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Can your weight hold you back at work?

Experts suggest that the issues relating to weight are just another problem in an already discriminative professional world

Imagine being told that you must step down from your role because of a change in your appearance, or even being turned down altogether by a company because it does not like the way you look.

Here we consider whether overweight employees are at a disadvantage in business and, if so, whether this is a conscious approach on behalf of the employer.

Case study: is there a respectable size amongst women in business?

The Guardian newspaper recently told the story of a receptionist who was demanded to step down from her customer-facing role after gaining weight.

Not only was she asked to accept a position elsewhere in the business but also the decision was delivered to her during a team meeting in front of the entire workforce. The female worker went up to a size 18, yet the company’s uniform only went up to a size 14.

Although the employer may try to argue that the decision was based on the member of staff no longer being suited to the role because its supplier could not provide an appropriate uniform, what was to stop the company seeking a more flexible supplier? What kind of message does this action put across to other colleagues?

What are the facts?

Not only do overweight people stand less of a chance of securing work but also they are thought to be paid less. Studies have shown that salaries can differ by as much as £1,500 per annum when comparing women with sizes varying by just one stone.

Overweight individuals are also said to work longer hours, with fewer likely to reach positions of leadership; worse still, women in business who are considered overweight are often subject to horrific disrespect and discrimination.

Why are larger men not treated in the same way?

Experts suggest that the issues relating to weight are just another problem in an already discriminative professional world. More men across all business sectors hold strong leadership positions and therefore the image of a larger man allegedly makes him appear more dominant and is thus accepted within the workplace. 

The general focus on female body-shaming also contributes to the way in which women are perceived in business.

Stereotypically, women are supposed to be slim, small and aesthetic, which is totally unrealistic. Some overweight men also encounter unacceptable discrimination and bullying in the workplace.

How can this situation be resolved?

Although extreme cases of discrimination are few, many people – men and women alike – continue to suffer in silence as a result of fat-shaming.

Businesses, along with the rest of the nation, need to come to terms with the fact that not all larger people are unhealthy, nor do they lack self-control.

While personal hygiene and presentation are important, a person who weighs less than another is not necessarily better able to perform their requested duties.

Recruiters should remember that, unless there is strong and valid evidence to support their belief that someone cannot perform a specific role, their shape or size should have no bearing on their employability.

It is up to employers to set an example when it comes to size discrimination in the workplace and encourage others to follow suit.

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