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Investigating attractiveness in the hiring process of female athletes

Angela C. Henderson (University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado, USA)
Heidi Grappendorf (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA)
Laura J. Burton (University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 8 May 2009




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the influence of attractiveness on perceptions of female athletes' potential success in managerial positions using role congruity as the theoretical framework.


Using a simulated employment evaluation, participants (n=68 male, n=121 female) were asked to evaluate the résumé of either an attractive female athlete or an unattractive female athlete for an entry‐level management position in a sport organization. Participants evaluated the athlete on hiring recommendations, competence, and anticipated liking for the applicant.


Analysis of the data indicated that attractive‐looking athletes had a significant advantage over unattractive‐looking athletes on all dependent measures. Athletes perceived to be unattractive were more harshly evaluated for entry‐level managerial positions.

Research limitations/implications

The unattractive‐looking female athletes in this study may have been perceived as having both the masculine characteristics of athlete in addition to appearing to be less feminine. This combination of the masculine role of athlete, heightened by a less‐feminine appearance (i.e. unattractive‐looking), may have negatively impacted the unattractive‐looking female athletes in this study, providing further support that when women demonstrate characteristics considered to violate appropriate gender roles, they will be punished for such violations. These findings are a potential addition to role congruity theory in that backlash was occurring as a result of violating two roles; being both athletic and less attractive.


This study was the first to explore if the influence of perceived attractiveness on hiring preferences for female athletes applying for management positions was similar to the influence of attractiveness as reported in research that has examined this influence for women in social and managerial settings. The results of the current study indicated female athletes that are perceived as unattractive must walk the tightrope of being masculine, but not too masculine.



Henderson, A.C., Grappendorf, H. and Burton, L.J. (2009), "Investigating attractiveness in the hiring process of female athletes", Gender in Management, Vol. 24 No. 3, pp. 156-177.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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