Of all the topics that are taboo in the inner sanctum of the Talent/HR world, weight may be the toughest to be honest about.
Especially here in the US and especially with female HR executives, although today’s quip is coming from the cliché Overweight, Caucasian, Over 50 former C-suite dude.
Today I will weave a true and humbling story of weight – my weight, and the struggles and issues presented by being overweight in the pursuit of employment. Warning, it is not as happy a story about weight as the movie Shallow Hal from a few years ago.
Businesses across all industries discriminate against overweight candidates – there I said it.
If you had a choice between a fit candidate and an overweight one, we know which one you would choose. All things being equal, you know it’s true – come on, admit it.
For years I didn’t, in part because I was struggling with weight issues. Call it denial or call it living in the twilight zone, I ignored what every overweight person experiences, which is bias in hiring.
I wasn’t always obese, I was…well let’s just say overweight. As a college student I was extremely fit and played sports daily. I could consume five thousand calories in a day and not gain an ounce, and then life happened. A demanding job, a relationship and eventually a family. Two hours a day of physical activity dropped to one, then to three days a week, and well you know the rest.
At first the weight gain was subtle, a couple of pounds a year. By the age of 30, I was 25 pounds overweight but I had a large frame and still looked athletic. Well, at least I thought I did. By 40, I was into the height of building my career with a grade schooler at home. 25 pounds had grown to 45 and I was officially overweight. Over the next several years, I yo-yoed up and down a few pounds. Weight Watchers, a few extreme programs meant I would lose 15 and then put 20 on.
I hit rock bottom this past spring. My weight hit an all time high. I was spinning out of control. I had added a drinking problem to a merit badge collection of disfunction and was on the verge of destroying my professional and personnel life. When things are going bad it seems even the most subtle of issues just pile on. I was a mess – no, I was a hot mess, and didn’t even know it.
Family members hinted that I missed landing a couple of major job opportunities because of my weight. After years of denial, it hit home. They were right. I was the best candidate on paper and had real capability, but I was a walking time bomb. Everyone knew it, except me.
Then I decided to hit the reset button in mid-June. I am not sure what was the last straw, there were probably a few things. First, I saw a nutritionist who is helping me claw my way back. She was working with a good friend, who like me, had struggled for years with weight and finally had some success. I decided to give it a try – what did I have to lose? Other than weight?
I sought out other help too. My drinking has subsided significantly, and I am starting to deal with my demons. At writing, I am down 32 pounds from my high. I couldn’t do it alone, but I had to make the decision alone. If you don’t want it, no one can push you, at least for the necessary length of time to gain tangible results.
So now I have hit the proverbial SOBER stage of weight control. I see things clearer. I eat better and smarter. It’s the first step to recovery. But like an alcoholic or smoker, you can fall off the wagon at any time, so I am at best a work in progress.
My personal tale is a cautionary one for many of you reading this today. I won’t try to convince anyone they shouldn’t discriminate against overweight folks. We like to believe we don’t, but many do. I am a former CHRO for some pretty high-profile organizations with some pretty lofty achievements, and I am not spared from falling from grace – and neither is anyone reading this today.
I will tell you that judging a book by its cover can lead to not hiring some great folks who carry a few extra pounds. That’s sad. Weight – and to a greater extent appearance – is a major factor in hiring. It shouldn’t be, but it is and probably won’t change any time soon, if ever.
So, what should you do about this if you work in the HR space and are overweight?
First, look in the mirror and be honest. The mirror doesn’t lie, you do.
Second, take steps to do something about it. Its not as hard as you think. My solution was a nutritionist. I now eat lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and nothing processed. Oh, and no sugar added either. Your solution is open ended – go to the doctor, nutritionist or medical professional and start there.
Third, recognize it took most of us years, if not decades, to put the weight on…don’t expect it to come off overnight. If it sounds to good to be true, it is.
And finally, recognize losing weight is like the stock market. Good days and bad, but you want to get a trend line going in the right direction. Right now mine is trending well, and yours can too.
My nutritionist Madelene is brutally honest and encouraging. She stripped away all the nutritional supplements, vitamins, and quick fix gimmicks. Just eat sensible and healthy foods. It’s not a diet, it is a way of life for the future. Take away the crutches and the excuses.
I’m on the road to recovery, and my tale is a cautionary one that many of you have experienced, or perhaps are getting ready to experience and fall into the proverbial abyss.
You can’t control the actions of others, but you can control your own. If you’re struggling, I wish you all success on your journey. If you’re a Talent executive on the other end of the discussion, hire for more then appearance. Hire for quality.
PS, its Halloween in a couple of weeks…don’t give yourself a cheat day…avoid the candy all together.
Mark Fogel is best known for his HR with an Attitude. His background includes almost a decade and a half as CHRO at Leviton Mfg., The Marcum Group, and The Success Academy Charter School Network, as well as co-founding Human Capital 3.0, a boutique HR advisory firm. Mark has been honored by SHRM nationally as their Human Capital Leader of the Year in 2007, and by HR Executive Magazine as an Honor Roll recipient in 2010 and “Best HR Ideas” in 2012. His HR teams have garnished numerous national and local awards for HR innovation, wellness, and employee engagement. Mark speaks regularly at national conferences. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Adelphi’s Graduate School of Business.