The Stereotype affecting 60% of UK Employees

Lazy, less competent, unmotivated, lacking in self-discipline, less conscientious.

These are some of the negative stereotypes persisting about people living with obesity in work, often leading to discrimination in the workplace.

A study found a relationship whereby the more overweight a person is, the more likely they are to report being discriminated against in the workplace; with women 16 times more likely to report weight related employment discrimination than men due to ‘aesthetic labour market’ requirements often found in customer facing roles. A further study explored how weight-based stigma impacts on employment outcomes with the key findings as follows:

  • 25% of women living with obesity experienced job discrimination because of their weight.
  • 54% of women reported experiencing weight-based stigma from their colleagues.
  • 43% of women reported weight-based stigma from their employers or supervisors.
  • 60% of people experiencing weight-based stigma in their employment sadly experienced this mistreatment more than 4 times in their working lives.

The majority of employers are still very likely to think obesity is caused by poor lifestyle choices and this translates to differential treatment throughout the employment cycle:

Employers holding stereotypical beliefs about people living with obesity and this impacts the employer’s perception of what the individual may or may not be able to achieve. People living with obesity can be subject to a wage penalty averaging between 8-10% or sometimes up to 20%.
If women received a 9% wage penalty, this equates to a £2,250/year penalty for all UK women living with obesity.
Employees living with obesity often reported feeling teased, isolated, embarrassed, excluded, and lacking support to advocate for workplace changes.
Managers were found to pressurise employees to be more active at work, or comment on the amount of food they were consuming.
Wrongful terminations, unfavourable positions, fewer opportunities to perform well due to challenging roles.
Employees living with obesity are more likely to be assigned to these positions or experiences even if key performance targets are achieved.

How can we Break the Bias of Workplace Weight Stigma?

Simply by changing the narrative around health, morality, and weight and making workplaces more welcoming to people of all body sizes.

Have padded or gel-filled floor mats readily available and easily accessible without employees having to request them. This will save employees having to suffer in silence for an easy way to increase comfort as some colleagues can hesitate to ask for fear of judgement.

Providing chairs and furniture to suit all body types and leave plenty of space around chairs and tables so everyone can navigate with ease.

Making sure Personal Protective Equipment is provided accommodating all body shapes and sizes.

Create a culture where people’s bodies aren’t commented on, and judgement isn’t passed on food choices or eating habits. This will benefit people with food sensitivities and eating disorders as well.

Conversations in the media and general awareness of this discrimination will hopefully lead to obesity becoming a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Identifying and understanding our own unconscious biases is key to helping to fix this issue. Our EMPOWER, INCLUSION ALLIES, THRIVE and UNCONCSCIOUS BIAS programmes delve into the root causes of stereotyping and stereotype threat, unconscious bias and microaggressions.

Through learning and understanding our own unconscious biases we can help to make changes so that we can live in a world where everyone can bring their true self to work.

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