Whether we want to admit to it or not, women, on average, get paid less than men do. Women make only about $0.75 for every dollar made by men, and even if you factor out pregnancies and children, single, never-married women still only make $0.90 on the man's dollar. Why do women make so much less? We can point fingers and call sexism all we want, but part of it is that they simply don't hold as many positions in the highest levels of management. Thus women don't have as many of the highest paying jobs, despite having the same ambition, qualifications, and desire as the men who do. And why, according to new research, might have more to do with their waistlines than their resumes.
A study, published in the British Journal Equal Opportunities International, found that overweight women were vastly underrepresented in Fortune 1000 CEOs. Compared to the general population, female CEOs were much thinner on average, with few overweight women and even fewer obese ones. Only 5-22% of the female CEOs were overweight, which is less than the 29% on average present in the population, and only 5% were obese, compared to a general population containing 38%. This suggests that weight discrimination may play a large role in the "glass ceiling" for business women.
The male CEOs, too, showed signs of weight discrimination - those that were obese were vastly underrepresented, weighing in at only 5% of CEOs when their counterparts make up 36% of the male population. But the key difference is that being just overweight, not obese, didn't hurt a guy's CEO prospects. In fact, overweight men were overrepresented in the CEO mix - up to 61% of the male CEOs were overweight, whereas only 41% of their general population is. "This reflects a greater tolerance and possibly even a preference for a larger size among men but a smaller size among women," the researchers write in the study.
The big question is why the weight bar is set so low for women compared to men in these high ranking positions. The finding is consistent with previous research that has found that people are more critical of a woman's body than a man's, and women, in general, are held to harsher weight standards than their male peers. Whether it's cultural influence, sexism or some side effect of self-criticism is still uncertain, but one thing is for sure: the lower bar for women's weight is negatively impacting their incomes, contributing, perhaps dramatically, to the wage gap between the genders.
Of course, this means that getting rid of the wage gap might be harder than we think. It's not just a matter of paying women the same wage at lower level positions - it's a matter of seeing women the same way we see men, which isn't as easy to do as we might like. Our biases against things like weight run deep and aren't going to dissapear overnight. But at least being aware of them, and our other judgements, gives us the chance to treat people with equal respect. It gives us the chance to move a step in the right direction.
PS: here's a video where Mark Roehling, associate professor at Michigan State University, expolores the issue of weight discrimination against women in the workplace in light of this research
Roehling, P., Roehling, M., Vandlen, J., Blazek, J., & Guy, W. (2009). Weight discrimination and the glass ceiling effect among top US CEOs Equal Opportunities International, 28 (2), 179-196 DOI: 10.1108/02610150910937916