Although it might soon be illegal to call a co-worker fat, a new study by researchers from University of Strathclyde revealed the awful truth on how employers in the service sector discriminate against candidates with plump physical appearance.
The study led by Professor Dennis Nickson at the university’s department of human resource management found that women whose body mass index (BMI) is within the healthy range are still face discrimination in service sector employment.
The study asked 120 participants to rate eight pictures of men and women for their suitability for jobs working in a customer-facing role, such as a waiter or sales assistant in a shop, and for a non-customer facing role, such as a kitchen porter or stock assistant.
Participants were told that applicants were equally-qualified and were shown faces that reflected a ‘normal’ weight and a subtle ‘heavier’ face.
The results found that both women and men face challenges in a highly ‘weight-conscious’ labour market, especially for customer-facing roles. Researchers found even marginal increases in weight had a negative impact on female candidates’ job prospects.
They found that even within a normal BMI range, women suffered greater weight-based bias compared to men who were overtly overweight.
“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,” Professor Nickson told News Medical.
Although many organisations in the service sector, such as shops, bars and hotels, seek to employ people with the right ‘look’ that fits with their corporate image, Professor Nickson refused to accept this as a reason to be bias against candidates.
“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,” he added.