How Weight-Bias In Your Organization Is Stopping Innovative Product Development

Jessica Richman
Nov 21, 2018 · 6 min read

Diversity is a huge buzzword, especially in Silicon Valley. Never a day goes by where some company does not announce a new head of diversity, or host a conference focused on diversity.

While this is phenomenal and great strides are being made, there is one type of diversity that is almost universally ignored, especially in Silicon Valley- diversity of size. I believe it is lack of diversity of size, especially among decision-makers in companies, that is holding back the innovation that should be occurring to provide the goods and services to serve the now third of the world that is overweight or obese.

In 2015, “McKinsey examined the finances and composition of top management and boards of 366 public companies in Canada, Latin America, the US and the UK. Their results suggested that the more racially and ethnically diverse companies were also 35% more likely to have higher financial returns. For companies with higher gender diversity, the figure was 15%.”

Although there are no numbers associated with what happens when you hire and promote people who are a range of diverse sizes, I would venture to guess, especially in consumer product oriented firms, that these companies have (or will eventually have) higher financial returns.

A few months ago I attended theCURVYcon,” a two day event that brings plus size Brands, Fashionistas, Shopaholics, Bloggers and YouTubers into one space, to chat curvy, shop curvy and embrace curvy.” One theme that was very clear from chatting with my other attendees was a belief that apparel brands who have “plus-size” women on the “plus-size” design or buying teams led with authenticity and also created clothes that were not only more attractive, but better-fitting.

As I have mentioned earlier in this article and in previous writing, 2.1 billion people — nearly 30% of the world’s population — are either obese or overweight. Furthermore, 67 percent of women in the US are above a size 14 (or according to some statistics, 16). I have great difficulty understanding that, when there is such a clear business opportunity, why so few companies outside of healthcare and pharmaceuticals appear to be interested in serving this population segment. Or, if they are in fact trying to create goods and services for this customer, why are they having difficulty effectively and empathetically marketing these products?

Do companies just not like money, or is there something deeper going on?

In considering the aforementioned data, I have come to the conclusion that part of the challenge could be attributed to the lack of size diversity in these companies, in-particular in the leadership and/or strategy departments. This lack of diversity has simply led many organizations to not even realize that there are business opportunities. Thus, I believe greater diversity of size is important to the future of many organizations, as having employees who reflect the average size of the population can help you understand business opportunities you either miss or choose to ignore.

The fact that companies don’t discuss size diversity is something I think about on a constant basis, especially because I live in the heart of diversity, where everyone is supposed to be open and welcome to all people. However, “all people” generally does not refer to people who have extra weight.

Recently, there have been a slew of articles coming out about weight-bias at work. This is likely due to some recent numbers that LinkedIn released. LinkedIn “ suggests there are potentially millions* of people missing out on job opportunities which could be unlocked by tackling the issue of size bias in the workplace.”

They identified that “over half (56 percent) of employers surveyed stated they believe they are missing out on talent due to discrimination against people because of their weight.”

They also found that “Workers classed as obese are paid £1,940 (USD$2,517) less per year than their colleagues, with women classed as ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ (according to their BMI) receiving a staggering £8,919 (USD$11,575) less on average each year than their male counterparts.”

Given those statistics, it is unfortunately easy to understand why as a business community, we have not been creating more successful products that would make life easier and more comfortable for people with larger bodies. It is because the decision-makers for the most part may not understand the challenges of going through the world with a larger size body and the opportunities that arise for innovative product development that could generate significant revenue.

I wrote this article because I want us to start to look and think differently and question our assumptions about people with larger bodies. Not only because as a business community it is the smart thing to do, but because we can help provide products which give dignity to a large part of the population that is constantly stigmatized.

If you are in a leadership, diversity or strategy role at your company, I encourage you to look at the following:

1) Consider how diversity of size can be part of your diversity and inclusion strategy

2) Think about the interesting types of product innovation that could occur if you actually had people of various sizes in your organization (particularly in leadership roles)

3) lf this topic makes you uncomfortable, and you keep thinking about how weight-bias is still acceptable because it is always the fault of the individual with “weight-issues” dig deep to understand where those assumptions came from, and how they are getting in the way of you and your organization

4) If you are really interested in organizational change and making a statement to the rest of the world that your company cares about and recognizes size bias, consider the following:

A few years back, Salesforce ran a salary assessment to understand the gender pay gap and also gain more information on race and ethnic pay-gaps. They then adjusted pay to even-out pay across genders, races and ethnicities. Many companies followed Salesforce’s leadership. Size was never mentioned.

I dare your organization to consider looking at salary inequalities due to size. There are intricacies as to how this would be done, and you would want to do it in a safe and respectful way. Taking this action will illustrate that you are taking this issue seriously and will provide an example to other companies.

In conclusion, A. Janet Tomiyama, PhD, of the Department of Psychology at the University of California Los Angeles and director of the UCLA Dieting, Stress, and Health Laboratory and colleagues suggests that the actual impact of weight stigma is more harmful than obesity itself.

By not having and fearing diversity of size in the workplace, companies are missing out on business opportunities. They are also making the world a more difficult place for people who are overweight and obese by further stigmatizing them.

I look forward to continuing and engaging with you in this important conversation.

If this resonated with you and is important to you, please consider sharing. If you are interested in continuing this conversation, please feel free to send me an email @thevisiblecollective@gmail.com

References:

Deborah A. Christel & Susan C. Dunn, Average American women’s clothing size: comparing National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (1988–2010) to ASTM International Misses & Women’s Plus Size clothing, International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2017, 10:2, 129–136, DOI: 10.1080/17543266.2016.1214291

Gil, Natalie. “The Truth About Weight At Work: 3 Women Discriminated Against For Their Size.” Refinery29, 2 November 2018, https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2018/11/215840/plus-size-women-in-work?

Korica, Dr. Maja. “Why diversity is good for your business (and not just your bottom line).” Management Today, 29, October 2018, https://www.managementtoday.co.uk/why-diversity-good-business-and-not-just-bottom-line/women-in-business/article/1497390

Moyes, Ngaire. “Tackling size bias in the workplace.” TheHRDirector.com, 3 November 2018, https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/diversity-and-equality/tackling-size-bias/

Murray, Christopher J.L., Ng, Marie.”Nearly one-third of the world’s population is obese or overweight, new data show.” Healthdata.org, http://www.healthdata.org/news-release/nearly-one-third-world%E2%80%99s-population-obese-or-overweight-new-data-show

Rodriguez, Tori. “Is Weight Stigma Worse Than Obesity? How to Provide More Compassionate Care.” Medical Bag, 29, October 2018, https://www.medicalbag.com/medicine/weight-stigma-vs-obesity-providing-compassionate-care/article/810901/

http://www.thecurvycon.com/

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