance“.

Similar results were found by researchers at Sussex University where they analysed the faces of FTSE100 Chief Executives.

The researchers there thought underpinning this was a high level of testosterone which is associated with aggression and pursuit of dominance and which also influences the growth of muscle and bone.

Research from Finland among military personnel suggests that this view of wide-faced men being leaders might not be universally applicable in different kinds of organisations however.

With regard to personality traits there is also evidence that up to 10% of CEOs in the UK, USA and Australia have psychopathic or narcissistic tendencies – the dark side of leadership.

It’s also been known for centuries that tall, attractive people were more likely to be in leadership positions. For one thing good-looking people tend to be brighter and being well-nourished in times past probably meant you came from a privileged background – always a good starting point.

The idea that we can read people just by looking at them for 1/10th of a second has been around for a long time and was associated with physiognomy and eugenics which became disreputable. 

Today however it is still relevant when it comes to career progression. Apart from the research on CEOs, which is based predominantly on men, the research on women suggests that you can be too good-looking to get an interview.

Despite that many women, and increasingly men, are boosting their looks artificially in order to enhance their erotic capital.

Multi-tasking in Meetings never a good idea

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flipboard_discussion_text_10528You might think you are good at multi-tasking (you’d be wrong by the way) and probably don’t think of the effect it has on your colleagues.

Researchers at Harvard found that checking your phone, e-mails or social media is more distracting for your colleagues than it is for you.

In fact they blame our obsession with our devices for the unproductive meetings taking place everywhere. I don’t necessarily agree with that having attended my fair share of useless meetings long before we had smart phones and tablets.

But there’s no doubt it’s worse now with the “always on” mentality many people have.

People were asked by Francesca Gino how they would respond if a friend or colleague checked their e-mails or posted on social media during a meeting.

She said “The results suggest that we feel distracted and annoyed when others are checking their phone rather than paying attention to what we have to say in a meeting. Yet we fail to realise that our actions will have the same effect on others when we are engaging in them

She also confirmed that multi-tasking is a myth because other than simple tasks we can’t perform several action at the same time. When we try it takes 50% longer with 50% more mistakes (our brain is switching from one task to another and takes time to recover its earlier position).

Banning phones from meetings might help but also organising the meeting better.

41Rq7xmxm0L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Patrick Lencioni, author of “Death by Meeting” estimates that professionals spend 31 hours each month attending unproductive meetings and almost three-quarters of attendees say they take other work with them. (Professor Gino thinks people take their phones and devices as a back-up plan in case the meeting gets boring or ineffective).

Lencioni says bad meetings not only exact a toll those who suffer in them but also cause anguish in the form of, anger, cynicism, lethargy and lower self-esteem.

The HBR suggests the following rules to get the best out of meetings:

  • Keep it small i.e. no more than 7 people to ensure everyone can pick up on NVC and other nuances
  • Ban devices as unacceptable distractions
  • Keep it short i.e. less than an hour (I remember meetings in the public sector lasting 6 hours)
  • Stand up. Meetings where you’re not allowed to sit down ply last 2/3 as long
  • Never just update. That can be done outside the meeting by e-mail, otherwise it’s a time-waster
  • Set an agenda and be clear about the purpose of the meeting and that there will be a plan of action

FYI Lencioni is also the author of “The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams” which is well worth a readThe5dysfunctionsofateam

 

 

Leadership and Influencing

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businessmen_puzzle_shake_hands_1600_wht_3191Older managers may remember the days of Blake’s Grid and the 9:9 management style; striking a balance between people and productivity. That idea has been persistent, about getting the right balance in the way you manage people to get the best out of them.

John Adair, for example developed his Action-Centred Leadership model which was all about keeping the balance between the Individual, the Team and the Task.

And Machiavelli had something to say about this too. Was it better to be loved or feared? He thought it was better to be both but because that was difficult for one person to do he decided “it was safer to be feared than loved.

But times change and there is currently much interest in the science of influencing. Influencing ethically not in a manipulative or machiavellian way.

Many leaders believe that, particularly during those important first 100 days, they have to demonstrate competence and their strengths. But years of research by social scientists show that it’s better to first show your people side by displaying warmth, and then demonstrating your competence.

A spotlight article on Influence in July-August’s issue of the HBR “Connect, Then Lead” by Cuddy, Kohut and Neffinger, explains the current thinking on this.

