When Sarah Bramblette asked her supervisor what she should do to put herself in the running for an open management role at the health care administration company where she had been an employee for six months, she received a single piece of advice: Dress for the role you want.
Bramblette, 41, was stunned.
Most days, she wore black dress pants and a bright camisole layered under a black cardigan. She swept her hair up in a bun. She thought her outfits were neat and even more professional than those of some of her colleagues, who sometimes wore flip-flops and yoga pants. Bramblette has two master’s degrees, and her problem-solving skills were so renowned at the office, a co-worker once said she had a magic wand. She believed she was qualified.
She took her supervisor’s words to heart and began dressing up more, wearing formal blouses and taking time every day to curl or French braid her hair. Her landlord stopped her once on her way to work and asked if she had a fancy date later that night.
None of it mattered. In her year-end review, Bramblette’s supervisor again noted her clothing, saying she would like to see her wear “more formal and professional” attire.
At that point, Bramblette became convinced the issue was not her clothing but her size. At the time, she weighed about 350 pounds, and she has lipedema and lymphedema, which cause localized swelling in her arms and legs. As an obese woman in America, she was used to feeling that other people’s judgment of her size was a mostly unspoken but ever-present obstacle, slowing down any kind of career momentum.
“When I asked about getting a promotion, the first thing they commented on was my appearance. She didn’t give me any other feedback,” said Bramblette, who quit soon afterward. “My appearance is my weight. There is no way around that.”
The problem is particularly pernicious for female employees, who sit at a toxic intersection of gender and fat discrimination. Women are more likely than men to be judged on their appearances in the workplace and to have that factored into job development decisions such as hiring and promotion. Meanwhile, fat people of all genders pay a price at every stage of the employment process. They have lower starting salaries and are seen as less qualified while generally putting in longer hours than thinner employees. It is not surprising, then, that fat women experience employment discrimination at eye-popping rates.
Women affected by obesity face a steep wage penalty, tending to earn 6 percent less than thinner women, by some estimates, while overweight men tend to earn about 3 percent less than their thinner counterparts.
Those women know they’re being discriminated against too.In one study of more than 2,400 overweight and obese women, 43 percent said they had been stigmatized by their employers or supervisors because of their weight, and 54 percent said colleagues had done the same.
Research also suggests it affects not only workplace decision-making but also individual colleague relationships. In one study, more than 90 percent of women who said they had been discriminated against at work because of their weight reported being left out of social events, compared with just 8 percent of men who said they had experienced weight-related stigma of some kind.
“We know that women are highly scrutinized for physical appearance in our society, that we have these very stringent ideals of what it means to be attractive and that if women deviate from these ideals — even a little bit — they become vulnerable to criticism and unfair judgment and stigma,” said Rebecca Puhl, the deputy director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
“There are now many types of evidence that exist,” Puhl said. “Perception is one thing … and that’s very valid research, and we need to be sure that we don’t discount that, but we also have these very clear experimental studies where we can isolate cause and effect and look at evaluations of job applicants when the only thing that differs is body weight. And that really allows us to make these kinds of observations that tell us yes, this is discriminatory.”
Shockingly, weight-based discrimination is, by and large, perfectly legal.
Michigan is the only state in the country that has a law, on the books since the 1970s, explicitly prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of weight, and a few cities around the country have similar measures. Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on other protected classes — such as age, gender, race, religion and disability — but not weight, and individuals who attempt to bring lawsuits under the Americans With Disabilities Act must show their weight is a disability, which is certainly not always the case. (In 2009 the ADA was expanded to include “severe obesity” as a covered disability.)
Some states, like Massachusetts, have attempted to pass bills explicitly prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of weight and height, but those efforts have largely stalled.
“Any updating of any anti-discrimination laws in this climate faces an uphill battle,” said Gillian Thomas, a staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “I am, frankly, pessimistic about that kind of development, mainly because I have a pretty pessimistic assessment of how willing our culture — and by extension, our employers — is to expand our idea of what is an acceptable way for people to look.”
