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Shailaja Chandra
Tuesday , April 10, 2012 at 12 : 58

IAS interviewees - better off unbeautiful


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The IAS interviews are presently in progress and thereby hangs a tale. The Economist (April 2012) has reported a research study "don't hate me because I'm beautiful." It describes research conducted by two Israeli academics who examined the end result of 2500 job applications after sending similar resumes, (one with photo and one without) in response to real-life vacancies.

For women, they found that attractive females were less likely to be offered an interview if the resume had a photograph; also a plain-looking woman would get called far sooner than her attractive rival. First the "dumb blonde" hypotheses was investigated assuming that beautiful women are generally considered brainless. But no correlation was found between perceived intellect and comeliness. In this particular study since those responsible for issuing the interview letters were predominantly women, the inevitable conclusion drawn was that old-fashioned jealousy had led the women screeners to discriminate against pretty aspirants.

I was tempted to probe this a little further for the IAS related "juicy" reason I give at the end of this article. But first let's also see what another research study "Beautiful people have higher IQs"- has to say - this time investigated by Satoshi Kanazawa at the London School of Economics. Published in 2011 in the Journal Intelligence, the study was conducted on 52,000 individuals from the UK and the US. It strongly suggested that men and women who are physically attractive generally have dramatically higher IQs than their less attractive counterparts!

More specifically, attractive men had IQs which were more than 13 points above the mean and attractive women had IQs which were more than 11 points above the mean.

This news bothered me - having watched all kinds of women in all kinds of managerial positions succeeding occasionally, but mostly failing as their careers were blocked for a variety of reasons. The LSE study made me wonder whether lots of pretty women might indeed have missed the bus despite being more intelligent than their competitors-simply because they were attractive. I also wondered whether the converse could also be true - whether the interview boards in fact preferred ugly women with lower IQs.

Let me come now to the juicy bit - (if the Chief of Army Staff can do it, why not me?) It was some 5 years ago when this unfortunate episode transpired. I instantly took a vow never to join the IAS interview panels set up by the Union Public Service Commission. On that day as a member of the IAS interview board, I was captivated by the charm and quick-wittedness of a cheerful young woman who smiled her way through the interview as she gave articulate, confident responses to most questions asked.

That included "I do not know the answer" which she said with aplomb, adding "what I do know is ..." with equal panache. I pencilled 80 per cent for her interview, happy to do justice to a deserving candidate. Her perfect equanimity, bright eyes and fashionable hair cut were unruffled by a volley of technical questions fired at her by the Chairman of the Board, something he had not done to anyone else over the preceding four days.

But imagine my shock when he announced stodgily that she was worth only 47 per cent even before asking the other members what they thought! It was unbelievable! I used all the persuasion at my command arguing why the candidate was really sound material for holding public office- but to no avail. "She was just bubbly and she could not answer my questions," he said, pushing his spectacles above his forehead with visible annoyance.

"Oh but this interview is not expected to be a test of knowledge", I persisted. It is to assess the candidate's overall personality and fitness to join a premier service," I argued. "I have given her 80 per cent."

The Chairman looked at the other two advisers. Their pencils were hovering over the single sheet of white sheet of paper we were given. "45 per cent", they said in predictable unison.

    

I doubt whether the young lady made it into the IAS which was her first preference. She had been beaten by her beauty and poise - provocative for elderly men accustomed to the behenji look in the women they had known through their own careers. The kati bal appearance and the winsome smile had been this candidate's undoing; clearly she did not know her place in life and deserved low marks in the interview to unquestionably shear her chances of making it into the IAS!

Recalling my own batch, I remember two oddities perfectly. A woman without much pulchritude (Economist's long word for beauty) got 96 per cent by singing her way through the IAS interview - an unsurpassed record to this day! Slightly off the point, but in a new-found zeal to put down colonial symbols of public school education, a male candidate with an ICS pedigree who later rose to become Minister Economic in the Indian Embassy at Washington, was given 45 per cent by the same Board!

Is it not time that research was done into the predisposition of UPSC interview boards to plump for certain types of candidates to the exclusion of others?


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More about Shailaja Chandra

Shailaja Chandra (IAS retd) has over 45 years experience of public administration focusing on governance, health management, population stabilization and women’s empowerment. She was Secretary of the Department of Indian Systems of Medicine & Homeopathy, Ministry of Health &Family Welfare (1999-2002) and following that the Chief Secretary Delhi until 2004. On retirement she was appointed the Chairman of the Public Grievances Commission and Appellate Authority under the Delhi Right to Information Act. In 2006 she was appointed as the first Executive Director of the National Population Stabilisation Fund, Government of India. She is the author of a recently published Status Report on Indian Medicine (2011) which was commissioned by the Department of AYUSH, Government of India. A Report on the Delhi School Education Act and Rules where she was the Chairman of a Committee which suggested changes needed to address current policy and legal gaps in Delhi’s private school education sector was published recently.( 2012). Shailaja has an M.Sc. in Economics from the University of Wales and an Honours Degree in English Literature. Her book “It Crossed My Mind” (Rupa 2007) is an anthology of articles on subjects of current social concern. She was given a special Award for advocacy on population issues and gender sensitivity by Ladli-UNFPA. Besides over 150 articles which bring up questions about public administration have been published by leading national dailies and magazines in India and also by the OECD and WHO. She was recently awarded a fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Nantes, France to research and write a paper on Probity in Public Life.
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