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Tackling size bias in the workplace

Ngaire Moyes

New LinkedIn study highlights the impact of size bias in the workplace when it comes to hiring new employees, over half (56 percent) of employers believe they are missing out on talent due to discrimination against people due to their weight.

LinkedIn Learning courses opened up to help professionals tackle unconscious bias and create an inclusive workplace. Contributor Ngaire Moyes, Spokesperson –  LinkedIn.

New research undertaken by LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, suggests there are potentially millions* of people missing out on job opportunities which could be unlocked by tackling the issue of size bias in the workplace. More effectively, over half (56 percent) of employers surveyed stated they believe they are missing out on talent due to discrimination against people because of their weight.

LinkedIn members, including plus size bloggers Stephanie Yeboah and Lottie L’Amour, have been sparking conversation on the LinkedIn platform, opening up the debate about size bias in the workplace.

Whilst only 16 percent of employers stated there wasn’t a bias against those overweight, the research among professionals and job seekers shows that those UK workers classified as obese according to their BMI, earn £1,940 less per year than their slimmer colleagues. The findings show that these attitudes are shifting over time, with 68 percent of employers believing that discrimination has decreased or stayed the same over the past five years.

“We’ve seen a lot of discussion amongst the LinkedIn community and in the media about the stigma attached to weight. Our research suggests that bias based on weight is a factor in the modern workplace’ said Ngaire Moyes, spokesperson at LinkedIn

“British businesses have come a long way in terms of diversity and inclusion in recent years, and the journey continues. There is a great deal of understanding about the value diverse businesses can drive and the importance of creating an environment where inclusion and belonging is fostered. LinkedIn members have a number of groups and discussions on this topic on our platform. We want to support them along with employers in opening up the conversation around size bias at work to help understand how the issue can be tackled”.

Technology was identified as a driver of positive change, with 23 percent of employers stating virtual reality assessments and 19 percent stating screening candidates via bots as routes forward. One third (34 percent) of the employers surveyed stated that unconscious bias training was one of the ways to address weight bias in the workplace.

The research shows that employers are more comfortable hiring a candidate that is deemed to be overweight compared to someone who wears too casual clothing (38 percent), has brightly dyed hair (28 percent) or visible tattoos (23 percent).

Ngaire continues: “We see this as an important step in keeping the conversation moving forward and providing the LinkedIn community with the tools to build and create an inclusive workplace. We know that building diverse and inclusive teams is a top priority for HR and talent acquisition professionals, and whilst embracing new technologies is important, it is one part of the solution. Efforts to tackle it cannot stop there.”

Lottie L’Amour, plus sized blogger and advocate, shares her tips on how employers can protect the safety and wellbeing of all of their employees.

Treat size diversity the same way as other areas of diversity and inclusion by adding size diversity to your policy and consider metrics to measure progress. Treat every employee – regardless of weight – the same, by not assuming what job functions or tasks they can or can’t do based on their body type.

Make sure that your job descriptions don’t include physical or weight requirements, unless they are essential to performing a specific role. Be sensitive when developing wellness and health programs – ensure you’re not putting too much emphasis on weight loss or changing someone’s physical appearance by making activities voluntary.

Educate your staff on what is and isn’t appropriate language to use when speaking about other employees appearances, especially around body shaming or appearance by holding workshops on positive, non-critical language.

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