A recent study has found that women continue to face more weight-based bias in the workplace than men even if their body mass index (BMI) is in healthy range. For the study, participants were asked to rate people for their suitability for service-oriented jobs, based solely on their appearance. The researchers found that even the slightest increases in weight had a negative impact on the female candidate’s prospects for the job.
Professor Dennis Nickson, from the University of Strathclyde’s Department of Human Resource Management, explained, “Many organizations in the service sector, such as shops, bars and hotels, seek to employ people with the right ‘look’ which will fit with their corporate image. A key element of a person’s look is their weight.” Nickson notes that a large number of studies have focused on workplace discrimination against people who are obese or overweight, but this study shows that women considered medically healthy still face prejudice in the service sector.
The study included 120 participants who rated eight images of men and women on their suitability for a service-industry job. The participants were told that each applicant was equally qualified for the role and were shown one face that indicated a ‘normal’ weight and another indicating a slightly ‘heavier’ frame.
The study revealed both men and women face discrimination in the “highly weight-conscious” field when it comes to their weight, but women faced the most by far, according to Nickson.
“The findings raise a number of practical implications, both ethically and from a business point of view. Ethically, the results of the study are deeply-unsettling from the viewpoint of gender inequality in the workplace, highlighting the unrealistic challenges women face against societal expectations of how they should look,” Nickson concluded.
“Weight discrimination at workplace highlighted,” University of Strathclyde, http://www.strath.ac.uk/whystrathclyde/mediacentre/deeply-unsettlingweightdiscriminationintheworkplacehighlighted/, last accessed September 9, 2016.
Nickson, D. et al., “Subtle increases in BMI within a healthy weight range still reduce women’s employment chances in the service sector,” Plos One, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0159659, last accessed September 9, 2016