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Weight Bias Contributes to Glass Ceiling

Weight bias even in comics, e.g., the DC reboot of Amanda Waller

In a previous blog, “Can Being Thin Actually Translate Into A Bigger Paycheck For Women?” I discussed a study that found a woman’s weight could have a significant impact on her earnings with “heavy” and “very heavy” women earning between $9,000 and $19,000 less than their “average” weight counterparts.

But could being heavy also make it harder for women to obtain promotions into executive-level positions? According to another recent study, “Weight bias may contribute to the glass ceiling on the advancement of women to the top levels of management.”

The research study, co-authored by Mark Roehling, Michigan State University professor, and Patricia Roehling, professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, found that only 5 percent of male and female CEOs at top U.S. companies were obese with a body mass index (BMI) over 30. This is much lower than the U.S. average percentage of obese men and women, which is currently at 36% (men) and 38% (women) for the same age group.

However, the most shocking study finding was that “between 45 percent and 61 percent of top male CEOs are overweight (BMI between 25 and 29)” but “only 5 percent – 22 percent of top female CEOs were overweight.” Stated the researchers, “This reflects a greater tolerance and possibly even a preference for a larger size among men but a smaller size among women.”

Sadly, this study finding of weight discrimination against women in business doesn’t appear to be limited to the United States. Using data from the Health Survey of England (HSE), the National Obesity Observatory (NOO) compared obesity prevalence among men and women in various classes of work, from “unskilled manual laborers” all the way up to the highest-level category of “professionals” in a June 2011 weight briefing report. What they found was in the “professional” category, men’s obesity prevalence was approximately 21% whereas women’s obesity prevalence was only about 14%, indicating a much higher percentage of men at professional levels in England are obese as compared to their female counterparts.

Read more: Lisa Quast, Forbes

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