A study found that even a slight increase in size had a negative impact on female candidates’ job prospects.
Strathclyde University researchers asked participants to rate people for their suitability for jobs in the service sector based on their appearance.
They found women face weight-based prejudice in the workplace even when their body mass index (BMI) is within the healthy range.
Professor Dennis Nickson, from the university’s department of human resource management, said: “Many organisations in the service sector, such as shops, bars and hotels, seek to employ people with the right ‘look’ which will fit with their corporate image.
“A key element of a person’s look is their weight. Workplace discrimination against those of anything other than ‘normal’ weight is not new.
“A large number of studies have highlighted how people who are obese or overweight suffer from bias when they look for employment.
“This study, though, shows how women, even within a medically-healthy BMI range, still face discrimination in service-sector employment.”
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was carried out with St Andrews and Toronto Universities.
It asked 120 participants to rate eight pictures of men and women for their suitability for jobs working in a customer-facing role, such as a waiter or sales assistant in a shop, and for a non-customer facing role, such as a kitchen porter or stock assistant.
They were told that the applicants were equally qualified and were shown faces that reflected a “normal” weight and a subtle “heavier” face.
Prof Nickson 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.
“We found that women, even within a normal BMI range, suffered greater weight-based bias compared to men who were overtly overweight.
“Ethically, the results of the study are deeply unsettling from the viewpoint of gender inequality in the workplace, highlighting the unrealistic challenges women face against societal expectations of how they should look.
“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.”