The unemployed aren’t the only people suffering job discrimination these days. Have you noticed what’s going on at American Apparel? They’re being taken to task for their hiring practices, and quite likely their promotional practices, which both require a photo submission and Project Runway-level fashion sense. Reaching further back in time, Hooters was up to their own shenanigans, allegedly firing a girl for being a few sizes too big for their micro-uniforms. (That made her, what, a size 2?)
When the Hoosters story first hit the scene, a member of the Fistful of Talent crew asked if anyone wanted to cover it. My question was, “Why? They’re Hooters. Anyone going in knows what they’re about.” We unquestionably accept this size and shape B.S. for certain jobs. Please don’t tell me you haven’t noticed how cheerleaders look. Models. Actresses. Ballet dancers. While there are bursts of finger-wagging from within these industries and without, we’ve largely become comfortable that certain people look certain ways for certain jobs. At Hooters, and even at American Apparel, these employees are just as much a part of the show, if not “the” show, as with any of these other image-driven jobs. So, to me, Hooters letting a girl go who’s literally too big for their company-provided britches is not comment-worthy (as long as their legal department covered their butts more than those shorts cover their girls’).
However, factoring appearance where it shouldn’t matter is comment-worthy. We’re currently watching one example unfold at Citigroup. A few weeks back, there was another example. Jezebel blogger Hortense commented on Elle columnist E. Jean’s advice. E. Jean gave unpopular, but, in my opinion, accurate advice about how an obese woman’s appearance affects her opportunities for advancement. And Jezebel came down on her hard. She reprimanded E. Jean for advising this woman to do anything but quit that job now. But research backs up E. Jean’s response. Overweight men and women suffer hiring discrimination, lower pay, and fewer advancements. And the discrimination is worse for women than for men. (Who’s shocked?) In the medical community, doctors dismiss overweight patients’ complaints more regularly than their leaner counterparts.
This is our world, and I’m a big fan of changing it. We can and should take umbrage at these occurrences, boycotting products and actively educating others about unfair, discriminatory, and biased practices and reflexes. The more we shrug off these situations, the more we allow them to become routine and acceptable.
I’m also a big believer that changing the world takes time, and in the meantime we have to live in it. Would I counsel the Hooters gal, all of the girls at American Apparel, the woman who wrote E. Jean, and my own daughters not to work for these organizations? You bet. (I’d tell them not to buy from them, either.) And I hope they would know this without my counsel. Sometimes, a lack of alternatives, a lack of self-esteem, and other obstacles get in the way of telling an employer to take this job and shove it.
While we patiently coax the world along, we can get more immediate traction through open communication. Assuming everything’s on the legal up-and-up, which is worse? American Apparel hiding or being clear about their fashion requirements? E. Jean, who offers uncomfortable (and uncomfortable for whom, I might add!) but honest advice, or Jezebel, who pretends our biases and our fiscal realities don’t exist? To me, what’s nefarious is not being upfront about job requirements, whether that’s being a fashion maven or boasting an M.B.A., and a candidate’s expectations for career progression. Bring it out in the open so employees can make informed, intelligent decisions and know what it takes to succeed.
Fran Melmed likes to write everything in lower case letters over on her other blog, free-range communication, because she finds it more aesthetically pleasing… but we took away that freedom from her on FOT because the consistency of capitilization on this blog is more aesthetically pleasing to the editor. Her blog is an offshoot of context communication consulting llc, which Fran founded to help organizations communicate better on workforce issues… imagine that. Organizations not doing a good job communicating around workforce issues…