Puhl is more sanguine. She recently published results from a survey, conducted over several years, that found nearly 80 percent of Americans said they support some kind of laws prohibiting weight-related discrimination at work — a sign, she said, of growing recognition that these kinds of problems are prevalent and damaging.
“You would think that, as rates of obesity have increased over time, that our society would become more accepting,” she said. “But we see the stigma is very pervasive, and so we need to think of broader-scale solutions to really try and address these inequities people are facing.”
Part of the challenge, of course, is demonstrating that discrimination has occurred when it is not explicit. Bramblette’s case, for example, could be hard to prove, since no one said anything about her weight. People uninitiated in the coded language of weight discrimination might say she was being overly sensitive, perhaps even paranoid. This, of course, is an issue across types of discrimination. Very often, only people who experience its daily slights and indignities can truly sense the significance of the issue.
Stories of people who had wildly different career trajectories before and after weight loss, however, provide powerful corroboration that such bias exists.
Dr. Scott Butsch, the director of obesity medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s bariatric and metabolic institute, has worked with patients across all careers — doctors, lawyers, teachers, even opera singers — who have shared their experiences with weight discrimination at work. Most revealing to him are stories from people who, after losing weight from bariatric surgery, suddenly find that their careers blossom.
“For example, a lawyer who never had the opportunity to be in her firm’s promotional materials,” Butsch said. “All of a sudden, after losing weight, it was ‘Oh, why don’t we get you in the picture to be a part of this advertising campaign?’ … In the end, she quit the firm, even after 23 years with the company, because it was so blatantly obvious.”
Bramblette reached out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but said she was told her case was too subjective to warrant any action against her employer. Then she consulted with a private attorney, who said that because she found a job just two months after she left her previous position, it would be difficult for her to demonstrate she was a good candidate for any kind of damages. She was also warned that a case could follow her, making her unappealing to future employers.
She described that as one of the saddest parts of her ordeal: She was worried that if she spoke up, she would be labeled a problem and face even greater career consequences.
So instead she moved on and tells her story, hoping for some kind of legal or culture shift — knowing full well she will continue to be penalized for being overweight, despite feeling she is, in all ways, eminently qualified for the jobs she has held.
“I’ve always felt this way, that I have to give 125 percent for people to feel like I’m giving even 90 percent,” Bramblette said. “It’s a frustrating thing, but it’s something I’ve accepted about my existence.”
We’re so excited to be hosting our weight discrimination workshop at Living Large Chicago. And, we’re not sure if you have heard, but we’re hosting our VERY OWN career/networking weekend in February for plus women! For those who don’t know what weight discrimination is or how it can impact you, we thought we’d write an article on how it can make a major impact in your career! It’s a long one, but it’s worth the read. Be bold!
Weight discrimination is one of the most prevalent forms of employment discrimination in the United States, rivaling that of gender and race discrimination (Puhl, Andreyeva, & Brownell, 2008). From hiring through discharge, weight discrimination is visible throughout the entire employment process (Roehling, Roehling, & Odland, 2008). It is especially visible during selection, but can affect the salaries and promotions of already hired employees (Haskins & Ransford, 1999). And, it is not limited to any one industry or job type (McEvoy, 1992). This was further supported by Rudolph et. al. (2009).
There is one consistent moderating variable that continues to affect the overweight throughout employment and that is gender. Overweight women are discriminated against far more than men. This translates into a more prominent glass ceiling for female executives who cannot earn promotions and raises as their careers progress (Henlon & Roehling, 2009). However, most of the cases of weight discrimination towards females are simply categorized as gender bias (Roehling, 2002). This is one reason, among many, that the overweight have not been categorized as their own protected class. However, researchers and lawmakers are constantly challenging that mindset.
