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Recently, there has been a momentous push for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. These efforts are now significantly at the forefront of businesses, corporations and organizations. A brief time ago, this wasn’t the case. The pandemic exposed vast disparities in, fairness and equality among several communities encountering prejudice and equity for years. They were deprived of their essential needs and ignored.
Leaders are beginning to understand how investing in DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility) policies and strategies will reshape workplace productivity and culture. It will provide organizations with better teams who engage in critical, beneficial discussions and increase workplace retention, along with pipelines to a more excellent talent pool. Numerous companies are being proactive now, urgently addressing these institutional issues and barriers. While the workplace is moving in a promising direction, several underserved communities, including people of larger sizes, continue to be excluded from these conversations.
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It is no secret that several biases and judgments against larger people exist. It is a widely known phenomenon that people who are not large or straight-sized receive more opportunities and advancement. Experiencing harmful language only brushes the tip of the iceberg they encounter. It is actually much worse because many are paid, overlooked for promotions, surrounded by a hostile work environment, charged high health insurance premiums and aren’t even hired in the first place.
They are stereotypically assumed to be lazy, viewed as slovenly and thought to lack self-control. These damaging assumptions stem from fatphobia or anti-fatness. Fatphobia is the implicit, as well as explicit, biases against larger people. Some people may hold anti-fat prejudices without even being aware. These thoughts and judgments may influence things like hiring decisions and the determination of raises.
Body image refers to the feelings and perceptions one has about their body. People of larger sizes need to feel comfortable with their bodies in the workplace. Larger people may naturally feel uncomfortable with their size due to social standards. However, the workplace needs to act on making it as inclusive as possible. There is a deeper discussion on how body image awareness and inclusion are severely lacking in the workforce. While body image impacts the daily lives of everyone, women will significantly face more issues relating to their body image.
There is a high percentage of people who care about how they appear. Unfortunately, very few people are proud of their bodies. It is a normal feeling for people to ponder how they look. Suppose someone is experiencing a negative view of their body. In that case, this can contribute to low self-esteem, depression, feelings of shame, increased body surveillance and a decline in mental health. If they feel uncomfortable in their skin, this may affect their work productivity and even career trajectory.
People have the right to bring their authentic selves to their job. The pandemic opened up a flexible, digital world where people acquired the freedom to dress however it best suited them. They didn’t need to wear traditionally professional clothes. While this contemporary work style allowed people to cover their bodies on a small screen, the pandemic increased many peoples’ body images.
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As the world slowly returns to what it was before, the workforce cannot ignore some of the most prevalent issues. As people return to in-person work, a sizable percentage are anxious and worried about showing their bodies. Some corporations are encouraging and incentivizing their employees to make a return to the office. Others are embracing employee autonomy by offering them the freedom to choose how they would like to work. This approach is ideal because only they know how they will be the most productive in their role. Below are potential solutions to be more inclusive to larger people and address body image in the workplace.
- Hire, promote and include larger people.
- Release a public statement against body and size discrimination. Clearly outline in your DEIA plans how the company will tackle size discrimination.
- Feature your employees who are larger in various outreach materials. You don’t want to lose potential talented employees because they don’t think they will feel welcomed as plus-sized people.
- Consider size inclusion as you design offices, spaces and events. Think about the equipment you purchase to create the most accessible environment for all your employees.
- Order larger sizes when you offer merchandise to your employees and customers.
- Professionalism is adapting and changing all the time. Implement a more flexible dress-code policy. Do not expect all your employees to always wear professional attire.
- Consider hosting workshops or webinars on body image and positivity. Opening the space can be a terrific way to learn directly from employees how they perceive their bodies, they can help determine if the company contributes to a more negative/positive body image culture and express how leadership can better support different body types. Proceed with caution because body image is a sensitive topic for many people. It is vital to create a safe space where they will be free from judgment and their involvement will be confidential.
- Celebrate US National Plus-Size Appreciation Day on October 6.
- Does your diversity and inclusion training explain what size discrimination is? Are you showing examples of larger people facing discrimination?
- Most wellness programs target obesity and weight loss. Offer different weight-neutral programs where a person’s size or weight isn’t stigmatized.
For many years, larger people have frequently faced discrimination and remained silent. These impending fears are due to being treated differently or ridiculed. The exclusion of plus-sized people is normalized mainly because this is a very unexplored workplace area. Companies can no longer ignore people who are bigger and need to begin embracing diverse body types and weight inclusivity. This will create a better experience for everyone. It is time to be vocal about this large problem.
Related: Are Body-Image Issues Holding Your Team Back?