I think it’s probably pretty safe to say here today in the year 2021 that we’re all well aware of the fact that we have biases that 1) exist 2) influence our behaviors and relationships 3) can be harmful and problematic, to ourselves and to others.
Think of an -ism, and it’s likely we have some kind of bias. Racism, sexism, ageism. We also often hold biases toward things like religion, gender identity, sexual preference, disability. And a lot of times, even if we’re self-aware and “working on it,” we still have our struggle days – definitely myself included. Recognizing, understanding, and changing our implicit bias is freaking hard, and it’s a continuous learning process.
Fortunately, over the course of history, at least some of these human tendencies toward bias have been addressed in formal ways. For instance, there are now legal protections against discrimination – essentially a concrete expression of bias – in the workplace when it comes to things like race, gender, age, religion, and disability. And yes, as we all know, the law doesn’t always actually protect anyone, especially when it comes to capitalist interests, but it’s better than nothing, I guess?
There are definitely additional protections we need to implement, but the one that’s just so insidious to me, permeating everywhere, is also the one that no one wants or even knows how to begin talking about:
According to the data I could find, there is still just one state that makes weight-based discrimination in the workplace illegal. Only one! Which basically means an employer in any state other than Michigan is well within their rights to fire you for being overweight.
Read that again, because it’s meaningful AF.
Listen, I’m not here to give a lesson or a lecture on the topic, and I’m certainly not an expert. I’m also aware that I’m not overweight and have extremely limited license to talk about this experience. But I’m nothing if not an advocate for changing the conversation about bodies, weight, and fat in any way I possibly can. The more I research and learn about fat activism, weight stigma, and all the complicated factors that contribute to weight and health, the more I understand how cruel our systems have become, as a pretty direct result of how unchecked our bias has historically been. And if I can somehow be an ally, get people thinking and talking about it, I’m going to.
Recently, I had a chance to do this on the Career Blindspot podcast. I mean, perfect description, right? Because this issue is definitely a blind spot for a lot of leaders and people in the workplace.
Still, I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous to speak to the topic, for all the reasons above. I prepped pretty heavily for it, which you’ll notice when you listen, and I don’t normally do that for podcasts. I thought it went well when we recorded, but then when the episode released, I got nervous all over again. I couldn’t remember what I talked about, whether I went “too far” into sticky topics, totally flubbed it, or generally just babbled a bunch of nonsense of no use to anyone.
As usual, I was being hard on myself, and none of that was true. My research paid off, and we talked about some really important stuff. I went exactly as in-depth as we really need to go into sticky topics. And I didn’t babble at all – this podcast is chock full of useful insights and info. So much so, I ended up listening to the entire episode myself, which you know I never do because I don’t listen to podcasts.
And OK, I get that you might not be listening to podcasts right now either. I would definitely suggest this one, even maybe just a few minutes at a time or something.
But if you’re not going to listen to the podcast, I’d suggest this: take a look at how often you’re bringing your weight bias to work, and in what ways you’re doing it.
Are you still laughing at fat jokes? Telling them? Something something about cops and donuts and are you sure you should eat that bagel in the break room?
Do you automatically assume a fat person is lazy or slow or not as smart, productive, or capable as a thinner person? Does this affect your hiring or evaluation process?
Are you championing “biggest loser” style weight loss competitions in the workplace as part of your “wellness” program?
Do you comment on people’s weight, size, or habits related to those things, assuming anything about their health?
No matter how well-intended, these are examples of weight bias, and like any other microaggression, it hurts people all across the weight, size, and shape spectrum. It’s time to start becoming more aware, and it’s time to start having more conversation.
Basically, if you don’t think your weight bias is showing up at work and affecting you, your employees, your clients, and yes! your bottom line – think again.
The good news is, just like with any bias, we can learn and change. If you’re a leader in the workplace, in any workplace, anywhere, I warmly invite you to take a listen to this podcast. It’ll get you started with some ideas and resources on how you can begin to approach this crucial conversation. You can, of course listen anywhere you listen to podcasts, or directly via the button below.