Throughout this paper, we will follow the instances of weight discrimination throughout the hiring process, especially during hiring. We will also examine the most common moderator of weight discrimination in gender. Overweight women are discriminated far more than overweight men. Lastly, we will address why the overweight are not a protected class, despite a plethora of court cases citing weight discrimination. We will also discuss what is currently being done as well as best ethical practices to keep the overweight safe and comfortable at work.
Weight Discrimination Throughout the Employment Process
There are a number of pivotal employment events in which weight discrimination can occur, from hiring and placement to compensation, promotion, discipline and even discharge and career counseling (Roehling, Roehling, & Pichler, 2007; Roehling, 1999). This could be due to a number of weight-related stereotypes that exist when assessing overweight candidates including their extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. While these stereotypes are not actually grounded in science, they do exist throughout the employment process. Grant and Mizzi (2014) found that employability ratings (questions that would accompany the hiring process) were negatively correlated with obesity stereotypes and positively correlated with physical attractiveness stereotypes. Obesity stereotypes included being lazy, self-indulgent, undisciplined, gluttonous, unhealthy, sluggish, lacking willpower, and being unclean while those who are physically attractive are stereotyped as more sociable, more dominant, sexually warmer, mentally healthier, more intelligent, and more sociable. These stereotypes are amplified when the overweight or obese are in sales or customer facing roles and also make the overweight employees less desirable to work with.
The obesity stereotypes discussed above are have been challenged by multiple studies (Roehling, Roehling, & Odland, 2008). Prior to performing their two studies regarding weight discrimination and stereotypes, Roehling et. al. cited over ten studies that unsuccessfully sought to prove true the stereotypes about the overweight including agreeableness, neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness. Even during their own studies, the findings were not significant in most cases, and unsupported. The reason they are so heavily weighted is because of the perception that they have a significant effect on work tasks (Roehling, 2002). But, so many stereotypes are not grounded in reality. For example, the overweight are said to look guiltier than the non-overweight (Schvey et al., 2013). This is untrue. In many countries, increased weight is associated with lower education levels , which is also untrue (Brewis et. al, 2011).
Weight discrimination is especially prevalent during the hiring process (Roehling, M. V., Roehling, P. V., & Pichler, S. 2007). A heavier employee, for example, being hired in the airline industry, might still be discriminated against even after the weight and size requirements at an airline are waved or eradicated (McEvoy, 1992). Major concerns among employers include a higher risk in insuring these employees and the potential issues that may occur due to health related absences. While heavier employees are discriminated against during the hiring process, consistently, industry and type of job have either minimal or non-significant results on the hiring of overweight employees (Grant & Mizzi, 2014).
Model Chrysinthia “D.N.A” Leggett
Weight Discrimination also occurs during training. Such was the case during Donoghue v. County of Orange when Deputy Sheriff discriminated against based on her size. Although she was able to be hired, the discrimination was much more subtle, in the form of bullying and a hostile work environment during her training. The same happened during Shelton v. Brunson when Officer Shelton was denied promotion after two years of training because his weight had fluctuated and he was considered obese. He was not treated fairly during or after his training and had no other recourse other than to leave the Air Force (McEvoy, 1992).
The administration of employee benefits can also be effected by weight discrimination. During the 1990s, employers like U-Haul also put pressure on the overweight by charging them an extra insurance premium of $120.00 in order to stay insured by the company health insurance program. This is the same charge that was accrued by smokers during that time. Health care costs are a legitimate potential concern for employers. However, employers and hiring managers are not using that information for hiring. In a recent study on employability ratings, it was found that employers who rate potential employees based on their weight do not focus on special employment needs and therefore do not consider the cost to their organization. Instead they focused on biases on physical attractiveness. (Grant & Mizzi, 2014)
Weight discrimination also occurs throughout the promotion process. This can have a lasting effect on salaries of employees already hired. In a study by Frieze, Olson, and Good (1990), a number of physical appearance factors were found to contribute to the promotion process as well as salaries of managers. This includes, but is not limited to weight and height and a combination of the two. This was found to be prevalent in both men and women. Additionally, in both court cases listed above, weight discrimination not only played a large role in the hostile training of the employees, but also became a huge barrier to those employees becoming promoted by the agencies they had worked for (McEvoy, 1992).
