Could You be Guilty of Having an Unintentional Weight Bias?

February 15, 2017 | 1,415 views

Could You be Guilty of Having an Unintentional Weight Bias?

Could You be Guilty of Having an Unintentional Weight Bias?

“So you hired me because I’m the fat girl?” That’s a quote from the hit TV series, This Is Us. On the show, you get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the character’s lifelong battles with her weight. This struggle comes out during her job search as she is convinced she was hired for a new job because she is overweight.


Although the show is fictional, the bias is not. Overweight women in particular face discrimination in the interview process, according to a recent paper by Plos One, a journal with original science and medical research reports.


No matter how good of a person you are or the people you hire are, the weight stigma (especially among women) might creep into your hiring practices. Here’s how to minimize its impact on your business’s hiring and help you promote equality in the workplace.


Talk to Your Team

The report suggests the best way to combat an unintentional bias against overweight people (particularly women) is to address the bias head on. By talking about the bias, the study found that there was a reduction in the number of people who made snap judgements against people who were heavier than others. The subjects were better able to control their stigmas, at least in the short term.


Keep the Hiring Process Blind for as Long as Possible

Some companies have already deployed a blind hiring process where applicants are only judged based on skill sets. Although this strategy might work in the beginning, while you’re narrowing the pool of candidates, it’s not ideal for the long-term. It’s important that you get to know how the new hire will interact with others and how she conducts herself in the work environment.


The trick is to find middle ground. By keeping the hiring process blind for as long as possible, you eliminate the tendency to make knee-jerk judgements based on a person’s weight.


Loop in Multiple Decision Makers to the Interview

Who is sitting in on each of your interviews? If you only have one person sitting across the table from the potential new hire, you might want to add another person to the mix.


Having two people in an interview has its advantages beyond reducing the risk of weight bias. It offers two sets of listening ears, and two opinions about who would be an asset to your team. By looping in another decision maker, you make your hiring practices inherently more ethical and effective.


Have a Reporting System in Place

If you’re concerned about someone on your team having a bias against potential employees who are overweight, give your team a way to report the person anonymously. This will be your cue to pay closer attention to the interviewees turned down by the person in question. If it appears there is a bias, the most ethical thing to do is to remove that person from the hiring committee.
Weight bias isn’t illegal but that doesn’t make it ethical. The bias may be unintentional but the more you’re aware of it being there, the easier it is to correct.


Author Profile Jon Forknell is the Vice President and General Manager of Atlas Business Solutions, Inc., a software marketing company specializing in employee scheduling software, including ScheduleBase employee scheduling software, and other business software solutions. In the past, Jon has been recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration as a SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Atlas Business Solutions was named as one of Software Magazine’s Top 500 Software Companies in 2004 through 2007 and again in 2010, 2013 and 2014.

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