Basically we judge our leaders on two criteria: how much we like them (warmth and trustworthiness) and how much we fear them (strength and competence). These appear to be the two primary dimensions of social judgement which account for 90% of the variance in the positive and negative impression we form of people.

We have all met people who are competent but display no sense of caring or warmth. They may elicit envy, respect or resentment in others. We may have met people who are warm but incompetent who elicit feelings of warmth but also pity and lack of respect (and it’s hard to imagine how they would become leaders).

So the best approach appears to be to start your leadership by exhibiting warmth, either verbally or using NVC, and making connections, the network building so important early in your leadership career. At the same time you are demonstrating that you are trustworthy.

Then, when appropriate, demonstrate your competence. In a study by Zenger and Folkman of almost 52,000 leaders only 27 of them were rated in the bottom quartile for likability and in the top quartile in terms of overall effectiveness. In other words only 1 in 2,000 leaders were disliked and effective.

But this approach – warmth first – is not easy and most leaders feel the need to demonstrate their strengths first.

Organisational psychologists, Abele and Wojciszke from the University of Gdansk, carried out experiments about training, offering either competence-based or soft skills programmes. They found that people chose competence-based programmes for themselves but soft skills programmes for other people. And when asked to describe a life-defining event they would tell a story about their own competence but when telling a story about other people refer to their warmth and generosity.

If you want to know more, including tips on how to project more warmth or more strength, you’ll have to read the full HBR article, in fact the whole of the July-August issue is devoted to Influence.

Size matters

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Bar room jokes aside there are several interesting studies on the impact that size has on the way we perceive people and the way they behave.

Study 1.

single_colored_chair_rotating_anim_500_wht_10055Andy Yapp, at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, examined the impact of ergonomics on people’s ethics.

They wanted to know whether or not your workspace would have an effect on your honesty.

What they found was that the bigger and larger the space and seating, which encouraged expansive gestures, the more likely it was that people would pocket overpayments, cheat on a test, and break the rules in a driving simulator.

In the first test they deliberately overpaid people for participating in the test and found that 78% of those with the bigger chairs kept it compared with 38% of people working in cramped spaces.

They also observed illegally parked cars in New York and found that when a driver’s seat increased by 1 standard deviation from the mean the probability that a car would be double parked increased from 51% to 71%.

The researchers say that when we have more space we can adopt more expansive postures and these often project high power whereas people working in constrictive spaces where they have to keep their limbs close to their bodies project low power.

The findings were not influenced by the height of the person nor by how corrupt the person might have been before the experiment as they were randomly assigned. The posture was the only variable.

This is interesting as I would have thought that people working in constricted or uncomfortable environments might be likely to cheat just to get back at their employer – a kind of organisational justice.

But we also know that power corrupts.

Yapp and his colleagues admit there might be cultural differences e.g. Asian norms of modesty and humility are inconsistent with the power posturing.

The research replicates that done at Columbia University (see below)  on the size of desks (and illegal parking in New York).

Main source: “Big chairs create big cheats” HBR November 2013

Study 2.

fountain_pen_writing_ink_1600_wht_11648Companies led by CEOs who have large signatures – an indicator of narcissism – perform worse than ones led by CEOs with small signatures.

Researchers at the Robert H Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland measured the signatures of 650 CEOs on 10 years’ worth of annual reports from almost 400 top 500 companies.

Large signatures, which have been linked to narcissistic personality traits such as dominance and an outsize ego, were positively associated with overspending, lower return on assets, but higher CEO pay relative to other industry peers.

The companies of these CEOs spend more on capital goods and acquisitions but had worse sales and sales growth over several years. They also had fewer patents suggesting a lack of innovation.

This is probably because narcissistic leaders dominate discussions, ignore criticism and belittle other employees.

The assumption about big signatures and narcissism is based on research by Richard Zweigenhaft which showed that people with higher self-esteem and more dominant personalities had large signatures.

It’s also the case that the CEO population is more narcissistic than the general population as well as having other dark triad characteristics.

Source: HBR May 2013

Study 3.

businessman_relax_desk_1600_wht_5638And size matters when it comes to honesty at work and in other settings.

Researchers at Columbia Business School think sprawling across an over-size desk makes people feel more self-confident and more likely to behave dishonestly to further their careers.

The researchers manipulated the size of workspaces and found that people were more dishonest on tests when their environment allowed them to stretch out.