While weight discrimination can occur on record during specific employment events like the selection, training, or promotion process, there are other subtle ways in which the overweight can be mistreated. Workplace hostility, especially workplace harassment, is a common theme discussed by the overweight in the workplace, in general (Johnson, 1995). The overweight have reported bullying and name-calling at the office, specifically due to their weight (Wolkinson & Roehling, 2008). Empirical evidence suggests that the overweight commonly face this type of mistreatment due to weight/height and that the prevalence can occur in some cases were more than gender and race discrimination (Puhl, Andreyeva, & Brownell, 2008). One such case involved denigrating written materials as a company employee distributed a calendar containing obese people to other employees (Wolkinson & Roehling, 2007).
Weight Discrimination: A Gender Issue
Portrait of cute obese woman standing against mirror in gym and measuring waist size with tape after workout, looking upset and confused
Women face an exorbitant amount of discrimination, in the workplace in general. Our society places a huge emphasis on thinness and attractiveness on women, which tends to make its way into the workforce. This is because women, and especially their attractiveness, are valued based on their appearance. Men, on the other hand are thought of as being attractive based on appearance, personality, occupational success, and intelligence (Haskins & Ransford, 1999). The reason this is relevant is that physical appearance is often cited as a hiring factor (Frieze, Olson, & Good 1990). Even without the workplace setting, women’s weight plays a much more impactful role than males in their every day lives. For example, obese undergraduate women have been found to date less than obese males of the same age. Obese women are married less often than non-obese women, while these have little to no effect on males. And, men rated obese women as being less attractive than those with STDs, physical disabilities, or severe mental illness (Roehling, 2012).
This is why being an overweight woman may be more limiting than being an overweight male in the workplace (Haskins & Ransford, 1999). Obese and overweight women are less likely to be selected and will receive lower starting salaries than those with lower body weights (Obrien, et. al., 2013). Sixteen percent of hiring managers would not consider hiring an obese woman at all (Kristen, 2002). In Roehling’s study (1999), where he identified multiple phases of employment events in which the overweight were discriminated against, also identified one very eye-opening factor. In some cases, men were either unaffected or moderately affected by weight stigmas. The relationship between weight and discrimination was much more prevalent in women. Moreover, women are sixteen times more likely to experience weight discrimination than men are (Roehling et. al, 2007).
Weight can also contribute to the glass ceiling effect in women, as they look for promotions and higher salaries after selection (Henlon & Roehling, 2009). This gender and weight interaction was found to be limiting in the case of Donoghue v. County of Orange, in which a newly appointed Deputy Sheriff Donoghue was required to do more cardiovascular exercises and weight training than other trainees due to her size (McEvoy, 1992). What was even more unsettling was that there were males in the same training class who had been categorized as overweight, but were not required to do these extra exercises. They were also not spoken to as harshly as Sheriff Donoghue. The treatment ultimately prevented Donoghue from being promoted and earning more. Empirically, this is also supported Haskins and Ransford (1999). The results of this study indicated that female weight did significantly affect salary, especially in certain occupations within a specific industry. The study also indicated that overweight women in entry level and managerial positions earned significantly less than non-overweight women.
Gender and Weight also interact to create major barriers throughout the work environment, in general. Compared with female participants in a study on stereotypes, male participants wanted to work with obese female targets significantly less than if those roles were reversed (Grant & Mizzi, 2014). The study by Grant and Mizzi focused on stereotypes of overweight female employees. A significant relationship between obesity and negative stereotypes was found, regardless of job type. This had a significant effect on employability ratings, as well, which leads employees to be less desirable. Although, this is in direct contradiction with Haskins and Ransford (1999), who did see certain occupations affect overweight females more directly. The caveat not previously discussed is that those occupations were male-dominated and females in those industries were not valued as much based on their job skills, but on their appearance. The same can be said of a female dominated industry, the airline industry, where women have been historically discriminated against due to their size, regardless of actual size and weight requirements (Lynch, 1996).
