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Weight discrimination and the glass ceiling effect among top US CEOs

Patricia V. Roehling (Psychology Department, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Mark V. Roehling (Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Jeffrey D. Vandlen (Psychology Department, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
Justin Blazek (Psychology Department, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)
William C. Guy (Psychology Department, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA)

Equal Opportunities International

ISSN: 0261-0159

Article publication date: 13 February 2009

2010

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether overweight and obese individuals are underrepresented among top female and male US executives and whether there is evidence of greater discrimination against overweight and obese female executives than male executives.

Design/methodology/approach

Estimates of the frequencies of overweight and obese male Fortune 100 CEOs and female Fortune 1000 CEOs were obtained using publicly available photographs and raters with demonstrated expertise in evaluating body weight. These “experts” then estimated whether the pictured CEOs were normal weight, overweight or obese.

Findings

Based upon our expert raters’ judgments, it is estimated that between 5 and 22 per cent of US top female CEOs are overweight and approximately 5 per cent are obese. Compared to the general US population, overweight and obese women are significantly underrepresented in among top female CEOs. Among top male CEOs, it is estimated that between 45 and 61 per cent are overweight and approximately 5 per cent are obese. Compared to the general population overweight men are overrepresented among top CEOs, whereas obese men are underrepresented. This demonstrates that weight discrimination occurs at the highest levels of career advancement and that the threshold for weight discrimination is lower for women than for men.

Practical implications

Weight discrimination appears to add to the glass ceiling effect for women, and may serve as a glass ceiling for obese men.

Originality/value

This paper uses field data, as opposed to laboratory data, to demonstrate that discrimination against the overweight and obese extends to the highest levels of employment.

Keywords

Citation

Roehling, P.V., Roehling, M.V., Vandlen, J.D., Blazek, J. and Guy, W.C. (2009), "Weight discrimination and the glass ceiling effect among top US CEOs", Equal Opportunities International, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 179-196. https://doi.org/10.1108/02610150910937916

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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