When we talk about diversity and inclusion, the first dimensions that often come to mind, and which are most frequently discussed, are race and gender, followed perhaps by religion, age, sexual orientation and physical disability. But, are we missing a dimension?
In a recent article for CNN, Julia Carpenter argues that body size should be added to the list. “Research shows that in the workplace, obese employees are stereotyped as ‘lazy, unmotivated, unintelligent, sloppy and lacking willpower,’” she writes, quoting from a white paper by Social Issues and Policy Review. “These stereotypes aren't just hurtful, they can have a direct impact on an employer's perception of an employee,” she says.
Carpenter writes that data shows discrimination increases with a person’s body mass index and that obese or overweight people are frequently viewed as lacking self-control. This translates into a lack of desirable leadership skills, meaning they may be passed over for promotions or may even not be hired in the first place.
While discrimination against employees is generally prohibited, such prohibitions typically protect groups based on the dimensions we discussed above: race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. Very few jurisdictions have such prohibitions based on body size. “With the exception of Michigan and cities like San Francisco and Washington, DC, overweight people are not a protected class throughout most of the United States,” says Carpenter, “meaning it is technically legal to discriminate against someone based on his or her weight.”
Carpenter and some of the experts she interviewed for her article recommend that workplace diversity training should include discussions of body size, regardless of whether there is any legal obligation to avoid discrimination against people who are overweight or obese.
We’d go even further than this.
Regardless of what makes certain individuals or groups different, the benefit of promoting diversity and inclusion accrue not only to a select cadre of individuals or groups, but to the organization as a whole—and to everyone in it. Diversity and inclusion help open everyone’s eyes to different experiences and viewpoints. Inclusion is for everyone. Be inclusive!
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