Workplace hostility involving overweight females is blind to industry, job type, or level of management. The above studies and cases are really isolated incidents. These stereotypes and low desirability ratings exist at all levels of employment and in all industries, specifically for female employees (Callis, 1974). Stereotyping and lower desirability ratings will often lead to a hostile work environment, including but not limited to harassment, name calling, and exclusion from social events, specifically for overweight females (Roehling, Roehling, & Wagstaff, 2013). The result of such mindsets and workplace hostility is that over 62% of court cases involving weight discrimination are filed by female employees and job candidates (Wolkinson & Roehling, 2007). This is typically why so many weight discrimination cases are categorized improperly as gender cases (Roehling, 2002).
Should the Overweight be Protected?
Regarding the filing of lawsuits, there are a few ways this can happen in order for an overweight employee to seek justice. Right now, an overweight applicant or employee who has been discriminated against has three courses of action they can take: The first is to find out if they live in one of six major cities or the one state that protects the overweight as its own class (Minnesota Department of Human Rights, 2014; Roehling, 2002). These cities and state include San Francisco, CA, Santa Cruz, CA, Madison, WI, Urbana, IL, Binghamton, NY, and Washington, DC. The only state that recognizes the overweight as a protected class is Michigan. There are many who think that the overweight should be a protected class federally, however. Especially since those cases not tied to protected classes could fall through the cracks. Another reason these cases may not hold is that the ones tied to protected classes may not have enough substantial evidence that the class was discriminated against without weight considerations (Reaves, 1983). If the applicant or employee does not live in one of these areas, they must take one of two routes to ensure protection. The only way they can file a lawsuit or earn rights as a protected class is if they have a disability caused by severe obesity or they can prove that their case is gender based (Kristen, 2002).
The issue of whether or not the overweight should be protected is tied to gender, because that is where the majority of the discrimination takes place. In the ruling of Donoghue v. County of Orange, Donoghue did not win her case because she was overweight, but because she was an overweight female. In fact, while there was a clear case of weight discrimination, the plaintiff plead that her employer was discriminating against her due to her gender, only (McEvoy, 1992) Because of the injustice that overweight women face, there is a need to be heard. And, overweight females, who belong to two minority categories, might choose the latter, which is a protected class, to fight their battle (Kristen, 2002).
While obesity may lead to a number of disabilities, and a number of weight discrimination cases involve protected classes like females, weight itself is not a protected class. The overweight would actually be denied employment over protected classes like the disabled or other classes liked ex-convicts (Roehling, 1999). Title VII of the CRA of 1991 does not identify weight as a protected class, which is why any case won by an overweight employee would have to be based on another type of discrimination like gender, for example. The overweight have been tied to the disabled ever since the ADA was passed in 1991. It saw much “heat” and controversy throughout the early and mid-1990s when court precedents and rulings were still being set and the law could be interpreted to accommodate the obese and overweight (Johnson & Wilson, 1995). However, what was ultimately found was that only the severely obese can be considered disabled, and that is typically looked at on a case-by-case basis (Johnson, 1995). And, while many who are overweight or obese do not consider it to be a disability, there are a number of weight discrimination cases that have been won on the basis of disability discrimination (McEvoy, 1992).
Despite not being a protected class, the overweight are one of the largest minority groups in the country, and they continue to grow in size. Currently, more than one-third (34.9%) of U.S. adults are obese, and that does not count those who are simply overweight. Counting those who are simply overweight, More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2014). This is the result of a 100% increase over the past thirty years. That number will continue to rise as the CDC reports that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years (CDC Statistics on Obesity, n.d.). As those children and adolescents age, they will enter the workforce as the most overweight employed population we’ve ever seen in 2030, with those same two thirds of overweight adults being obese (Begley, 2012).
