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  • There is this study out of Harvard last year that looked at how our

  • biases changed over time.

  • Researchers examined data collected over a nine year period that

  • measured implicit and explicit bias against certain marginalized

  • groups. When people were asked to evaluate their own explicit biases,

  • data showed that over the course of those nine years, racism dropped

  • by 37 percent.

  • Anti-gay attitudes declined by nearly half.

  • And bias against high weight people declined by 15 percent.

  • But when they measured implicit bias, which are our assumptions and

  • attitudes that we may not be aware of or willing to express, it

  • showed something much different.

  • The research found that people were drastically underestimating their

  • own biases.

  • Unconscious racism had only declined by 17 percent.

  • Anti-gay sentiments declined by a third.

  • And bias against high -weight people actually increased by 5 percent.

  • One of the things we know about intergroup relations is what's

  • supposed to happen is when you have more contact with, say, a person

  • who doesn't look like you, it should reduce your prejudice for that

  • person the more you interact with them and the better quality

  • relationships you have with them.

  • And what's interesting about weight is that doesn't seem to be

  • happening. And we don't really know exactly why.

  • But we do know that stigma, particularly for weight, is really,

  • really hard to reduce.

  • Studies show that these negative attitudes have had an impact on high

  • weight people in the workplace.

  • We live in a society where negative stereotypes towards people who

  • have high body weight are very common.

  • And those are stereotypes that people are lazy or lacking willpower

  • or discipline or are even less intelligent than others because of

  • their body weight. And those kinds of stereotypes and negative

  • attitudes become translated into overt forms of unfair treatment and

  • discrimination. Michigan is the only state that has passed

  • legislation that makes weight discrimination explicitly illegal.

  • And there are a handful of cities that have passed

  • anti-discrimination ordinances that address weight.

  • But there is currently no federal law protecting high weight people

  • from discrimination.

  • So how much weight discrimination is there in the workplace and what

  • can we do about it? There is a lot of disagreement about what

  • language to use when referring to high weight people.

  • Elizabeth Kristen is the director of the Gender Equity and LGBT

  • Rights Program for a non-profit organization called Legal Aid at Work

  • in California. In 2002, she wrote an article for UC Berkeley Law

  • Review titled "Addressing the Problem of Wage Discrimination in

  • Employment," which explored how this issue can be handled using

  • existing laws.

  • I think there's been a real medicalization at times of the issue of

  • weight. And so people, I think generally are comfortable with this

  • language of obesity and body mass index.

  • But it's actually a really alienating experience for people who have

  • what these days were calling high -weight individuals

  • Because it's very factual.

  • It's very much not implying a whole bunch of medical judgments about

  • the way. But it is recognizing the reality that people, at least in

  • our current society, who have different body weights, may face

  • different barriers to society.

  • A lot of the academic community still uses medical terms such as

  • "obese" or "overweight."

  • But many activists and other high-weight individuals feel these terms

  • pathologize their bodies.

  • For the purposes of this video, we've chosen to use the terms "high

  • -weight" and "people of size," except when referring specifically to

  • research that uses specific terminology.

  • High-weight individuals report discrimination in all aspects of life,

  • but specifically in the workplace.

  • Mary Himmelstein is an assistant professor at Kent State University

  • who studies weight stigma.

  • People with obesity are seen as less hirable, are seen as having less

  • supervisory potential, are hired less oftenwhen they are, are

  • hired at lower salaries.

  • If it's in a job that's existing, people are willing to penalize them

  • more relative to thin applicants.

  • What's really interesting about this literature is even when you have

  • a resumé of an unqualified applicant who's thin, they're still seen

  • as better for the job than a higher body weight applicant who is

  • qualified for it. There are also reports of people of size being

  • relegated to what researchers call non-contact positions.

  • If you imagine a receptionist, for example, someone who can be the

  • face of the business, someone who every client comes in and interacts

  • with, it's very unlikely that the receptionist would be the high

  • weight individual. If they do hire a high-weight individual, they'd

  • be more likely to put them in a job behind the scenes in the

  • mailroom, for example, or somewhere where they're not going to be the

  • face of the company interacting with the public.

  • And the discrimination worsens when other factors are taken into

  • consideration, such as gender.

  • It does tend to be something that more women report than men,

  • particularly at lower levels of overweight compared to men.

  • So for women, for example, weight discrimination may kick in even if

  • their BMI is only a little bit higher than what we would consider to

  • be at a normal or thinner body type.

  • Whereas for men that weight discrimination doesn't kick in until

  • higher levels of obesity.

  • High-weight people are also consistently paid less than their thinner

  • colleagues. A 2004 study found that obese men made 3.4

  • percent less than their thinner counterparts and obese women made 6.1

  • percent less. Where you start on the ladder is really important for

  • where you end up on the ladder for salary.

  • So if you start low at salary, that means even if you're getting

  • increases in bumps, you're essentially going to stay lower.

  • And if you're also getting lower increases, then you might see a

  • larger gap as you move up in the work force rather than a smaller

  • one. A 2009 study estimates that between five and 22 percent of top

  • female CEOs in the U.S.

  • were overweight. The same study found that a lot more male CEOs were

  • overweight somewhere between 45 and 61 percent, suggesting that

  • standards are more forgiving for men when it comes to body size.

  • And the discrimination documented in these studies doesn't stop at

  • hiring or wages.

  • Inappropriate comments and interactions with colleagues at work can

  • sometimes rise to the level of harassment.

  • Workplace harassment looks like, at least in the case law that I

  • talked about in my article, was really open, almost playground

  • harassment that you would imagine seeing at a great school.

  • You know, people being called names like Fatty or Butterball, you

  • know, those kinds of names.

