Obesity in the Workplace: Discrimination Against Employees and Customers in a Retail Setting
Obesity in the workplace continues to be a pressing issue because obesity rates continue to rise across the United States. This creates concerns for the two-thirds of the adult population that can be considered obese or overweight, as well as the organizations that employ them. In addition to the physical consequences of being overweight, heavy individuals may also be the victims of stigmatization and prejudice. Common stereotypes associated with heavy individuals purport that they are less hardworking, less conscientious, and less happy than non-heavy individuals are. Because weight is not a protected class under federal discrimination law, obese individuals may also feel that their weight affects their work experiences through both formal (i.e., overt) and informal (i.e., subtle) discrimination.
However, much of the research regarding weight-based discrimination has focused on the experiences of women and on identifying if discrimination occurs, not why discrimination occurs. A recent study conducted by Ruggs, Hebl, and Williams (2015) aimed to better address these gaps in the literature through two experimental studies. The first study examined the extent to which obese men experienced discrimination as both a job applicant and retail customer. The second study examined whether or not negative attitudes about heavy employees were transferred from individual employees to the products they sell or organizations in which they work.
WEIGHT DISCRIMINATION: DOES GENDER MATTER?
Study one examined whether or not obese men experienced discrimination when applying for a job or visiting a store as a retail customer. To conduct this experiment, male undergraduate students (or research “confederates”) visited 223 stores across multiple malls located in the Southern United States. The confederates dressed either naturally or in an obesity prosthetic; that is, in some store visits the confederates appeared non-obese, while in others, they appeared obese. A second confederate silently observed the interaction between the actual store employee and the first research confederate, to look for evidence of both formal and informal discrimination.
Formal discrimination was measured by documenting the responses the store employee gave to questions asked by the confederate. For example, one week before the experiment, each of the retail stores indicated that they were hiring. However, if an employee told the research confederate that the store was not hiring, formal discrimination was documented. Informal discrimination was measured by watching the store employees’ behavior when interacting with the confederate such as smiling, pursed lips, and eye contact.
The results of this experiment showed that heavy confederates were more likely to experience informal discrimination than formal discrimination. In addition, heavy confederates experienced more informal discrimination (e.g., less personal and more hostile interactions with store employees) than non-heavy confederates. As a result, this study provided support for the idea that men also experience weight-based discrimination.
HOW ARE HEAVY EMPLOYEES AND THEIR ORGANIZATIONS PERCEIVED BY CUSTOMERS?
The second study expanded on the first with the aim of better understanding potential customers’ attitudes toward heavy employees and the organizations in which they work. For this experiment, 298 college students watched a marketing video that showed either an obese or non-obese employee delivering a sales pitch for several products sold by a fictitious company. After watching the video, participants were asked to rate the employee, the organization, and the products they viewed.
The results of the study showed that when individuals were shown a heavy employee, they were more likely to rate the employee negatively on appearance, carelessness, and professionalism. These negative evaluations of employees were then transmitted to the organization and associated products. That is, negative evaluations, based on stereotypes of heavy employees, led to more negative evaluations of the organization.
The current study suggests that job applicants, retail customers, and employees may experience stigmatization and discrimination as a result of their weight. The results from two studies show that: (1) males, in addition to females, experience weight-based discrimination, (2) heavy employees can trigger negative stereotypes about overweight individuals, (3) which can then result in negative evaluations of the organization and its products.
So what is an organization to do? First, organizations should conduct diversity training that includes overweight individuals and discusses stereotypes associated with heavy individuals. This may potentially help to reduce discrimination against individuals with whom employees interact, including job applicants, customers, and other employees.
Second, the authors suggest that organizations should incorporate individuals of all sizes in their organizational messages and marketing materials. As a result, heavy and non-heavy individuals will be perceived as a representation of the organization, and may help to change stereotypes about heavy individuals. This may lead to more positive customer attitudes about heavy employees and their respective organizations.
Reducing Stereotyping: What You’re Doing May Not be Working
Stereotypes are quite common, but they are not always bad. Sometimes, we can stereotype someone in a positive way, and sometimes stereotypes are helpful because they reduce the amount of critical thinking a person has to do. The danger is when stereotypes are inaccurate or negative. This can lead to discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Organizations spend large sums of money every year on reducing stereotyping with training that aims to raise awareness and minimize their negative effects. A recent study by Duguid and Thomas-Hunt (2014) investigated whether creating greater awareness of stereotyping and encouraging resistance to them was the best way of curbing their harmful effects.
