The research showed that while body weight may not have much to do with an individual’s ability to do a job, it can often be crucial to a person’s career – particularly women.
The University of Tübingen research team led by Katrin Giel claim their results show discrimination against people because of weight is significantly underestimated.
They showed 127 experienced recruiters pictures of job candidates and asked them for their thoughts with a series of questions.
The pictures were of 12 people dressed in white T-shirts, aged between 40 and 50, including men and women. Two of both the men and women were described as very overweight.
Of the eight remaining candidates, four were of a foreign background – to disguise the fact that the survey was focused not on race and ethnicity, but on weight.
The recruiters were asked to rate the candidates on which jobs they would be best suited for – doctors, architects, optometrists, retailers, caretakers and cleaners. Then they were asked to choose who they would not employ and finally they were asked to shortlist three candidates for jobs from a choice of six.
“The results are clear,” said Giel.
The overweight, especially the women, did poorly in all of the selection rounds. Only two percent of recruiters assigned them the more prestigious careers of architect or doctor – yet 43 percent gave women of a normal weight the fancy job.
“In addition only six percent were prepared to shortlist them for a vacancy to be a department head,” researcher Ansgar Thiel told Der Spiegel magazine in its online edition.
While the results showed the overweight men had less chance than their normal weight counterparts of securing the job, this difference was not nearly so marked for men as for women.
Yet the study also suggested the recruiters were less tuned in to the realities of employment and promotion than they might have thought. The study showed that the career prospects of overweight people in the real world were higher than the recruiters in the study thought.
“The actual proportion of overweight men in prestigious jobs is more than five times as high as the estimated prevalence in our experiment,” said Thiel. “Where women are concerned it rises to almost eight times that figure.”