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.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Pregnancy In the Workplace
Although women have been active participants in the workforce for decades, pregnancy in the workplace has remained a challenge. Stereotypes persist about the ability of women to be productive workers while pregnant, with possible negative ramifications for the careers of expecting mothers. In an effort to try to control her image as both employee and mother-to-be, a pregnant woman may engage in “identity management” strategies to help lessen the negative stereotypes associated with pregnancy.
In the workplace, a worker’s professional image can act as organizational currency: it can help employees achieve social approval, opportunity for promotion, and career success. However, a negative professional image can do the opposite, leading employees to dead-end careers and missed opportunities for growth. A pregnancy announcement can damage a woman’s professional image, as stereotypes about pregnant employees suggest that women are less productive and committed to their jobs during pregnancy. After a woman discloses that she is pregnant, she may feel it is necessary to manage this new identity to reduce the negative images associated with being pregnant.
Managing Workplace Identities
In a recent multi-part study on pregnant employees, researchers used both interviews and surveys to understand how women managed their identities during pregnancy and to determine how the effects of these identity management strategies affected employee burnout and turnover (Little, Smith Major, Hinojosa, & Nelson, 2015).
The results showed that pregnant women are highly concerned with managing their workplace identities after disclosing their pregnancy. For example, women believed that perceptions of them had changed as a result of being pregnant. They then utilized a variety of strategies to help preserve their professional image.
Types of Identity Management Strategies
Two broad types of identity management strategies emerged from the interviews: proactively trying to demonstrate that they are still professionals (image maintenance) and trying to de-emphasize their pregnancy status (decategorization).
Of the women interviewed, more than 60% proactively managed their identity by maintaining the same pace of work that they had prior to being pregnant. The image maintenance strategies also included not asking supervisors for special accommodations, going “the extra mile” by working harder, and asking for shorter leave time than they were allowed, all in order to demonstrate their dedication and commitment to the organization.
In an effort to de-emphasize their pregnancies, more than one-third of participants tried to pass as non-pregnant by lying about their physical symptoms or wearing clothing that hid the signs of pregnancy. Others tried to avoid drawing attention to their pregnancy by downplaying their pregnant status. These women also avoided discussing their pregnancy with others inside the workplace.
Why Engage In Identity Management?
Women expressed many reasons for their reliance on identity management during their pregnancy. The four most common reasons included: proving that work ethic and dedication were unchanged, conveying a professional image, avoiding negative career consequences, and convincing others that they would not quit their jobs.
Do These Strategies Help?
A second study collected survey responses from pregnant employees to see how the use of identity management strategies affected employee outcomes such as pregnancy-related discrimination, burnout, and turnover. When women reported using the identity maintenance strategies (e.g., keeping the same pace of work, going the extra mile), they also reported reduced perceptions of discrimination and burnout and a higher likelihood of returning to work post-pregnancy. However, women did not experience positive results when they used decategorization strategies (e.g., trying to appear non-pregnant).
Practical Implications for Organizations
Women experience anxiety and stress related to managing their new identities as pregnant women in the workplace. However, the strategies that women use to manage their identities may have different outcomes, and some strategies are more useful than others. The results of this study show that women who try to proactively manage their pregnant identity have more positive outcomes than women who try to downplay their pregnancy status or pass as non-pregnant.
These results are very important for organizations. First, organizations need to know that pregnant employees are highly concerned about maintaining a professional image in the workplace. Helping women navigate their status as pregnant employees may help lessen this burden. For example, employers can explicitly state that women will not be penalized for being pregnant, can encourage women to utilize the benefits available to them (e.g., pregnancy leave), and can help arrange accommodations for pregnant women in the absence of an official request. Organizations that proactively help women balance being both employees and mothers-to-be foster committed employees who are more likely to return to the workplace post-pregnancy. These organizations will also avoid the legal ramifications related to pregnancy discrimination.
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.
Breaking the Mold: How Challenging Gender Stereotypes Reduces Bias
As the result of a recent study, researchers in the United Kingdom have some intriguing news for women interested in organizational leadership roles. Their core message is, “Don’t conform to gender stereotypes!”
CHALLENGING GENDER STEREOTYPES
The three experiments– which were conducted by Carola Leicht, Georgina Randsley de Moura and Richard J. Crisp– suggested that being exposed to people who defy gender stereotypes makes it much harder to fall back on stereotyping in order to make decisions about leadership. Their study focused specifically on women who defy feminine stereotypes, such as a female engineer, for example.
