While it is well known that women who are overweight or obese often face weight discrimination in the workplace, a new study shows that this prejudice may extend to women with a healthy BMI as well.
The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, show that even slight increases in weight had a negative impact on female candidates’ job prospects.
“Many organisations 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,” said Professor Dennis Nickson from the Department of Human Resource Management at the University of Strathclyde in the UK.
“A key element of a person’s look is their weight. Workplace discrimination against those of anything other than ‘normal’ weight is not new. A large number of studies have highlighted how people who are obese or overweight suffer from bias when they look for employment.”
“This study, though, shows how women, even within a medically-healthy BMI range, still face discrimination in service sector employment.”
For the study, the researchers asked 120 participants to rate eight pictures of men and women based on how suitable they thought the candidates were to work in a customer-facing job, such as a waiter or sales assistant, and also for a non-customer facing job, such as a kitchen porter or stock assistant.
Study participants were told that all of the applicants were equally-qualified and were shown faces that reflected a “normal” weight and a subtle “heavier” face.
The findings show that both women and men face challenges in a highly “weight-conscious” labor market, especially for customer-facing positions. However, women faced far more discrimination.
“We found that women, even within a normal BMI range, suffered greater weight-based bias compared to men who were overtly overweight,” said Nickson.
Nickson adds that 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,” he said.
“From a business point of view, we would argue that employers should consciously work against such prejudice and bias by providing sensitivity training for those responsible for recruitment.”
Nickson conducted the study in partnership with University of St. Andrews academics Dr. Andrew Timming and Professor David Perrett and the University of Toronto’s Dr Daniel Re.
Source: University of Strathclyde