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HSW Partner Jon Stage quoted in the Wall Street Journal's "Moneyish"

Only 15% of hiring managers would consider hiring an overweight woman

Being overweight can weigh down your career prospects, too, according to new research

Overweight women suffer major discrimination in the workplace.

Jobs site Fairygodboss recently carried out a survey of 500 hiring professionals, who were shown a picture of an overweight woman and asked if they’d consider employing her. Only 15.6% of them said that they would. Plus, one in five hiring personnel characterized the woman as “lazy,” and slightly more — 21% — called her “unprofessional.”

This is particularly troubling for much of America’s female workforce. Indeed, nearly four in 10 adult women (38.3%) are obese, according to government data — a higher percentage than for men (34.3%). And even more are overweight, meaning that about two out of three women in America are overweight or obese.

“There are several decades of research evidence demonstrating weight bias in the context of employment, and what we see is evidence of bias at essentially every stage of the hiring and employment cycle,” said Dr. Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.“Weight bias is very prevalent and, in a lot of ways, is socially acceptable,” Puhl added.

What’s more,“the standards for physical appearance are stricter for women than men. Women are more likely to be evaluated on their physical appearance,” says Dr. Kelly Brownell, the dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. This, he explains, makes it even harder for overweight or obese women to contend with recruiters’ prejudicial biases against them.

Radio personality Shavonne Patrice Owens, 37, says she experienced weight discrimination firsthand when she applied for a daycare job in Huntsville, Alabama, two years ago. Despite having all the qualifications for the job, Owens says her friend — a former employee of the daycare center in question (whose employment later terminated) — told her the reason she was ultimately passed over for the job was because of her weight.

A company official allegedly told Owens’ friend, “We decided not to hire her because she’s too big,” Owens told Moneyish.

Owens, who was 525 pounds at 5’11” at the time of her interview with the daycare center, said that this incident “hurt for a second, just for a second… but I know who I am and because of my weight, it has restricted me from a lot of things.” Looking back, she said she’s lost out on other career opportunities (such as jobs in retail that would have required prolonged periods of standing), and she suspects her size was working against her.

“I’m a big girl, but I’m not lazy… [Overweight people] are humans, not whales,” Owens countered, adding that: “I really hope that people in the future that are interviewing people [realize that] we’re all still human.”

Shavonne Patrice Owens says she faced weight-related discrimination when she was passed over for a daycare position in Alabama two years ago.

Puhl noted that there are many reasons why people are overweight — and the assumption that laziness to blame is folly. “That’s a very oversimplified notion, and it relies on the idea that a person’s body size indicates all of their health behaviors. There are many people who have a BMI in the overweight range who are healthier than individuals that have a lower BMI,” Puhl asserted. “You do not know if [a candidate] abuses substances or smokes marijuana, their sleeping habits, you don’t know if they’re sedentary,” she said, yet hiring managers routinely ignore all of those possibilities and focus exclusively on candidates’ size.

Being overweight or obese doesn’t just make the process of landing job more difficult for women; it can also restrict their earning potential. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that “very heavy” women banked $19,000 less than their peers of “average weight,” while “very thin” women earned a dramatic $22,000 more per year. What’s more, a weight gain of 25 pounds was found to be linked to an annual salary decrease of $14,000 per year.

Experts say that weight discrimination runs rampant because of the almost nonexistent legislation protecting people who are overweight and obese from this kind of hiring prejudice. “Weight is not a protected status under the federal or state laws,” said employment attorney Jon Stage, of South Florida law firm Hodkin Stage Ward. “Until protection is enacted… at the local, state, or federal level, these people have a very difficult road ahead of them.”

© 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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