WHY “GOING AGAINST TYPE” WORKS
The study found that job candidates who did not fit the mold of “the typical woman” were generally viewed more objectively. This resulted in more fair decisions during the selection process, and a general reduction in gender bias.
After being exposed to counter-stereotype individuals, snap judgments about the applicant became less clear. As a result, hiring managers tended to treat these applicants as unique individuals rather than using preconceptions based on their gender.
Most intriguingly, this effect meant that these game-changing women were more likely to be chosen for leadership roles and generally encouraged less bias in the evaluation of their leadership abilities.
POSSIBLE APPLICATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE
There are a number of key takeaways from this study. First and foremost, organizations should clearly encourage objectivity and cognitive flexibility rather than relying on stereotypes to make judgments about others.
The research suggests that more effective diversity training can lead to innovation and change, and that exposure to those that break the stereotypical mold can provide inspiration for other women. It also provides a deeper understanding to the difficult issue of the “glass cliff,” wherein women are selected as leaders primarily in times of crisis.
Lastly, it suggests that effective executive coaching can (and should) encourage women who seek leadership roles to challenge expectations in order to decrease the use of stereotyping in leadership selection.
A Climate for Inclusion & Diversity: Evidence that Being Inclusive Pays Off
Question: What does being inclusive mean for organizations?
Answer: Less conflict, less turnover, and the ability to harness the benefits of workplace diversity.
THE BENEFITS OF INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENTS
The big picture insight gleaned from Lisa H. Nishii’s study on “The Benefits of Climate for Inclusion for Gender-Diverse Groups” is that the advantages of gender diversity in work groups can be realized, and conflicts mitigated, in an inclusive environment.
In this research, inclusion means all employees are treated fairly, are valued and weigh in on core decisions. Also, there is a shared commitment to incorporating diverse cultural identities in order to harness a broad range of insights and proficiencies.
MEASURING CLIMATE FOR INCLUSION
Another question this study answers is, “How do you measure your organization’s climate for inclusion?” Until now, research has not been able to measure inclusive work climates, because a scale for comparison did not exist. This research presents and utilizes a valid and reliable scale created and tested by the author.
Specifically, Nishii’s scale measures three dimensions: fairness of employment practices, integration of differences, and inclusion in decision-making.
Items measuring Fairness of Employment Practices asked employees about the fairness of reviews, compensation, employee development and promotion. The dimension of Integration of Differences items asked about employees’ comfort level with “being themselves,” whether people’s differences were respected and appreciated, and if employees often shared and learned about each other as people. The third dimension, Inclusion in Decision-making, asked about whether employee input was sought, valued, and used to redefine work practices.
The author also reports on actual use of the scale. More than 1300 employees in 100 departments of a biomedical company completed the “Climate for Inclusion” scale, as well as answering questions regarding conflict and satisfaction in their departments. Department turnover was assessed 6 months later. Findings showed that the more inclusive work departments experienced less conflict between members, greater satisfaction, and less turnover.
Conflict and turnover tend to occur in diverse work groups for many reasons. The diversity is key to fueling insight and creativity, so reducing the conflict is vital for organizational health. Being able to measure your Climate for Inclusion is a leap towards solving the diversity-conflict relationship.
In terms of additional real world applications, the author points out that her research reinforces the notion that department managers play a key role in creating inclusive climates. The variation between different departments’ Climate for Inclusion scores showed that the department managers’ abilities to level expectations and set clear non-bias norms markedly effected relationship and task conflict in the work groups.
Balancing Work and Family: Global Differences and Similarities
With a global surge in the number of women entering the work force, the need for studying the issues associated with balancing work and family has increased dramatically.
In a crisp article by authors W. J. Casper, T. D. Allen, and S. A. Y Poelmans, four papers were reviewed, which collectively provided a comprehensive understanding of the differences and similarities between work and family interactions, conflicts, and other related issues. The current paper sheds light on how culture, gender equality, and personal vs. supervisor perceptions influence the work–family balance globally.
The first paper found that paid sick leave had a small, yet profitable effect on work and family conflict among married couples with children under the age of five. Other leaves studied included annual paid leave and paid parental leave, which were considered more effective when there existed some degree of “family-supportive organizational perspectives” among employees. In essence, when employees were made to feel like their organization cared about and supported their family life, the paid leaves were observed to be more effective.
The second paper studied work–home interference and satisfaction with work–family balance among European countries where there was a difference in gender equality among professionals and non–professionals. The study found that professionals had lower levels of satisfaction with work–family balance than non-professionals. Countries with greater gender equality generally employed more organizational support for work– family balance than countries with lower levels of gender equality.
