Fat chance of promotion for women – while overweight men rewarded
BEING fat is fine for men in the business world, but it might just weigh down women's prospects for promotion, research suggested yesterday.
A study found that being overweight further reinforced the glass ceiling faced by women trying to reach the top.
But for men, a larger waistline seemed to enhance their chances of entering the boardroom.
The study, published in the British journal Equal Opportunities International, focused on the bosses of 1,000 leading companies in the United States.
Photographs of these individuals were assessed by experts, including medical professionals who were able to accurately estimate people's weight.
The researchers found that only 5 per cent of men and women bosses at top companies were classed as obese – lower than the US average of 36 per cent of men and 38 per cent of women of a similar age.
But the study did find that up to 61 per cent of the leading male bosses were overweight – higher than the US average of 41 per cent in this age group – indicating that overweight men were over-represented in high positions in the business world.
In contrast, only 22 per cent of women chief executives were overweight, compared with the US average of 29 per cent in this female age group.
Researcher Mark Roehling, an associate professor of human resource management at Michigan State University, said that the attitudes appeared to contribute to the glass ceiling.
"The results suggest that while being obese limits the career opportunities of both women and men, being 'merely overweight' harms only female executives – and may actually benefit male executives."
The results echo previous research showing that among white, middle-class communities, women faced "harsher weight standards" than men, Prof Roehling said.
The latest research is the first to focus on the potential effect of weight on career advancement to the highest levels of management.
Prof Roehling said the results reflected a greater tolerance – and possibly even a preference – for larger sizes in men, but smaller-sized women.
"It appears that the glass ceiling effect on women's advancement may reflect not only general negative stereotypes about the competencies of women, but also weight bias that results in the application of stricter appearance standards to women."
Tam Fry, chair of the Child Growth Foundation and a National Obesity Forum board member, said previous cases had highlighted weight discrimination against overweight women.
This included an obese woman who was not allowed to emigrate to New Zealand because of her size, and concerns raised over the potential burden on health services.
Mr Fry said with the financial crisis leading to redundancies, more emphasis could also be put on weight in the jobs market.
"There are now so many people going for the same job because so many have been laid off," he said.
"Unless an overweight candidate is particularly well qualified for the job, it is more likely to go to the slimmer, more attractive candidate. It is an employers' market at the moment."
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