  • That's clearly inappropriate in the workplace, but it also may be

  • illegal. This treatment can also come in more subtle forms.

  • Every single employment experience that I've had has had some

  • negative experience for sure.

  • That's Lauren Haber Jonas.

  • She's the CEO of Part & Parcel, a plus-sized clothing company that

  • offers customers the opportunity to earn a commission through their

  • partnership program.

  • My first job out of college was at a Fortune 10 company, a very large

  • tech company. And we were given t-shirts as like a cohort of college

  • grads joining the company.

  • And there was not one in my size , men or women.

  • So I was the person that had to figure out how to cut the cut the

  • sides up my t-shirt and sew them together with shoelaces at the time

  • during a retreat. She realized how difficult it was for plus-sized

  • women to access professional clothing.

  • And it led to feeling like she didn't belong at work.

  • The real sort of crux of Part & Parcel was was for me as an 18 year

  • old kid in college wearing a man's suit to two college internship

  • interviews. And I still vividly remember what it was like to not only

  • be chastised overtly from both the interviewers and my peers, but to

  • feel out of place and therefore less confident.

  • We started specifically with workwear product for these reasons.

  • We have heard from women time and time again that she's 35.

  • She's 40. She hasn't worn a non-stretchy pants since she was 18.

  • Can you imagine walking into a high -powered environment or job

  • interviewing environment in an leggings?

  • Additionally, physical workspaces are often not designed with high

  • -weight employees needs in mind.

  • Other things that people tend to experience in the workplace that we

  • don't tend to think about are things like physical barriers.

  • So having chairs that have arms on them that not necessarily all

  • people can easily fit into can be a problem and an embarrassing

  • problem to have to go to your co-worker to address.

  • Research shows that experiencing weight stigma in the workplace has

  • severe impacts on people's well-being.

  • We know that when people experience weight stigma, that this worsens

  • health not just in terms of their emotional well-being, but also

  • their physical health as well.

  • And so I think it's helpful to really think about weight stigma, not

  • only as a social justice issue, but also as a public health issue

  • that we need to address.

  • Research shows that people who have experienced weight stigma have

  • higher rates of psychological disorders such as depression or

  • anxiety. And they are less likely to want to engage in physical

  • activity or exercise.

  • There are also studies that show experiencing weight stigma causes

  • overeating or binge eating.

  • There are also studies documenting physical side effects to weight

  • stigma that can be measured independent of someone's body weight.

  • It induces stress in your body and you can see that in your

  • physiological systems and that in and of itself actually can cause a

  • number of problems down the line.

  • So if this is something that you are experiencing over and over and

  • over again and it's essentially a normal part of your everyday life,

  • then eventually five, 10, 15 years down the road, you're going to

  • start to see problems in your biological systems in your body and the

  • cardiovascular system, and the endocrine system as a result of wear

  • and tear from the extra stress that you're getting from being

  • stigmatized. And again, over and beyond BMI.

  • Despite a large body of academic research documenting weight

  • discrimination in the workplace, there aren't comprehensive laws

  • addressing the issue.

  • That word, for example, weight showing up in the statute and saying

  • it's illegal for an employer to discriminate on that basis is

  • actually a very rare part of the law in the United States.

  • The state of Michigan has had a law prohibiting weight and height

  • discrimination since the 70s.

  • It was really on the vanguard, but no other states successfully

  • followed that. There is substantial support from Americans for laws

  • to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of weight.

  • But we've also looked at public support for kind of creating a new

  • form of legislation that would specifically prohibit weight

  • discrimination in the workplace.

  • That would make it illegal for employers to refuse to hire someone

  • because of their weight or to assign them lower wages or to terminate

  • them from a position unfairly because of their weight.

  • We're seeing as much as 80 percent of folks in our studies across the

  • country are supporting these measures.

  • So why hasn't there been more legislation addressing this issue?

  • The kinds of opposing arguments that have been raised in the past are

  • concerns that if we pass a law like this, that it would open the

  • floodgates for lawsuits, for example.

  • But if we look at the case of Michigan, that hasn't been the case at

  • all. In fact, the opposite.

  • We really have seen very few cases, probably because it's sending a

  • message that people are aware of and they're preventing these issues

  • from happening in the first place.

  • Many of the experts we spoke with suggested that employers take the

  • initiative to try to prevent discrimination without formal

  • legislation requiring it.

  • The best companies, the ones who take either H.R.

  • practices really seriously.

  • They're going to conduct training for their frontline managers.

  • They're going to make sure that they intervene and stop weight based

  • discrimination because it can lead to a lawsuit.

  • And even if a company ultimately prevails in a lawsuit about weight

  • discrimination, lawsuits are going to be for a company, expensive,

  • distractingnot what you want of you spending your time on.

  • Plus, why would weight discrimination bring any value to your

  • company? Why would you want to indulge people to, you know, harass

  • people with these kind of schoolyard epithets like, you know, Fatty

  • and Butterball? I have received increasing interest from employers

  • about what they can do to address this problem.

  • And, you know, I think within the workplace, this is a logical topic

  • that needs to be included in things like harassment, training or

  • diversity, education or also education and training for H.R.

  • folks and managers.

  • So there are a lot of, I think, relevant places and opportunities

  • where we can really increase education on this issue in the

  • workplace. You know, I've been in this field for almost 20 years and

  • I'm seeing more positivity, more support, more recognition of weight

  • stigma, t hat this is a legitimate form of bias in recent years than

  • I have before. And I think that shift in societal attitudes is going

  • to be very important.

There is this study out of Harvard last year that looked at how our

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B1 INT US weight discrimination workplace stigma people percent

Why Weight Discrimination Persists In The U.S. Workplace