Cultivating a Size-Inclusive Company Culture

Written by Sky McLaughlin

Size bias exists in every facet of our society, across all industries. There is a human cost to this bias, especially in the workplace.

Research shows that overweight employees, regardless of their performance, face negative workplace stereotypes that characterize them as lazy, less intelligent, sloppy and lacking in self-discipline. Plus size employees are also more than 50% likely to be given a negative performance review compared to their straight-sized colleagues, even when their outcomes and achievements are the same.

Microaggressions against fat people are rife; so much so that #FatMicroaggressions has become a trending hashtag. Fat people are subjected to incessant, unsolicited comments and microaggressions about their weight, from “but you have such a pretty/handsome face” to “but you carry your weight so well.”

Fat people also suffer indignities in the workplace every single day. From facing stigma and being the punchline in crude, weight-based jokes, to equipment and spaces that are designed with a thin-person prototype in mind, how can an overweight employee be at their best and do their best work when the workplace steadily chips away at their confidence?

Here are five simple ways your organization can begin cultivating a size-inclusive culture today:

  1. Review Your Company’s Onboarding Process
    Ask new employees about any equipment accommodations they may need (i.e. office chairs, etc.) and have it ready before they come in for onboarding. Annually, send out a survey and/or invite all employees to inform HR if adjustments are needed to any equipment. These actions benefit not just overweight employees, but tall people, people with back problems, people with disabilities, people with mobility challenges or anyone who needs some accommodations in these areas.
  2. Review Your Policies
    For example, does your travel policy include the purchase of a business class seat, or an adjacent seat, in cases where a person may require it? Is the booking and/or reimbursement process simple, and shame-free?
  3. Safety
    If you are situated within, say, the construction industry, is your PPE available and easily accessible in an extended range of sizes?
  4. Uniforms
    If your organization has a uniform dress-code, are uniforms available and easily accessible in an extended range of sizes, for all genders? If an employee needs a uniform custom-made, is the fitting and ordering process simple, fast and shame-free? Periodic and even seasonal shifts in weight and size are normal for human bodies. Does your organization have a simple, cost-free, and shame-free process for employees who need to request and/or order a uniform in a different size?
  5. Swag
    If you are giving branded clothing to your employees (or clients), make sure you offer an extended range of sizing, for all genders. Better yet, why not remove clothing entirely from your swag list and focus on things like bags and backpacks, bottles, journals, etc. that don’t have the potential for humiliation?

As a business owner, it is important to reflect on how your organization is making size-acceptance a part of its culture of inclusion. With these simple strategies you can be well on your way to making an impactful difference in your company’s culture.

Sky McLaughlin chose a career in diversity, equity and inclusion long before the terminology was mainstream in Canadian workplaces. Sky is a strong social justice advocate, and serves as Co-Founder of MT Consulting Group. Her commitment to accessible education for women, girls and other historically excluded groups led her to working on the ground for more than a decade in conflict and post- conflict zones across the Middle East and Central Asia. She has advanced degrees and nearly 25 years of broad experience in education, international development and international relations across 57 countries.