The Femme Fatale Effect: Attractiveness is a Liability for Businesswomen’s Perceived Truthfulness, Trust, and Deservingness of Termination

Abstract

In what we label the “femme fatale” effect, we proposed and found support for the notion that attractive businesswomen are judged as being less truthful than less attractive women for reasons rooted in sexual insecurity. In Study 1 (n = 198; U.S. participants), attractiveness predicted less perceived truthfulness for female, but not male, leaders delivering negative organizational news. Next, we revealed limitations of the lack-of-fit explanation; this effect persisted when the attractive woman was in a feminine role in Study 2 (n = 155; U.S. participants), in a feminine industry in Study 3 (n = 286; U.S. participants), and delivering positive rather than negative news in Study 4 (n = 148; U.S. participants). In Study 5 (n = 209; U.S. participants), the effect was eliminated when participants were primed to feel sexually secure, but maintained among those primed to feel generally secure, and truthfulness predicted trust in the target’s leadership. In Study 6 (n = 206; U.S. participants), we again eliminated the femme fatale effect by priming sexual security and extended our findings by demonstrating that perceptions of truthfulness predicted perceived deservingness of termination.

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Sheppard, L.D., Johnson, S.K. The Femme Fatale Effect: Attractiveness is a Liability for Businesswomen’s Perceived Truthfulness, Trust, and Deservingness of Termination. Sex Roles 81, 779–796 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01031-1

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Keywords

  • Attractiveness bias
  • “Beauty is beastly”
  • “What is beautiful is good”
  • Gender and leadership
  • Truthfulness
  • Trustworthiness