If the overweight population continues to increase, measures should be taken to protect them throughout the employment process (Roehling, 2002). Currently, there are six cities and one state (Michigan) that have protected the overweight and obese (Reaves, 1983). But, the protection is inconsistent, leaving researchers and lawmakers wondering if enough is being done to protect the overweight. There has also been much debate about the current protection expanding to a federal designation (Schallenkamp, DeBaurmont, & Houy, 2012). As this discussion continues, there a number of hurdles and barriers that advocates will face, including health concerns, company costs, and stereotypes surrounding the overweight and obese (McEvoy 1992). While employer concerns are founded, those who are obese are in an unfortunate situation, facing disparate treatment, but no protection like the disabled (Roehling, 2002).
One reason that the overweight are not yet considered a protected class is because there are so many factors to consider in the weight of an applicant including diet, genetics, variations of overweight/obese people, and the debate as whether or not being overweight is as unhealthy as we think it is (Kristen, 2002). It is not as easy to define and recognize when weight discrimination is even occurring. It is easier to obtain height and weight requirements or variables, and their linkages to gender specifically, when there is a BFOQ associated with these restrictions (Callis, 1974; Roehling, 2002). As the overweight vary in size and cause of weight gain, it is difficult to categorize them properly. An obese an
Another major reason that the overweight are not protected is that there is still much debate as to whether or not there are legitimate costs associated with hiring heavier employees. Despite empirical evidence showing that the overweight do not perform at a lower level than other employees, this stigma still exists in the employment world. There is also an expected higher cost associated with hiring heavier employees. This includes health care costs and the costs of plus sized furniture and facility accommodations. Other major factors include pressure from others to conform to anti-fat thinking and blameworthiness, asserting that it is the overweight’s fault that they are overweight (Roehling, 2002). Blameworthiness is the major reason that the obese are often debated as not disabled, since someone can assert that some who are overweight have the power not to be (Johnson & Wilson, 1995). However, none of these are fundamental reasons an employee’s weight should be considered as a hiring barrier. There are only a few reasons that the weight of an employee should be considered: that is when it Because the overweight are not a protected class, this way of thinking is perfectly legal, but not necessarily ethical. Roehling (2002) proposes a number of minimal employer ethical obligations in order to be more considerate and accommodating to the overweight: (1) Employers should consider only job relevant information (2) Employers should be able to demonstrate higher costs associated with the hiring of overweight employees and (3) To take reasonable steps to cease disparate treatment of overweight female employees. Right now, thought, because it is not a legal obligation, and employers are focused on protecting classes related to race, gender, and age, they cannot make the reasonable accommodations expressed by Roehling (Reaves, 1983). But, in nearly every single study conducted by Roehling or Roehling and Roehling, there are a number of legal considerations discussed and reiterated, making it a serious concern for future lawmakers (Roehling, 1999; Roehling, 2002).
Stereotypes, biases, and lower employment ratings can affect the overweight population throughout their career, from dealing with selection discrimination to hostile work environments. While the majority of these stereotypes are not rooted in scientific research, the continue to plague the overweight. This is specifically true for overweight females, who face an even thicker glass ceiling due to their physical appearance having a significant affect on their perceived value both in and outside of the workplace. This disparate treatment has lead researchers and lawmakers to continue to raise the topic of bringing overweight class protection from the few major cities it is in to the federal level. In the meantime, there are ethical best practices that employers should be taking to ensure that the overweight are treated fairly.
This article was sponsored by Aider Solutions: Where Strategy Meets People
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Have you ever come to visit me at my office? You’ll find at least one rubber band ball somewhere on the desk. I start rubber band balls. It’s what I do to stay busy. I play with them when I’m on the phone, while in a meeting, or when I need a break and I’m walking around my desk. Now, you might notice that if you visited my desk in 2011, 2014, or 2017, my rubber band ball is about the same size as it always has been. Yet, you’ve seen me adding a rubber band to it, once in a while. You can assume I do it more than that. So, what’s the deal? How can it still be hand sized?
