Women with ‘normal’ BMI still face weight-based discrimination



New research reveals ‘deeply unsettling’ reflection of gender inequality in the workplace

Women with a healthy BMI still face greater weight-based discrimination in the workplace than men who are visibly overweight, according to new academic research.

Strathclyde University’s study asked 120 participants to rate eight pictures of men and women for their suitability for customer-facing roles such as sales assistant and waiter, and non-customer facing roles, including stock assistants. The candidates were equally qualified but were assessed via photographs, in which some faces reflected a ‘normal’ weight, while others a subtle ‘heavier’ weight.

The findings revealed that both men and women are challenged by a highly weight-conscious labour market, but women face far more discrimination than men. Women with a healthy BMI range experienced a significantly negative impact on their hireability when a small amount of additional weight was added to their photo. They also experienced a greater wage bias than men who were overtly overweight.

Professor Dennis Nickson, who led the research, called the results a “deeply unsettling” reflection of gender inequality in the workplace. “This reinforces what we already know: that being overweight is something that has a negative impact in the workplace – but the more novel findings are that even subtle weight gain, within a medically healthy BMI, can have an effect,” he said.

“It reflects the very gendered expectations we have of women generally in society, and how those apply to the workplace. Because the study involved customer-facing work, it also highlights the expectations of customers towards front-line employees.”

The biases were particularly pronounced in hiring for customer-facing roles, and the research suggests many organisations treat a slim appearance as part of their ‘brand’. But weight discrimination can be found in many aspects of working life. Research published earlier this year by the University of Exeter found women who are heavier than average, and men who are shorter than the national average, earn around £1,500 a year less than their counterparts.

In April, a leading employment judge called for weight discrimination to be treated as seriously as racism and sexism at work. Nickson said employers must consciously work against prejudices and biases around weight loss at work.

“What we try to make clear in the findings is not that people should read this research and try to lose weight,” he said. “The onus is on how organisations and managers behave around weight discrimination.

“Currently, weight is not a protected characteristic, which managers are much more aware of regarding discrimination, so organisations could be including awareness of weight discrimination in diversity training, or just asking managers to think about whether they are taking these biases into an interview or selection process.”

Story via – http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/09/12/women-with-normal-bmi-still-face-weight-based-discrimination.aspx

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