Blog of Holly Rubenstein: Does The Way You Look Affect Your Job Prospects?

Two of the latest issues to hit the employment headlines are that of “gingerism” – discrimination and bullying of people with red hair, and sizeism, discrimination on the basis of weight.

It has been estimated that 23% of British people are currently obese. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has recently been asked whether discrimination on grounds of obesity is contrary to EU law. The case involves a childminder who was dismissed because he was obese.

In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regards those who are “morbidly obese” (defined as weighing twice the normal body weight) as physically impaired, but those who are merely overweight or obese, without any further medical impairment, are not treated as falling within the statutory definition. However, the American Medical Association has recently upgraded obesity from a “condition” to a “disease”. This might be regarded as evidence that obesity is not a minor impairment.

If an obese claimant can establish that they did not get a job or were dismissed because the employer believed that they had an impairment which had a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their normal day-to-day activities, that would fall within the Equality Directive’s definition of direct disability discrimination.

Last year, a study published in the International  Journal of Obesity examined the role sizeism plays in  hiring practices in the workplace. A group of 95 reviewers acting in the role of employers were shown CVs with attached photos. What the reviewers didn’t know was that the pictures clipped to the CVs were of the same six women before and after weight loss surgery. The study results showed that the obese women were ranked far lower in comparison to the photos of when they had slimmed down, specifically in relation to leadership potential and predicted success. According to the Hamis / Interactive Health Day Survey, half of obese people feel that they were treated differently when it came to employment or dismissal. This is why groups such as the Obesity Action Coalition and The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination have formed.

Gingerism is another topic that has flitted in and out of the headlines every few years. This time around the debate was instigated by Dorothy Dalton, a red head herself, who wrote an article entitled,” “Do redheads need to be a protected minority?” claiming that increasing discrimination and bullying is being found in the workplace. She questions as to why this current prejudice continues to exist, and considers that it may be due to the fact that other forms of discrimination (colour, gender, sexuality) are now unlawful, and that workplace bullies have few minority groups to target.

However, she also points out the fairly widespread social acceptance of gingerism – the US even has ‘Kick A Ginger Day,’ taking the lead from an episode of the TV show, South Park.

Negative (and positive) attributes have been linked to those with ginger hair throughout history. Those with red hair have been accused of being witches and even vampires. Photographer Charlotte Rushton, who chronicles UK red heads in her book “Ginger Snaps” found that of the 300 people that she features, only two had never been bullied or discriminated against because of their hair colour.

Any ‘ism’ needs to be challenged. Anything that is used to single people out, makes people feel different and has a cultural resonance can be used negatively within a recruitment process. This is where comes into play. Its core value is the implementation of anonymous job applications at the start of the recruitment process. This is what makes it so much more than a normal job board – it’s a skill-matching platform that wants to make a difference for everyone who feels discriminated against during the recruitment process. Its ethos? That jobs should be matched on merit alone, with factors such as race, name, appearance, even the length of time that someone has been unemployed, as irrelevancies. So ginger or not, overweight or slim, applicants are in with the best – and fairest – chance possible of landing their dream job. And that is how it should be.