Here’s the answer: The rubber band ball rotates out and it does a lot more than just keep me busy. It’s a symbol of every new GENUINE connection that I make. A genuine connection can be a new acquaintance I click with, breaking down a barrier with someone I’ve known, or connecting two people from my various fields. Student intern and hiring manager? Connection. Selling a client who always says “No?” Connection. Collecting some amazing business cards at a networking event I loved? CONNECTION! And, I have one at home for my consulting business, one for my marketing/e-commerce business, one for my real estate business, and one for my wine distribution business. And, each one of those have various spots around my home office or other offices. So, wherever I’m sitting, if I make a connection, I add a band to the ball closest to me. You’ll find multiple balls around my home office, Long Island office, and New York City office.
In each field or industry, at each location, with each connection I make, I add a rubber band to the ball in front of me. So, some are smaller than others. My e-commerce ball is small because I don’t interact with many customers. My university rubber band ball is fairly large because I’m always making connections with students. So, if I add a rubber band for every connection, and I am a natural diplomat and connector, why isn’t my rubber band ball huge in every office? Well, I’m not in the business of making a huge ball of bands. It would take too long to find the bands and wrap them around. It’s not where my focus is. And, I like the fact that they’re mobile. I can toss it, bounce it, or move it to a new location. So, I devised a way to keep the ball small. I just start it over!
When do I start the ball over? Every time I change positions or organizations, I start a new rubber band ball. If I had a new business product or core business area at my home business, I start a new ball. if I earn a promotion or lateral move, I start a new ball. When that happens, I dispose of the old one. Now, it would be waste if I just threw them out. I used to bring them home to my dog to play with, but I wanted to show off my work and spread the word about the rubber band ball strategy. What I currently do is, when I’m ready to get rid of a rubber band ball, I find a protege or mentee. I tell them this story, and hand them the ball. Hopefully they continue the trend or start their own!
So, there you have it: a great way to quantify your soft skill. The rubber band connection ball. When are you starting yours?
I was having lunch the other day with a former student of mine who has been debating his various career choices. He has been in various sales roles over the course of his short, post academic career. But, he continues to think about his next step, and moving on (which is fine). I’d like to think I’m part of his Personal Advisory Board, so I was happy to have lunch with him to discuss his future. He was considering various ideas: teaching, entrepreneurship, human capital… all ideas I am in love with myself. However, I found myself a little conflicted in telling him to go into any one of these fields. He could have worked for me. Lord knows he’d be excellent. He’s in wealth management at one of the largest investment banks in the world. He is responsible for making 100+ phone calls every 1-2 days and having lunch with 50 wealthy decision makers a year. And, he does a great job.
So, why is he considering other options? That’s what I had to ask myself. That’s why I was conflicted.
He was looking at other career opportunities because he had spent about a four years in the industry, 2.5 at a much smaller investment firm, and 1.5 at his much more prestigious one. And, he was exactly where he started, making just a little less than six figures and wishing he could catapult himself to wealth. He wanted to be in business for himself so thought about starting a retail brand, a web startup, etc. He invested time and energy into these ideas and we even worked on some, together.
But none of these ideas had panned out for him. Instead, he had this high stress, but highly productive position at one of the best firms in the world. So, as I digested this information (and my salad), I asked him “Why do you want to leave this position? Tell me more about it.” He replied.
“I am good at my job. I can do it. Not many can but I can. It’s very likely members of my team won’t make it past their first year, but I’ll be fine. The problem is I want to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, now. The potential isn’t there the way the team is structured.” He went on to tell me that the way his team works, he will work really hard for the first few years to build wealth for his bosses. If he can stay the course, within 15 years, he’ll be around a take home of $1,000,000 per year. I had to ask…
“Is this a coal mine, then, or a gold mine?” You have to ask yourself what kind of business or job you’re in, always. Gold. Or coal?
