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Research Finds Women Face Greater Weight-Based Prejudice When Applying For Jobs

Photo: REX/Shutterstock.
A new study has found, dishearteningly, that even a small gain in weight can affect a woman's job prospects.

An experiment conducted jointly by the University of Strathclyde and the University of Toronto asked 120 participants to imagine they were recruiters on a hiring drive.

Each of the 120 participants was shown a selection of 16 "test faces," some of whom had been digitally altered to appear slightly heavier. The participants were then asked to specify, on a scale of one to seven, how likely they would be to hire each person based solely on their appearance.

The results published in the PLOS One Journal are described as "deeply unsettling from the viewpoint of gender equality in the workplace."

When applying for so-called "customer-facing" jobs in workplaces like shops and restaurants, it was found that women who were slightly heavier, but still had BMIs on the upper end of the healthy range, actually faced greater weight-based prejudice than men who were visibly overweight.

In "behind-the-scenes" jobs in workplaces like offices and factories, it was found that healthy but heavier women were less employable than slimmer women, whereas there was "no statistically significant difference" in the relative employability of heavier and slimmer men.

The study's disappointing conclusion states: "In short, a little weight gain for female job applicants is damaging to women’s job chances. These findings suggest quite clearly that women are at a distinct disadvantage compared to men in relation to their 'gendered physical capital'."

Discussing the study's findings with the Daily Record, Professor Dennis Nickson of the University of Strathclyde said: "The results found that both women and men face challenges in a highly ‘weight-conscious’ labour market, especially for customer-facing roles. However, women faced far more discrimination."

"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," Professor Nickson urged.