Obese female candidates shown the door

by Stephanie Zillman24 Jul 2012

It’s a piece of research which may serve as a timely reminder to HR professionals to take stock of recurring discrimination issues and prejudice in the recruitment phase. Not surprisingly, obese women remain the most prejudged group in the candidacy pool.

The study, Stigmatization of obese individuals by human resource professionals: an experimental study, was published by BioMed Central by a team of German researchers from the University of Tübingen. A volunteer sample of more than 120 HR professionals were tasked with matching standardized photographs of a range of candidates with a set list of work-related prestige and achievements. The candidates differed with respect to gender, ethnicity, and Body Mass Index (BMI).

The study revealed that HR consistently underestimated the occupational prestige of obese individuals and overestimated it for healthy-weight individuals. “Obese people were more often disqualified from being hired and less often nominated for a supervisory position, while non-ethnic normal-weight individuals were favoured. Stigmatisation was most pronounced in obese females,” the study found.

The data suggested that HR professionals are prone to pronounced weight stigmatisation, especially in women, and highlighted the need for increased awareness of discrimination and bias at the hiring stage.

Other key findings from the study included:

  • HR professionals showed an overestimation of occupational prestige in normal weight individuals and an underestimation in obese individuals.
  • Only 2% of study participants credited the obese women as having a high prestige occupation such as a medical doctor or architect.
  • When asked whom they absolutely would not hire, HR professionals showed a strong weight stigmatisation.
  • 42% disqualified the obese female and 19% the obese male.
  • Non-ethnic normal-weight candidates were favoured for supervisory positions, while obese individuals were rarely selected.
  • Only 6% of study participants considered obese females suitable for a supervisory role.
  • While there was also an overall mild gender and race bias in supervisor position selections, weight produced by far the largest inequalities, especially in women.
  • In general, both female and male HR professionals share similar attitudes towards obese individuals.

*Notable limitations of the study were that the researchers only had access to data from HR professionals who were volunteered to participate in the study and that the resumes of the candidates were not included. Thus, HR participants had to base their decision solely on the applicant’s picture.


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  • by Mitch 24/07/2012 3:30:09 PM

    Sorry, but I think its ok to descriminate against the obese. If someone fails to take care of themselves to such an extent that they can be classified as 'obese' i think its a fair assumption that they will not be as good at taking care of a job as a person who is actually able to do the simple task of not blowing up to an enourmous unhealthy size.

    Its like saying that its unfair to descriminate against a drug addict or an alcoholic. Obese people are addicted to a slovenly, gluttonous lifestyles, the way alcoholics are addicted to booze or drug addicts are addicted to crack. In maybe 1 out of a 100 cases it may be because of some severe medical condition that someone becomes obese, but for the most part, these people just dont put in the minimal effort required to be slightly healthy.

    I cant think of a single obese person who i would describe as motivated or a go-getter. Theyre two completely conflicting ways of living your life.

  • by Errol 24/07/2012 4:52:42 PM

    Mitch, your comments are the same sort of rubbish that is used to justify discrimination of every minority. Apart from your obvious ignorance of the measure of obesity and its causes, you are assessing onseity as a diability affecting personality and intelligence. Using that logic no smoker, gambler, obsessed sports person or environmentalisted because they're values don't align to yours. I really hope you are not a HR practitioner because your ignorance reflects poorly on our profession.

  • by Sandra 24/07/2012 6:54:22 PM

    Errol makes a good point about the defintion of obsese - which does not always equate to the stereotype notion that some have of obesity. Also I think Mitch you have made soem very sweeping generalisations - Ive found many skinny people who too have been hopeless at their work and unmotivated....Lets get some spohistication in the awy we view the world..

    oh yes I forgot to say all the mitches i have ever worked for have not impressed- hence wont be hiring anyone with that name in the future

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