FINDINGS ABOUT STEREOTYPES
The researchers conducted a series of studies on three distinct social groups, older adults, females, and overweight people. The studies focused on the effectiveness of different messages given to employees about the prevalence of stereotyping, and the way to resist acting on these stereotypes. For example, in one study some participants were given a message that the vast majority of people are prone to stereotyping and that the participant should try to avoid stereotyping. Another group was given a message about the low prevalence of stereotyping and also to avoid stereotyping. Two other groups were given these same messages but were not told to avoid stereotyping. The researchers determined what effect this would have on how much participants expressed stereotypes. The study revealed that messages about the low prevalence of stereotyping in society yielded lower levels of stereotype expression than messages about how common stereotyping is.
Another study focused on females who were involved in compensation negotiations. The study also considered the different expectations of appropriate behavior for males and females. The researchers hypothesized that when behavior went against common stereotypes (e.g. women behaved in a more forward and forthright manner) that resistance and unfavorable reports would result. Those who received the message that stereotypes are prevalent evaluated the female negotiators as less warm than the group that was not given any message. They also were more likely to say that they did not want to work with people like that. Those who received the message that stereotyping is not very prevalent were the most likely to rate the female negotiators as warm and state that they would work with females like that.
In the final study, participants were given a negotiation task. The researchers found that messages about the prevalence of stereotyping along with messages about how to counter these perceptions could influence stereotyping expressions as well as the behavior of the participants. For example, men who received the message about the high prevalence of stereotyping were more likely to act assertively in a competitive task.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This study in its entirety has significant implications for how organizations can use different types of messages to reduce the harmful effects of stereotyping in the workplace. For example, awareness of the general prevalence of stereotypes may not altogether hinder stereotypic expression, but may rather increase it. In other words, some people may be less likely to try and hide their stereotypical views when they know that most people engage in stereotyping. However, creating a culture where individuals have a heightened awareness of others’ efforts to counter stereotypical beliefs can help reduce stereotypical expression and behavior.
Avoiding Adverse Impact: Selection Procedures That Increase Organizational Diversity
Using cognitive tests as part of an employee selection process will generally help more than various other methods (such as interviews) to ensure the selection of better performing individuals. There are some methods that are slightly better predictors of performance, but cognitive tests have proven to be a mainstay.
Unfortunately, the use of such tests can lead to discriminatory hiring practices against minority groups, who often score below their white counterparts due to a variety of factors.
Different strategies have been proposed to counteract this adverse impact in selection procedures in order to ensure a fairer hiring process and encourage greater diversity within the workplace. The research reviewed here investigated one such strategy.
Adverse Impact is a means of measuring this type of discrimination. It is calculated by dividing the selection ratio from the lower scoring group of applicants (a minority group) by the selection ratio of the higher scoring comparison group (historically, more privileged groups).
Adverse Impact towards the minority group has occurred if the result of these calculations is less than 4/5ths. This is a way of guarding against discriminatory selection practices and ensuring a more diverse and representative workforce.
When cognitive tests are used for selection procedures, it is perceived that the organization now has to make a trade-off between selection criteria related to work performance and selecting for diversity by adhering to the Adverse Impact ratio.
One strategy for overcoming Adverse Impact is to weigh cognitive and non-cognitive tests differently. The researchers investigated the use of this weighting strategy on cognitive sub-tests, which represented the second-order stratum of cognitive ability.
Second-order cognitive abilities are not specific individual abilities, but rather a broader constellation of related abilities, yet still more refined than a measure of general cognitive ability (known as g). For example, measuring acquired knowledge in reading and writing (stratum II) would include relationships across vocabulary, reading comprehension, and analogy tests.
The researchers hypothesized that, although general cognitive ability may be a fairly good predictor of later performance, the stratum II abilities may be better predictors when a job requires that specific ability. By using a sophisticated weighing technique with varying values for specific abilities related to a job, the researchers found that this method could improve minority hiring, but not at the expense of selection quality if a test of general cognitive ability was used.
BIG PICTURE TAKE-AWAYS
This research is particularly interesting for managers and recruiters because it provides a clear way forward in decreasing the possible Adverse Impact of company selection procedures, which helps to create a more diverse workforce.
Workplace diversity has been shown to have multiple benefits in terms of organizational outcomes. But you can also rest assured that using such weighted methods won’t decrease the quality of hires if the abilities are shown to relate to the job.
Is It Lonely At the Top? The Victimization of High Performers
High Performers are defined as the group of talented employees that increase both team and organizational performance.
Previous research has suggested that individuals high on cognitive ability are more likely to experience workplace victimization, and High Performers might be the target of interpersonal harm.
