Obesity bias in promotion?

October 5, 2012

Is there an obesity bias in promotion decisions?

We could have to conclude that, on balance, there probably is. Unfortunately this relates to society’s general negative attitude towards fat people – on all levels. It is commonly known by researchers in sociology that for most in the western world fat = lazy and stupid. Of course, this bias is itself lazy and stupid, but all too common. That said…

As a researcher I have to question (at least) two fairly substantial issues with this article (not necessarily with the study itself). Firstly, if it is true that the participants were shown photos of people of different sizes, then this does not relate well to the clinical definition of ‘obesity’ as used in the heading of the article. As we know an obese person may very well appear to be ‘normal’ sized in a photo and vice versa. Second the article concludes with the following:

Human Resources Institute of New Zealand chief executive Beverley Main said a good HR professional would give the job or promotion to the most suitable person, regardless of external factors.

But it was true some people were prejudiced, even without knowing it, so the best way to solve the problem was to increase awareness.

It would have been good to see the reporter consulting an organisational sociologist active in this area rather than the CEO of the HRINZ. Then perhaps we could avoid the attribution of ‘goodness’ to HR professionals who claim to avoid ‘external factors’ which I would argue is simply a fantasy – external factors will always influence regardless of how much you pretend they don’t. What is more important is how we reflectively understand our reaction to ‘external influences’.

Author: Dr Andrew Dickson (a.g.dickson@massey.ac.nz)

One response to “Obesity bias in promotion?”

  1. […] Cross posted at: http://sites.massey.ac.nz/othersideofbusiness/2012/10/05/obesity-bias-in-promotion/ […]

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Welcome to The Other Side of Business. This is a blog that collects and distributes the opinion and analysis of staff and students from the School of Management, College of Business, Massey University. The aim is to post once or twice a month on current issues in business... Read more