In the United States, discrimination in the workplace based on someone’s height, weight, or attractiveness is not currently covered under federal law. Few cities, including most recently New York City, which is expected to pass a proposed bill next month that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of weight, have taken steps to protect employees from these types of issues.
In April, ResumeBuilder.com surveyed 1,000 working Americans to find out if they have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to their height, weight, or level of attractiveness. The results showed 36% of working Americans have experienced one of these forms of discrimination.
- Half of working Americans have concerns about how their physical appearance is perceived by others in the workplace
- Overall, 26% have faced weight discrimination, 23% discrimination based on level of physical attractiveness, and 12% height discrimination
- Those who self-identify as overweight or unattractive were more likely to say they experienced weight or physical attractiveness discrimination
- As a result of discrimination, employees’ careers and mental health were impacted
- 1 in 12 say concerns about how their physical appearance is perceived prevents them from wanting to go into the office more
1 in 4 workers say they’ve been discriminated against because of their weight
Overall, 26% of workers surveyed believe they ‘definitely’ (7%) or ‘probably have’ (19%) been discriminated against in the workplace because of their weight.
Slightly more men than women say they’ve experienced weight discrimination (28% vs. 25%)
Those who self-identified as being obese were most likely to say they’ve experienced discrimination. Of this group, 71% say they’ve experienced weight discrimination (86% of men; 69% of women).
Of those who say they are overweight, 53% say they’ve faced discrimination (65% of men; 44% of women).
Underweight individuals also say they’ve been treated unfairly, with 42% saying they’ve faced discrimination (42% of men; 41% of women).
Respondents offered more details about what they’ve experienced in terms of weight discrimination in an open-ended question:
- “I’m overweight, and I believe there is a stigma that we are lazy.”
- “I’ve worked in an office with women who were much prettier, thinner and more attractive than I was. Despite doing more work, having better numbers, not missing work, and always being punctual, I was constantly being ridiculed and put down.”
- “I am severely underweight for my height, and I feel that most people look at me as being weak and frail, so they don’t want to treat me well in the workplace. They think I am beneath them.”
- “I am overweight and have been my entire life. I feel like I’ve been passed up for certain learning experiences, promotions and things of that sort due to being overweight. I feel like slimmer people are often considered for certain advancements before overweight people are.”
- “Thinner coworkers were promoted or given better projects first, despite being less experienced and having lower performance.”
23% say they’ve been discriminated against due to their level of physical attractiveness
Overall, 23% of respondents believe they ‘definitely’ (7%) or ‘probably have’ (17%) been discriminated against due to their attractive or unattractive physical appearance.
Slightly more women feel they’ve experienced this form of discrimination (24% vs 22%).
However, men who self-identified as ‘somewhat’ or ‘very unattractive’ were most likely to say they’ve been discriminated against for their level of attractiveness. Sixty-four percent of this group say they’ve been discriminated against compared to 47% of ‘unattractive’ women.
Those who feel they are attractive, however, also believe this has led to discrimination. Overall, 27% of women who self-identified as ‘somewhat’ or ‘very attractive’ say they believe they’ve been discriminated against for their good looks as do 14% of men.
Respondents offered more details for why they believe they were discriminated against in the workplace due to their level of attractiveness:
- “I rarely get to work the front area because my boss lets the light skinned black women who are petite work the front because he thinks they are more attractive.”
- “I have been passed up for raises and promotions and someone more attractive was selected, even though I was doing a much better job and would’ve been a better match for the job.”
- “Better looking coworkers were promoted or given better projects first, despite being less experienced and having lower performance scores.”
- “I think that I’ve been discriminated against by men and women who didn’t take me seriously or think I was very smart because of my appearance.”
- “There’s the general incorrect idea that women in STEM fields have to be unattractive. I’m more attractive than the average person yet work in STEM, and for years, colleagues didn’t take me seriously.”
- “I work in a ‘boys club’ and may not be taken as seriously sometimes being an attractive woman.”
12% say they’ve been experience height discrimination
Twelve percent of respondents believe they ‘definitely’ (4%) or ‘probably have’ (8%) been discriminated against because of their height.
More men say they’ve been discriminated against for their height than women (15% vs 10%)
Respondents weighed in about their experience with height discrimination:
- “I was told I did not qualify for a job because of my size.”
- “I am a 6 ft tall woman so at times I think my height has been intimidating or made people uncomfortable. My workplace once talked about the fact that I am ‘too big’ for my desk set up.”
- “I have been turned down for positions because I was too short. I couldn’t reach something and they did not want to provide step stools.”
- “I got passed up for a promotion because I heard people talking behind my back to the manager about my height.”
- “People at work have said I should wear heels more often.”
“Based on the survey results, it’s clear that discrimination based on physical appearance is experienced by far too many people in the workplace,” says Chief Career Advisor Stacie Haller.
“The media’s impact on self perception has permeated our culture, and although we recognize its effects on the younger generation, we do not often address the effect on those in the workplace. As organizations continue to improve opportunities for all by addressing discrimination issues, they should also be looking at physical appearance discrimination. Awareness is demanded here with more than one-third of those surveyed saying they have experienced this bias. The government also needs to step in and protect employees, as it’s unacceptable that workers be treated unfairly due to their weight, height, or attractiveness. Some local governments are beginning to address this issue.”
1 in 5 say discrimination prevented them from receiving a promotion
Overall, 36% of respondents answered they have been discriminated against for either their weight, height, or attractiveness.
Of this group, 58% say this resulted in them losing motivation, 40% say it caused mental health issues, and 26% say it reduced productivity.
Further, 22% say the discrimination led them to change their appearance.
There were also direct impacts on these individuals’ careers. Nineteen percent say they believe they did not receive a promotion, 15% a raise, and 13% a job due to an employer discriminating against them due to their height, weight, or physical appearance. Further, 14% say they had to change jobs and 4% say they were wrongly terminated.
1 in 12 Americans say RTO is unappealing due to concerns about appearance
Of those who currently work less than 5 days a week in the office, 53% don’t want to increase the amount of days they do spend in the office.
For more than half (56%) this is at least in part due to concerns about how their physical appearance is perceived in the workplace. This is slightly more true of women (58%) than men (53%).
All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by ResumeBuilder.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish on April 27, 2023. In total, 1,000 American adults were surveyed.
The survey using a convenience sampling method. Appropriate respondents were found through demographic criteria. Respondents had to be employed for wages at a company with more than 10 employees.
Pollfish uses Random Device Engagement (RDE), a method which is random and organic.
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