The third paper explored the differences between individualistic and collectivistic cultures in terms of decision-making freedom for work–family conflict. Results showed that in individualistic cultures, the increased latitude for making these decisions made work-family conflicts easier to resolve.
The last paper reviewed how managers and employees in countries with varying gender equality perceived the work-life balance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study revealed that countries low on gender equality showed a lower work-life balance for women than men. One interesting fact that emerged was that the overall culture was determined more by how those in supervisory roles perceived work-life balance than the perceptions women held on the subject.
The various dimensions of balancing work and family life that were reviewed in the article provide a more comprehensive understanding of how this balance differs from culture to culture. The resulting data will not only help organizations to better understand their employees’ needs, but will also lend support to working professionals who are currently struggling with balancing work and family.
Why Women and Minorities on the Board of Directors Need Mentors
These days almost everyone agrees on the importance of diversity. When people of different backgrounds and ways of thinking come together with a common goal, they can achieve the unthinkable and make possible the seemingly impossible. While many organizations are taking a bottom-up approach to increasing diversity at their firms, e.g. diversity campus recruiting and new hire mentoring programs, it’s at least as important that they work to promote a culture of diversity among their senior leadership as well.
Studies show abysmal numbers of women and minorities on the C-suite and as board of directors of the Fortune 500. The current study attempts to shed some light on why women and minorities are less likely than their white, male counterparts to secure multiple board appointments. McDonald and Westphal (2013) surveyed a group of ‘first-time directors,’ or individuals appointed to their first board of directors role, and found that women and minorities received comparatively less mentoring about how to participate appropriately in board proceedings. As a result, their adherence to established boardroom norms may be less consistent, making it less likely that incumbent directors will support their appointment to other boards.
What’s the takeaway message? Mentoring is key to helping women and minorities obtain multiple board of director appointments, and securing their statuses among the corporate elite.
Selling To Women: Why it Differs from Selling to Men
Deloitte Consulting is giving new meaning to the term “cross-selling,” a term in every consultant’s vernacular. In a nutshell, the traditional use of the word refers to the selling of additional products or solutions to existing clients.
After losing several potential clients to competing firms, Deloitte did some internal investigation to understand why they were not successful on these projects. They found something quite interesting; selling to women differs from selling to men.
I know what you’re thinking… Isn’t that obvious? Well, in some fields it’s not as obvious as you’d think. Considerable market research has been done regarding female preferences in the B2C (Business-to-Consumer) sphere, but Deloitte’s research shows that gender differences have important implications for B2B (Business-to-Business) transactions as well. As a result of these findings, the firm designed a special training program to teach partners and senior managers how to better engage female client executives. Below are a few of the major highlights outlined in this article.
- Women see meetings with potential contractors as an opportunity to discuss different possibilities and explore their options with knowledgeable professionals; men see these meetings as an opportunity to narrow down their options and decide on the best course of action.
- Women nod their heads during a conversation to express interest in what you’re saying and to encourage you continue; men nod their heads to signal that they are familiar with what you’re saying or agree with you and would like to move on.
- Male clients want to feel powerful. They want you to try to impress them by rolling out the red carpet when they arrive, and arranging for them to meet with your most impressive executives. Women, on the other hand, want to talk to the people with whom they’ll be working most closely, be that the CEO or a line manager.
A good understanding of these differences has obvious advantages. If a company greets a female client with the same mindset and meeting schedule they would present to a male client, time is wasted. As a result client and contractor alike may lose out on advantageous opportunities.
Impact of Gender and Race on Charitable Giving in the Workplace
Let’s play a game. In a workplace setting, do you think women or men give more charitable contributions? Similarly, do you think whites or ethnic minorities give more charitable contributions? In providing the answers to these two questions, we look to Lisa M. Leslie, Mark Snyder, and Theresa M. Glomb of the University of Minnesota: women donate more than men, and whites donate more than ethnic minorities. How’d you do?
For their study, the investigators looked at the gender, ethnicity, and charitable giving of 16,429 employees at a large university across academic and non-academic work units (e.g., faculty and staff). Instead of surveying the employees, the investigators were able to gather all of the data from archival records kept by human resources that indicated the employees’ gender, ethnicity, and giving to the university’s annual charitable campaign. Of the 16,429 employees, 79% did not give any money, and the university’s charitable campaign provided resources to charities focused on eliminating poverty, education, chronic illness, the environment, and the arts. Employees were able to donate cash or take payroll deductions. For the analysis, salary, position level, and age were controlled for, since these factors were thought to be related to levels of charitable giving.
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