The current study by Eugune Kim and Theresa Glomb extends this line of research by examining the extent to which High Performers are victimized due to group members’ envy, and whether work group identification can reduce this potential negative consequence of high performance.
TASK PERFORMANCE AND VICTIMIZATION OF HIGH PERFORMERS
Compared to average workplace performers, High Performers tend to enjoy more financial and social resources, and they receive more attention in their work groups and organizations. As a result, they are often at the risk of being victimized by other organizational members.
The researchers conducted two separate studies– one with staff members at a large university in the United States, and the other with employees from three organizations in South Korea. In both samples, High Performers were found to be victimized more than low performers.
THE ROLE OF ENVY
As a result of being constantly compared to High Performers, the study found that other group members’ self-evaluation might suffer.
They also discovered that such feelings of inferiority may motivate group members to victimize high performers, with the intention of reducing their advantages in the workplace.
In short, the researchers found that envy usually explained why high performers were more likely to be victimized.
HOW WORK GROUP IDENTIFICATION CAN HELP
The researchers also found that work group identification can reduce High Performer victimization in the workplace.
When group members identify themselves with the group and have strong bonds with one another, they don’t tend to develop feelings of envy and/or don’t let their feelings of envy translate into victimization.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
The current study highlights the importance of promoting work group identification, such as engaging in team building activities or social gatherings to reduce envy towards high performers.
High performers might also consider downplaying their accomplishments and maintaining a humble outlook to avoid potential victimization in the future.
Getting the Benefits of Age Diversity in the Workplace
Increasing age diversity can be a bane in terms of communication across generations and differences in cultural and social preferences. Turnover is another point of concern with which organizations with aging employees must contend. However, having a large work force with increasing age diversity also has many benefits that are often overlooked. Age diversity in the workplace provides a larger spectrum of knowledge, values, and preferences. For example the older employees will fall back on their experience while the younger employees will fall back on their academic skills, thus forming a classic mix of skills and abilities. In short, a large age diversity in the workplace can be both beneficial and a bane to the organization. However, the benefits will only increase to a point and then decrease, while the disadvantages of age diversity will continue to increase as a workforce becomes more and more diverse. Perhaps as a result of these limitations, it is commonly believed that age diversity among employees is a problem to be solved. Authors Backes-Gellner and Veen reveal some facts with valuable implications that run contrary to these common notions. They examine the benefits, costs, and consequences of age diversity in the workplace.
The study determined that when the employees of an organization are largely diversified in age, naturally a larger knowledge base and varied experience is available. This in turn affects overall organizational performance granting a greater ability to deal with varying roles and tasks. While age diversity has a considerable positive effect on the productivity of an organization, this benefit only exists when the problem or task is not structured. If dynamic situations are possible there is more scope for various opinions to come together and innovate. When events are viewed by a diverse group of employees’, differing opinions and mental models come into play which can lead to ground-breaking solutions. In these cases, the costs of an age diverse workforce pays off many times over.
The paper has important implications, especially for countries with aging work forces like India and Russia. An aging work force can be used to great advantage, but only if organizations are open to working creatively. It is imperative that vast diversity in age among employees not be viewed as a problem solve, but rather be understood as a useful tool to achieving innovation and creative solutions.
Workplace Discrimination Against Non-Native Speakers
When employees appear destined for top-level management but are never actually chosen, they are said to suffer from the “glass ceiling effect”. Traditionally, research has documented a glass ceiling effect for women, but other groups are similarly discriminated against. Although research has shown that people speaking with a foreign accent are subject to discrimination, little is known about why this occurs. New research by Huang, Frideger, and Pearce (2013) seeks to explain why.
The researchers used results of a lab experiment, as well as real-world data from an entrepreneurial funding competition, and found that non-native speakers did indeed face workplace discrimination. They were rated as less suitable for a managerial position in a hiring simulation, and they were less likely to receive funding in an entrepreneurial competition. But that’s not all. The researchers tested several different possible reasons for why this workplace discrimination occurred. Surprisingly, perceived communication ability or collaboration ability were not to blame. Additionally, outright racism against people from a different country did not statistically explain the discrimination. So what was the culprit? The researchers found that non-native speakers are seen as having less political skill than native speakers. In other words, interviewers question their ability to effectively influence others, navigate tricky interpersonal situations, and use language to build relationships and work with others.
What can non-native speakers do to overcome workplace discrimination based on this misperception? The researchers suggest that job interviewees might highlight their political skill by providing specific examples of past experiences, as well as seeking other ways to signal that they are politically skilled. This may work better, they say, than trying to change an accent, which is typically difficult to do. For interviewers and hiring managers, this research provides another example of how biased thinking can unfortunately lead to workplace discrimination when we aren’t being careful.