In the 1800s, hundreds of thousands of people moved either to the US or from the East Coast to the West Coast in search of a gold heavy gold mine. They panhandled. They dug. They did whatever they could to find a few flakes of gold and cash in on the California Gold Rush. And, a number of people were able to cash in. But, as the land in California was regulated and people paid attention to the indigenous killings, it became more and more difficult for new players to move in. Plus, a good amount of gold was mined quickly. Only a fraction of the people who didn’t move perfectly with the right resources actually landed enough goal to become rich.
During that same time, the United States workforce had already been mining for and mobilizing coal to use for any number of reasons. Coal powered everything from factories to trains and was the major ingredient in steel production. It was mined for over a thousand years before, in cities all over the globe and was heavily mined up until its decline from 2007 until now. It had staying power. Most companies took years to establish themselves, mine the coal, and build a distribution channel of customers. But, those who were patient and continuously dug, were rewarded. And, those who worked at those companies made good livings with proper education, training, and hard work (bear in mind, if you were an uneducated miner, you probably didn’t go far, but work with me, here- some did).
Do we see the difference? At all times, you’ll need to ask yourself, “Is this a coal mine or a gold mine that I’m working in?” And, you’ll also want to know, for yourself, if you prefer gold or coal. I, personally, will dig all day knowing that there’s coal at the end of my shovel. It’s consistent, I know there’s a buyer. I know what it looks like. It may take a few years for me to be as wealthy as I want. But, the coal will not falter. It may not make me rich, today. Eventually, I’ll sell it.
Some can work all week just visualizing the gold. They already know how it’s going to feel when they find it. But, it’s also likely that they don’t come up with gold at all, or perhaps just a few flakes. And, it won’t be enough to retroactively pay for their losses.
We ultimately decided that the current opportunity was a goal mine. If he keeps digging, he’ll eventually find a customer for his coal.
So, here’s the deal. Imagine a fork in the road of your life. You have at least one decision to make (maybe more) regarding your career. Maybe it’s selecting a college major or an internship. Remember that Stephen Covey says we need to begin with the end in mind. So, you’re deciding on what it is you want to do. You’re going to be as specific as possible in your goal, right? It’s not, “I want to do something in marketing.”
So many students and young professionals I encounter say to me “I’m afraid that if I make a decision that’s too specific, I’ll have wasted my time going down a path that won’t be correct.”
But, there are three reasons that you shouldn’t worry about this, one bit:
Yes, in taking your time to go down a path that isn’t going to be your intended career choice, it’s likely that not everything you do will be fruitful. But, that’s going to be the case in any choice you make.
There is also a chance that the decision you made is correct, and you’ll be well ahead of everyone else who haven’t started their career decisions, yet.
Odds are you’ll have gained enormous amounts of transferable skills that will help you in your next role. For example, if you thought you were going to be in sales and you wind up in medical school, it’s likely you’ll use your management and sales skills in running your own office or becoming a hospital manager. Etc. Etc.
But, let’s think of the absolute worst case scenario:
1- You chose a path that did not yield any fruitful results.
2- Your decision was not correct.
3- There is absolutely no commonalities between your intended career choice and what you’ve chosen to do, now.
Your anxiety tells you that when you turn around and head back to that fork in the road, there will be someone waiting there for you (a friend, perhaps, or relative). And, they will remind you that you took a wrong turn and claim that you wasted your time. First of all, pay no mind to anyone watching you live. Odds are they aren’t paying that close attention. And, if they are, it matters not. It has absolutely no bearing on your actions
But, secondly, that person is at the fork in the road because they haven’t moved from it. And, when you and them get to a distress point or pivot, you’ll have a ton of experience to discuss. Even if it’s not relevant, it makes you interesting. It makes you humble. And, it makes you resilient. You have dirty shoes, filled with stories. Theirs are clean and boring.