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Women More Likely to Face Weight-Based Prejudice at Work

Topics: Data & Research

Women, if you want to bring home the bacon, don’t eat too much of it.

weight-based prejudice
Image Credit: Jennifer Burk/Unsplash

A new study shows that women face more weight-based prejudice in the service sector than men, even when their body mass index (BMI) is within the healthy range.

While multiple studies have revealed that overweight women and men face bias when job searching, a recent University of Strathclyde study looked at service-sector jobs in particular. It found that while both sexes faced challenges in the highly weight-conscious labor market, and especially in customer-facing roles, even men who were overtly overweight faced less bias than women in the normal BMI range.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study concludes: “In short, a little weight gain for female job applicants is damaging to women’s job chances.” And it calls the results of the experiment “deeply unsettling from the viewpoint of gender equality in the workplace.”

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Weight bias in the workplace against both men and women and women’s long-fought battles for equality at work are nothing new. The well-known Bureau of Labor Statistics figure – that women earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men – continues to tell a story of gender inequality in the workplace.

But newer studies provide even further insight into the realities women face at work today. PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, reveals that the 78-cents statistic is only part of the story, because it compares the average earnings of all working men to all working women. PayScale conducts more of an “apples-to-apples” analysis, controlling for factors such as experience, location, hours worked, and education. It reveals that women earn 2.7 percent less than men with similar characteristics working the same jobs, that the pay gap widens as you climb the corporate ladder, that men get promoted faster than women, and that women report more negative feelings about job satisfaction, job stress, and communication with their employers.

The PayScale report finds that one factor that affects the gender pay gap is “unconscious bias,” behavior that is often the result of beliefs we don’t even know we hold. That lack of awareness, as pointed out in a Fast Company article, makes the problem harder to address.

With the weight issue in particular, the unconscious bias women face is compounded by the fact that they may have little recourse. Weight is not a protected characteristic in U.S. fair employment laws.

While the University of Strathclyde study looked at how weight bias impacts hiring decisions, another new study shows that the weight issue continues to dog women even after getting hired. The study, reported in Shape magazine, showed that men get paid more when they gain weight, whereas women have to slim down to score a fatter paycheck. The same article reported on a Vanderbilt study that found that gaining just 13 pounds will cost a woman $9,000 in salary per year.

With research like this, it’s not surprising that 63 percent of women in a recent Pew Research Center survey said that obstacles continue to make it harder for women to get ahead than men today, compared with 34 percent who say obstacles are largely gone.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you experienced weight-based prejudice in your career? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

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This is an interesting topic and somewhat timely. For starters, I am plus-size. For me, that means my jean size is in the teens. I recently had an interview for an HR position with a company who makes healthy ready-to-eat meals. I started with 2 phone interviews and the final was an in person interview with the HR Generalist (who was a woman). I meet job qualifications to the max and felt that the interviews all went extremely well. That… Read more »

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