In another study they found that drivers given bigger car seats were more likely to be involved in “hit and run” incidents when incentivised to go faster in a driving simulation.

They also checked 126 cars on New York City streets, half of which were parked illegally. They found that drivers with large car seats were more likely to be breaking the law.

Study 4.

figure_looking_observing_500_wht_13769When it comes to impressing potential partners, size really does matter.

Research conducted for Brother Europe, when it was promoting its new A3 printer range across Europe, seems to prove that.

Professor Richard Wiseman, a leading human behaviour psychologist and author of; “:59 seconds. Think a little Change a lot”, carried out the research and he found that in “Dragons’ Den-style” pitch scenarios, businesses using A3 marketing materials appeared ‘significantly bigger, more successful and professional’ than those using standard A4 prints.

Moving from size to weight, in a paper published by researchers at MIT, Harvard and Yale universities; “Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgements and decisions” it appears that our sense of touch (the haptic impressions) also influences our thoughts.

They asked people to scrutinise a job candidate by looking at a resume (CV) placed on either heavy or light clipboards. The people using heavy clipboards viewed the candidate as possessing a more serious interest in the job and as more likely to succeed than those holding a light clipboard. They conclude that; “First impressions are liable to be influenced by one’s tactile environment”.

They say that understanding how the tactile environment influences perception could be relevant in; “almost any situation where you are trying to present information about yourself or attempting to influence people“.

My colleague and I have always advised candidates to use heavy-duty paper for their CVs and covering letters rather than 70/80 gm supermarket special photocopy paper. This was based on creating a good impression (because first impressions count) but now it seems it’s not just how good it looks but how heavy.

As the researchers say; “physical experiences are mentally tied to metaphors …. when you activate something physically it starts up the metaphor related to that experience in people’s heads” eg heavy = solid, reliable, serious, and so on.”

And next time someone puts a clipboard into my hands ….

 

These posts appeared separately on SGANDA previously

Quietly does it sometimes (Introvert Leadership)

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stick_figure_drawing_people_leader_1600_wht_5133Extraverts may have a natural advantage in leadership roles because they are dominant and outgoing.

They tend to be the centre of attention and take over discussions and are perceived as more effective by both supervisors and subordinates.

In the US only 50% of the population is extraverted, despite what you might believe about Americans, but 96% of managers and executives display extraverted personalities (the percentages showing high levels of extraversion increase from 30% of supervisors to 60% at executive level).

But people can learn extravert behaviours. In fact I remember some research which showed that when introverts were taught extraverted behaviour they could behave in more extravert ways than natural extraverts. And most managers have to learn to stand up and deliver presentations and run meetings.

However work by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Harvard Business School, and North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, shows that in some situations an introvert may be a better leader than an extravert without having to change their behaviours.

It seems that in a dynamic, unpredictable environment introverts are often more effective, particularly if they have proactive workers on the their teams who are prepared to put forward suggestions to improve the business.

This type of behaviour can make extraverted leaders feel threatened (I think especially so if the leaders are narcissistic). Whereas introverted leaders are more likely to listen carefully and show more receptivity thus making them effective leaders of more vocal teams.

Putting extraverted bosses in charge of talkative teams isn’t a good recipe. Extraverts seem to do better as bosses of teams that perform best when they do as they are told!

To succeed as leaders introverts have to overcome a strong cultural bias as in America at least two out of three senior executives viewed introversion as a barrier in a 2006 survey. And in politics highly extraverted Presidents are seen as more effective.

Source: HBR December 2010

Humans have shorter attention span than goldfish

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school_leader_1600_wht_5247According to the latest research from Microsoft we now have an average attention span of 8 seconds, compared to 9 seconds for a goldfish.

We stay focussed until we get distracted by social media alerts, our computer or smartphones.

Over a day it has a detrimental effect on your productivity. Microsoft research suggests there is a “switch cost” as it takes 15 to 25 minutes to get our mind focussed on what we were doing before an interruption.

The microsoft survey placed attention span into three categories: sustained i.e. prolonged focus, selective i.e. avoiding distraction, and alternating i.e. switching between tasks.

You might think you can multitask but that’s a myth. You might be able to deal with a handful of things but what you are actually doing is switching attention between them. And each time you do it you lose time re-focussing.

Microsoft estimates that it takes 15 to 25 minutes to get back to where you were before you were distracted.

