Feeling the Sting of Weight-related Workplace Discrimination

Published on Topic: Body Image

Across the country, efforts are underway to eradicate workplace discrimination.  Yet, in a recent SheByShe women’s opinion study, 15% of the respondents believe they have been discriminated against or suffered prejudice because of their weight. 

Some forms of weight-related discrimination are now illegal.  In 2011 Congress extended workplace disability protection to morbidly obese people and in April and July of 2012 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reached settlements in its first two major cases around weight-related workplace discrimination.  Clearly this work is not preventing this damaging behavior.

Over 700 women from all over America took the SheByShe “Women’s Weight and Body Image Concerns” survey. When describing how they have been discriminated against, 60% relayed a story related to work.  The other 40% described general circumstances.  Many of these women shared their heartfelt stories and experiences.  

For example, one woman recalled, “A previous employer was obvious about treating thin, stylish teachers better than heavier teachers.”

Another commented, “I worked in a car dealership, many of the other girls who worked there were thin and in shape. The male co-workers showed preferential treatment to the ‘thin’ females. They would get better sales opportunities, faster car service for their customers, and invited out to lunch-for drinks after work with all the guys!”

More than one-third of the women who feel they have been discriminated against, or suffered prejudice because of their weight, have been the victim of negative actions such as demeaning looks, rudeness, and derogatory comments. 

Many report being left out of team activities. 

Missing Out on Job Opportunities and Promotions

A little more than 25% of the women in this study who have experienced weight-related discrimination feel like they were not hired for a job because of their weight.  Almost all feel they were well qualified.

As one SheByShe respondent said, “I was up for a job, at the third interview, the man who would be my boss came in the room, took one look at me and said, ‘no,’ and walked out.

Another shared this story, “I feel as though I was not hired for a position because I am obese. It seemed as if they took one look at me in my black suit and said, ‘she's lazy.’”

And another said, “I was not hired for a top management position.  I was also not hired as a sales rep despite great personality and sales skills.”

And, this, “I applied for a position at a fitness center. I believe I was not hired because I did not ‘look the part’”

Many women also recounted losing out on promotions because of their weight.  A few say they have been fired or demoted because of weight discrimination. 

One respondent recalls, “A former boss questioned my request for a promotion because she said my health concerned her -- meanwhile, I'd never had any health problems more serious than a cold. My current boss has made comments that make it clear she thinks my weight makes me less professional.”

Another respondent confides, “I am now very thin - believe this has helped in promotions”

Although being thin isn’t always a blessing.  One respondent shared, “I’m being demoted because I’m no longer liked for losing weight.

Wage-Related Discrimination

A few of the SheByShe survey respondents reported wage discrimination stemming from weight-related issues.

As one woman said,  “Men with less experience are paid more.  Thin women are given accounts and sales jobs that you call on customers--not me.  I do the paperwork. I trained these women and they make two to three times what I do.  Management does not take me seriously.”

And, another SheByShe respondent said, “I believe people were paid more than me, even though I was the most educated person in the office.”

The responding women work in a broad range of professions.  A little more than 25% are professionals such as business consultant, accountant and a marketing brand manager.  Many of the women are in the education field.  They also hold administrative positions, healthcare roles, services jobs, food services positions, retail jobs and government roles.

Although laws are slowly changing, what’s most important is to raise awareness of these issues so that behaviors can be changed. Hopefully, sharing these women’s stories will help us all better understanding the devastation done by weight-related workplace discrimination.