A study has found that there does exist the proverbial "glass ceiling" (in this case, it's the weight and body image bias) that is preventing the advancement of women to the top tiers of management.
Mark Roehling, an associate professor of Human Resource Management at Michigan State University (MSU), has found that overweight and obese women in the U.S. are significantly underrepresented among the top CEOs.
AdvertisementOn the other hand, while obese men were also underrepresented, he says, overweight men were actually overrepresented among top CEOs.
Roehling says that the different results for women and men suggest that weight discrimination adds to the glass ceiling effect for women.
However, while obese men were also underrepresented, overweight men were actually overrepresented among top CEOs.
"The results suggest that while being obese limits the career opportunities of both women and men, being 'merely overweight' harms only female executives - and may actually benefit male executives," he said.
"This pattern of findings is consistent with previous research indicating that, at least among white Americans, there is a tendency to hold women to harsher weight standards," he added.
During the study, two groups of experts analysed publicly available photos of CEOs from Fortune 1000 companies.
The expert raters included individuals who were tested prior to the study to determine their accuracy in assessing body weight based on photographs, and medical professionals who by virtue of training and experience are experts at weight estimation.
The experts in both groups observed that only 5 percent of male and female CEOs at top companies were obese, much lower than the U.S. average of 36 percent for men and 38 percent for women of similar age.
The researchers also observed that between 45 percent and 61 percent of top male CEOs were overweight, higher than the U.S. average of 41 percent in similarly aged men.
On the other hand, only 5-22 percent of top female CEOs were overweight, compared with the U.S. average of 29 percent among similarly aged women.
"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.
Roehling said: "It appears that the glass ceiling effect on women's advancement may reflect not only general negative stereotypes about the competencies of women, but also weight bias that results in the application of stricter appearance standards to women."
The study appears in the British journal Equal Opportunities International.
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