Weight bias in employment – and society in general

While doing research for my MBA (Computing), I stumbled across the below article on weight bias in employment, and found it fascinating. In summary, the research showed that obese people, in particularly fat women, experience significant discrimination in workplace settings, and from society in general. Obese women are less likely to earn higher salaries, and their partners, if they are able to attract one, are less likely to be highly paid.  However, rather than poverty contributing to obesity – through factors such as access to nutritious foods, education on healthy eating practices, and access to safe exercise programs – the paper puts forward the notion that obesity causes poverty – if you are fat, you are less likely to be earning a high salary.

http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~rothblum/doc_pdf/weight/WeightBiasinEmployment.pdf

My employment experiences have generally been very positive ones; I’ve chosen workplace cultures that value intellect over attractiveness and reward excellence in output rather than in application of makeup. While dressing smartly, I rarely wear makeup and don’t even own a pair of high heeled shoes. They don’t make them in a size 11D 🙂

Lately though the educational institution where I work is becoming ‘corporatised’ – with suits becoming more de rigeur. Slowly, our values are changing – with more weight (pun intended) being placed on image and presentation. So, although losing weight is a great health goal, should career advancement also be a motivator? Or am I just selling out to a culture that conflates being fat with being stupid and lazy? Clearly I’m neither – holding two degrees, well on my way to a third – and holding a significant workload both on the job and through extra-curricular activities.

What’s the best strategy for someone like me – that is, highly intelligent, well educated, but obese – and likely to remain so – even with significant weight loss – for the foreseeable future? As I see it, my options are;

  1. Accept the status quo but continue to invest in my career
  2. Accept the status quo but not invest in my career – as I may not get a return on that investment
  3. Lose weight (motivated for health reasons and personal drive)
  4. Lose weight (to look good, meet societal expectations and advance my career)

It’s a fascinating area. One of the concepts that’s been playing on my mind recently is around societal contribution. As an educated, gainfully employed member of society I contribute taxes, donate to charities and am generally a “good” citizen.

However as an obese citizen I’m denied many opportunities afforded others; social inclusion is more difficult, there are barriers to attracting a partner and starting a family, I’m taken less seriously in some professional situations and getting competent medical care is harder (viz the case when I presented with pneumonia and the first question from the GP was ‘how much do you weigh?’).

So why should I contribute as much to society when society doesn’t value me as much as the “hot chick”?

The rudest woman in the world

I’m proud of Geelong. We have a lovely city – wonderful beaches, friendly people and great facilities. Like any metropolis though, we have problems with Trash, and today I got to meet her face to face. After having spent a very pleasant morning photographing the flora of the Geelong Botanical Garden, Mum and I were meandering back to the car when we noticed a steady stream of well dressed doyennes arriving at the Garden, ostensibly for some sort of function. “Lovely”, we thought, “wonderful place to get married!”.

As I was dismantling  the lenses, the carpark began to get full. Unlike most Trash, this piece arrived not on the wind but in a beige-gold Ford Falcon – the same colour as a fake Rolex. Ms Trash alighted from the vehicle, intent on being able to use the carpark we were obviously about to vacate. “I’ll be two  minutes,” I said, noting the large sunglasses and too-short-for-this-weather skirt, “just packing up”. I continued to clean the lenses and pack them away. Pouting, Ms Trash was not to be fobbed off. “Could you do me a favour?”, she whined in one of those used-to-getting-my-own-way-because-I’m-up-myself voices, “we’re running late for a wedding. Could you just back our your car so that we can get in?”

Principle Number #1: Your failure to plan does not make it my problem

No, we can’t. You are late for a wedding because you’ve failed to plan. Your tardiness (and hideous outfit) are testament to this. At this point Mr Trash, for whom patience is not a strong suit, began to beep his horn. His very small horn. The intent of this unashamedly alpha male behaviour of course was to intimidate us. Wrong move.

Principle Number #2: Be nice. It will get you better results than being nasty.

Mum and I are reasonable people. We’re generous and friendly. We talk to strangers, and we let people into traffic. But neither of us tolerates fools, and in particular detest arrogant swine who think their God’s gift to creation. Now, had Ms Trash been somewhat humble (heaven forbid, friendly!) and asked courteously we probably would have been pleasant and calmly reversed out of the car park. Mr Trash continued to beep. Ms Trash continued to pout. Smoke began to waft from Mum’s ears.

Principle Number #3: Don’t piss off my Mum!

Mum sat firm, keys in ignition, with no intent to turn them. “I don’t think so!” she bellowed. More smoke emanated from her ears. More beeping. More pouting. Finally, I instructed Mr and Ms Trash to find an alternate car park. And as we drove past, around two minutes later after gently and calming reversing out of the park, we noticed the Fake Rolex-mobile…. 100 metres away in a large alternate car park.

So, if you see a Ford Falcon in a fake Rolex beige gold, number plate RGR 170, please don’t do anything – including giving them your car park. They’re obviously not from Geelong 🙂

Netregistry nurses make me sick

CeBIT is a 3-day conference which focuses on business technology and IT solutions, and is held every year in Australia. Companies exhibit at CeBIT, hoping to build brand awareness and promote their service offerings. This year, Australian domain name registration and web hosting company Netregistry tried a slightly different marketing tactic – and it’s one that’s making me sick.

Using a ‘medical’ theme to promote their web site health check service, Netregistry dressed female staff in quasi-nurse uniforms, and had them ask CeBIT attendees about the health of their websites. According to this article by ZDNet, Netregistry CEO Larry Bloch (@larrybloch on Twitter) has stated that

“There would have been female doctors if any of our sales people were female — but they’re not”

This is appalling on three levels;

Representation of women in ICT: Instead of having female consultants and sales staff with (presumably) the technical and interpersonal skills to analyse the health of a client’s website, instead models (employed for their looks, not for their intellectual capital) are used engage the (predominantly male) attendees of CeBIT.

Representation of the nursing profession: The nursing profession has worked long and hard to build an image of nurses built on trust, integrity and professional deportment. Placing women in nurses’ uniforms to sell website ‘health checks’ detracts not only from the image of women, but also from the image of nurses and the nursing profession.

Lack of female representation in sales roles: The question everyone is forgetting to ask is why there are no female sales staff at Netregistry? Oh woops, my bad – as a female why would I want to work for an organisation that so obviously doesn’t see women as professional and intelligent, but as eye candy to sell a service. Recruit me now.

No wonder I moved away from Netregistry for my web hosting some time ago. They were appalling then and things it seems haven’t changed.

If you’re as angry as I am about this, send @larrybloch or @Netregistry a Tweet.

Disclaimer: I wasn’t at CeBIT, I didn’t see the ‘nurses’ in question. But I didn’t have to…