Wednesday, June 10, 2009

WorkPlace 101: Do Non-Threatening Negroes Get Ahead?!?

One thing I'm pretty certain of is that if you're Black and want to make it far in Corporate America, you better not be a walking stereotype. Your education better be on point. You better do the job 10 times better than the next man. You gotta know how to code switch. But perhaps most of all, you better not look threatening. I can't say how, or when I came to this conclusion, but if you peep the cats heading Fortune 500 companies, 9 times out of 10, these CEO's[1] are either fairskinned (Stanley O'Neal), jolly and avuncular (Richard Parsons), slight and effete (Frankin Raines), or all the above. And more times than not, these guys are what Southern Negroes refer to as "clayfaced". That is to say, they are totally clean-shaven, and have no beard/moustache.

But does a brotha really need to stock up on Magic Shave to get ahead in America? The AP recently went in on this "babyfaced Black CEO" phenomenon, in it's usual haphazard fashion. Excuse the extra long quote, but I didn't wanna omit anything.
Black Fortune 500 CEOs with a "babyface" appearance are more likely to lead companies with higher revenues and prestige than black CEOs 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 CEOs by counteracting the stigma that black men are threatening, according to the study from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

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

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

Of the 40 CEOs, 10 were black (only 10 blacks have ever led Fortune 500 companies). For every black CEO, a current or former white CEO from the same company was included. Another 10 CEOs were white women, and 10 white male CEOs were chosen at random.

Participants rated each photo on scale of 1-4 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 CEOs 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 CEOs tended to work for companies that ranked lower and had less annual revenue.

"Physical appearance, how you behave, having mixed-race parents — anything that conveys to whites 'I'm not the typical black man' can be helpful," Livingston said.

That leads to the idea that black executives face a double standard, he said.

"If you're a white male, you can exhibit anger, pound your fist, make ultimatums ... African-Americans have to adopt a kinder, gentler style of leadership," Livingston said. "The same sorts of behaviors that are effective for white males can't be utilized effectively by black males."

Livingston said his conclusion is not that babyface black CEOs reached the pinnacle of success because of their looks: "I'm saying that African-American leaders have to adopt certain qualities or behaviors that make them appear less threatening ... a babyface gives a certain perception that they're docile."

The results rang true for Michael Hyter, the black president and CEO of the management consulting firm Novations Group Inc. and co-author of the book "The Power of Inclusion."

"For anyone who's honest in the corporate space, you know that (disarming mechanisms) are a key to being successful," he said. "Technical skills are not enough. They need to get to know you based on who you are and not make a judgment on how you look."

"We all do it," Hyter added. "But what a person looks like doesn't really give you any indication what he or she is like."
My Grandma always said to not trust a Black man with no hair on his face. I'm not really sure what her intent was, perhaps she was saying that brothers with no facial hair are too busy trying to conform. Oddly, my Grandaddy couldn't grow a beard if his life depended on it, so go figure. But I suppose there's something to this "shave your facial hair so you don't scare white folks" thing.

Barack Obama is clayfaced. On that old NPR show, I once infamously joked (to crickets might I add) that if Obama decided to grow a beard, it would only be a matter of time before conspiracy theorists mused that this was a nod to his inner Muslim. Sad and unfunny as that sounds, the other day, I got an email from a reader telling me to checkout "The Fox Nation", where there was an odd link to an AP photo titled "Is It A Moustache?". The photo was of Obama during last week's trip with the usual 5 o'clock shadow. Why this was alarming enough to warrant a link on their front page is beyond me, but I suppose it proves something. Exactly what, I'm not sure.

But I guess it does raise an interesting question.

Question: Do black men have to alter their appearance in order to make themselves less threatening to others to succeed? Is this racist, or simply an unwritten rule Corporate America? What(if any) similar aesthetic concessions do black women have to make to get ahead?

'Babyface' look can help black CEOs, study says [MSNBC]

[1] Not to be confused with the "I own a rap label, although that really just means I'm a MySpace rapper who lives with my Mom and has really cool business cards" variant of Negro CEOs.

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