Should Your Spouse Interview for You? (IO Psychology)
How well can your spouse sing your praises? Well enough to help you get that job you’ve always wanted?
This article discussed the ethical and legal issues surrounding spousal interviews for employment. Ever heard of it? Some companies are choosing to include spousal interviews as a part of their hiring process, especially for sales roles. As sales jobs can include varying hours and unpredictable income, some organizations want to make sure that the spouse fully understands and is on board with what could come. I don’t personally know of any organizations doing this, but it honestly scares the crap out of me (that is one of those phrases I should probably try to stop using).
As a spouse-less individual, I am a bit overwhelmed by the idea of this. Are you telling me that in my hunt for a mate, I now have to add “awesome interviewer on my behalf” to my list of requirements? Isn’t dating hard enough already?!
The argued business rationale is that by making sure the spouse is on board, it will prevent salesperson turn and subsequent revenue loss. But what risk does this introduce? First of all, requesting a spousal interview reveals the candidate’s marital status before a conditional offer of employment. Marital status is not protected by federal law, but it is in many states. The simple act of revealing of whether or not a candidate has a spouse could lead to intentional or unintentional discrimination. In addition, what if that spouse happens to be a same-sex spouse? That could open a whole new can of legal worms (seriously, I need to update my phrases). And what if you don’t have a spouse to conduct an interview? Does that give you an advantage because there is no one the organization has to make sure is “on board”, or do you lose the opportunity to have someone speak on your behalf?
Regardless of the legalities, the author argues that it could cast a “veil of suspicion on the hiring process” (p. 123). And what could this veil do to the reputation of the organization? How do you even make a hiring decision…Think of the different scenarios to deal with; if a candidate is very qualified but the spouse isn’t on board, do you hire? What about the flip scenario? The organization could get screwed either way. The only way the organization wins is if they find an amazing candidate with a spouse who is up for the unpredictable nature of the job. Is it even worth it? Most likely not.
Think what job hunting and hiring processes would be like if they all included a spousal interview. Oh the madness…
When women don’t reach the C-suite as often as men, benevolent sexism may be to blame
Topic: Gender, Discrimination, Development
Publication: Journal of Management (NOV 2012)
Article: Benevolent sexism at work: Gender differences in the distribution of challenging developmental experiences
Authors: King, E. B., Botsford, W., Hebl, M. R., Kazama, S., Dawson, J. F., & Perkins, A.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin
Women are breaking the glass ceiling and entering higher levels of organizations. To be successful, women need to get the same developmental experiences as men, and both men and women seem to be getting about the same number of developmental experiences. But if this is the case, why then are there fewer women than men reaching the very highest levels of the organization?
Eden King and her colleagues recently conducted a series of studies in an attempt to answer this question. They found that although the number of developmental experiences is fairly similar between men and women, the types of experiences differ. Men are given more challenging experiences than women are, and this isn’t because women don’t want more challenging experiences. It’s because managers choose to give more challenging developmental experiences to men.
The findings from these studies seem to occur because some managers are benevolently sexist. For example, they may feel that they need to provide for and protect women, but not that they are any better than women. Men who held these beliefs about women tended to provide fewer challenging developmental opportunities to female subordinates, but men who didn’t hold these beliefs more often gave equally challenging opportunities to male and female subordinates. Women, regardless of their beliefs, also generally gave equally challenging opportunities to male and female subordinates.
These findings suggest that women who want to advance need to seek out challenging developmental experiences, because they may not be getting those experiences otherwise. Organizations need to ensure that both men and women are provided with equally challenging developmental opportunities, and managers must understand that even well-meant attitudes toward women may actually be discriminatory.
King, E. B., Botsford, W., Hebl, M. R., Kazama, S., Dawson, J. F., & Perkins, A. (2012). Benevolent sexism at work: Gender differences in the distribution of challenging developmental experiences. Journal of Management, 38, 1835-1866. doi: 10.1177/0149206310365902
human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management
Size Matters in Court? Determinations of Adverse Impact Based on Organization Size (IO Psychology)
Publication: Journal of Business Psychology (JUN 2012)
Article: Unintended consequences of EEO enforcement policies: Being big is worse than being bad
Authors: R. Jacobs, K. Murphy, and J. Silva
Reviewed By: Megan Leasher
Adverse impact occurs when neutral-appearing employment practices have an unintentional, discriminatory effect on a protected group. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is charged with enforcing all federal legislation related to employment discrimination and adheres to the 1978 Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures for “rules of thumb” on inferring whether adverse impact is present.