David Rock, a neuropsychologist, thinks we can probably manage, at the most, 4 demanding things. This is fewer than the famous 7 plus or minus two that George Miller hypothesised back in the 1950s. So are we getting stupider? Microsoft’s research in 2000 found that the average human attention span was 12 seconds, compared to 8 seconds today.

What seems to be happening is that our brain is not keeping pace with modern technological demands even creating a phenomenon known as “phantom text syndrome” where we believe we have heard an alert from our phone or tablet. This particularly affects teenagers who typically text their friends twice as often as speaking to them face to face and are more dependent on the technology.

Factors affecting our attention span are: media consumption, social media usage, technology adoption (something Professor Sir Cary Cooper has spoken about recently), and multiscreen behaviour e.g. texting while watching TV.

I’ve posted elsewhere about FOMO and related anxiety-related conditions.

The only way to deal with this type of problem is to turn off your phone or computer at regular intervals. It will not only reduce anxiety but increase productivity by improving your focus.

Being focussed uses the pre-frontal cortex which is where you can be more creative and control your emotions better.

People who have trouble focussing make more emotional decisions and pay less attention to emotional cues.

If you are a regular technology user take regular breaks, go for a walk in the park, and talk to your colleagues face to face!

 

Have you for a face fit for a leader?

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military_business_handshake_1600_wht_9795Broad-faced men are more aggressive and better at sport but in the military thin-faced men are more likely to rise up the ranks.

Scientist in Finland have been researching some WW2 archives relating to the “Winter War” in 1939-40 ( a great feat of arms by the Finnish army resisting overwhelming soviet forces and well worth reading about).

The archives have details on almost 800 soldiers in three Finnish regiments including photographs, number of children, and the rank attained.

Wider-faced men tended to have more children but usually attained a lower military rank.

In men face shape is influenced by testosterone levels making it a proxy for evolutionary success hence the fact that generally speaking men with broader and shorter faces are more aggressive but less trustworthy.

The researchers point out that dominance in the military may be better predicted by leadership qualities other than aggressiveness. “The military relies on a strict hierarchy, which requires trust and fear of punishment to be maintained”

See also “Take me to your leader”

Are attractive women discriminated against?

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_DSC0291I’m re-posting this as it came up in the popular press recently (it can take journalists a few years to catch up on academic research).

Some researchers in Canada (a very PC country in my opinion) have replicated the research done in Israel a few years ago.

Men might think that women have the advantage when job-seeking if they are attractive but research from Israel, published by the Royal Economic Society, showed just the opposite in fact. 

Researchers sent out over 5,300 CVs for over 2,500 jobs. Two applications were sent for each vacancy – one with a photograph of either an attractive or plain person and an identical one without a photo.

Attractive women who sent in a photograph with their CVs were less likely to get an interview than plainer women who sent a photo and women who sent no photo at all.

For men it was the other way round. Attractive men who sent photos did better than the attractive women but plain men and those who didn’t send photos fared worse than their female counterparts.

Statistically it means that an attractive male only needs to send out 5 CVs to get an interview compared with the 11 a plain-looking male needs to send. Attractive women would be better off not sending a photo as it reduces their chances of getting an interview by 20 – 30%.

The researchers at Ben-Gurion university said it was a case of “beauty discrimination” which reflected the double standards in company HR departments. They checked and found that 96% of the people who screened the CVs were female, typically 23 and 24 years old , and 70% of them were single.

They theorised that these recruiters were jealous of any potential rivals in their workplace and rejected them instantly. There was less discrimination if the recruitment was being handled by an employment agency. Attractive women were no worse off than plain candidates and only slightly worse off than candidate who didn’t send a picture.

Professor Cary Cooper from Lancaster University Management School was more generous about the recruiters suggesting that unconsciously they might think that the less attractive women is the underdog and want to give her a chance. Nice thought Cary but what about the no-photo applications?

Sending photos with CVs is not common in the UK (unless applying for a job relating specifically to your appearance) but is in other parts of Europe. In Israel where the experiment was carried out it’s up to the individual.

In Lithuania our colleagues who are recruiters tell us that young people often send inappropriate pictures with their CVs eg shots on a beach or other holiday locations.

Of course once you’ve got the job good looks seem to effect both men and women equally with unattractive people earning up to 15% less than their more attractive counterparts.

First posted on SGANDA