However, it’s tricky for a plaintiff to present conclusive evidence that adverse impact is present in an organization’s practices. Statistical evidence is needed to demonstrate whether employment practices are truly discriminating against a protected group. Jacobs and colleagues investigate a common statistical method, known as “significance testing,” which is often used in courts to demonstrate evidence of adverse impact. Significance testing compares the difference between the proportion of majority candidates selected and the proportion of protected class candidates selected in an employment decision. If the test finds the difference between these proportions to be “statistically significant,” courts generally interpret this to mean that adverse impact is present.
This method seems to make sense from a high level, but problems arise when you look under the surface. The outcome of significance testing is greatly influenced by the number of people who are included in the analysis. Specifically, the more people you include in a significance test, the greater the likelihood of finding a statistically significant difference between groups. So, if you have an organization with many people included in the analysis, you are much more likely to yield a significant difference between majority and protected groups than you would with a smaller organization with fewer people to include in the exact same analysis. This is the primary argument of the authors; why do courts use significance testing to demonstrate adverse impact when, by nature of the test, the results would almost always find that big organizations are discriminating and smaller ones are not?
The authors conducted a series of studies to determine sources of differences in adverse impact significance testing. They found that the number of people included in the analysis was the strongest predictor in whether or not a statistically significant difference was found between groups. Size accounted for 49% of the final outcome of the analysis, which was almost five times greater than what any other factor (e.g., score differences on assessment in question, proportion in each group selected, etc.) accounted for. They also discovered an interesting threshold: When an adverse impact significance test is conducted with 500 or more people in the analysis, very small differences between the groups’ selection proportions will be statistically significant (yet below 500 these same comparisons would not be significantly different).
These findings support the powerful impact of sample size on determinations of adverse impact via significance testing, but they do not tell us if members of majority and protected class groups are really experiencing systemic, differential outcomes in employment practices. Unless a statistical method can accurately assess the latter issue, it is meaningless. This oversimplification leads us to believe that virtually all larger organizations are guilty of discrimination and virtually all smaller organizations are not. This common practice in courts only serves to make small organizations feel impervious and invincible and leave large organizations running in fear.
The authors close by asserting that regulatory standards should always reflect current scientific knowledge, yet the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures still reflect the science of decades past. They advocate for not only alternative methods to more appropriately measure adverse impact, but also for a more dynamic definition of adverse impact; one that considers multiple, interactive factors before a determination can be made. Current practice is supporting the message that to be big is to be bad and to be small is to be nice, which goes directly against the spirit of anti-discrimination legislation.
human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management
Discrimination in selection: Who’s most at risk? (IO Psychology)
Topic: Selection, Discrimination
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (MAY 2012)
Article: Multiple categorization in resume screening: Examining effects on hiring discrimination against Arab applicants in field and lab settings
Authors: Eva Derous, Ann Marie Ryan, & Hannah-Hanh D. Nguyen
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin
You’re probably aware that discrimination can occur during selection. However, in recent years, various predictions have been made regarding who is most likely to be discriminated against, and why. The multiple minority status hypothesis (MMS) posits that someone who is a member of more than one minority group (e.g., an Arab woman in the United States) is more likely to be discriminated against than someone who is only part of one minority group (e.g., an Arab man in the U.S.). Another perspective is the ethnic prominence hypothesis (EP), which suggests that numerical minority status (in other words, women are not counted as a minority) leads to stereotyping. In a series of recent studies in the Netherlands, Eva Derous and her colleagues studied discrimination against Arabs and tested the MMS and EP perspectives.
In these studies, Arabs were discriminated against in selection practices, supporting the EP hypothesis. Arabs were much more likely to be rejected based on resumes that differed only in the name of the applicants, and not in experience or other qualifications. However, raters who were motivated to control their prejudice did not show discrimination based on the ethnicity of the applicant. Arabs were discriminated against more when raters’ prejudice was high, as would be expected. In addition, when the job was stereotypically held by white men (i.e., HR manager), Arab women were discriminated against more than Arab men, supporting the MMS hypothesis.
The authors found support for the ES hypothesis for lower-status jobs and support for the MMS hypothesis for higher-status jobs. In other words, discrimination may depend on how the applicant, job, and recruiter characteristics interact.
Derous, D., Ryan, A. M., & Nguyen, H.-H. D. (2012). Multiple categorization in resume screening: Examining effects on hiring discrimination against Arab applicants in field and lab settings. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33, 544-570. doi: 10.1002/job.769
human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management