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ReConnect Africa is a unique website and online magazine for the African professional in the Diaspora. Packed with essential information about careers, business and jobs, ReConnect Africa keeps you connected to the best of Africa.

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ImageWhen Susie Orbach wrote her pioneering book 'Fat is a Feminist Issue' in 1978, she successfully highlighted the links between sexual politics and female dieting.

Recent research from Michigan State University, however, is the first to focus on the link between weight and career advancement at the highest levels of management. But fat still remains a feminist issue, says the study, because the research found that while being fat is no barrier for men, it can harm a woman's career prospects.

Fat Chance of Succeeding

Women who are overweight have much less chance of being promoted at work than plump male colleagues, was one of the findings of the study. The study also showed that while a high proportion of men in top jobs were fat, overweight or obese women were significantly under-represented among their bosses.

These findings add weight (no pun intended) to accusations of sexism in the workplace and stoke many women's suspicions that female employees are judged on appearance and not solely on their ability to do the job. The study, which was published in the British journal Equal Opportunities International, reviewed 29 previous research papers on hiring, firing and promotion practices. It found 61% of top male bosses were overweight compared with only 22% of female executives.

What do these findings suggest for your career if you happen to come from a culture that not only accepts but positively welcomes the larger framed woman?

According to Mark Roehling, who led the study, the findings indicate that society has a "greater tolerance and possibly even a preference for a larger size among men but a small size among women."

This alarming conclusion would suggest, says Roehling, that "the glass ceiling effect on women's advancement may reflect not only negative stereotypes about the competencies of women, but also weight bias that results in stricter appearance standards for them."

What Price Culture?

But what do these findings suggest for your career if you happen to come from a culture that not only accepts but positively welcomes the larger framed woman? Precious Ramotswe, the African protagonist in Alexander McCall Smith's No 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels, proudly declares herself to be "traditionally built". From the sounds of these reports, this may go down well in Botswana, but perhaps less so in Birmingham.

But, talking of culture, the clash between size and cultures can happen even within Europe. Journalist John Lichfield, citing a French survey that has charted wide discrepancies in the average weight of men and women in different European countries, states that: "The typical French woman is slim and thinks that she is fat. The typical British woman is plump but is convinced that she is thin."

The author of the study in question, Thibaut de Saint Pol, says that his research suggests that average national weight is strongly influenced by cultural differences and national attitudes to what is seen as attractive. For example, he says, in some countries, such as Greece, male fatness is still regarded as a symbol of power or strength.

For many traditional Africans, a larger size denotes an abundance of food and, therefore, prosperity. Commenting on such an African's girth is, therefore, less likely to result in embarrassment than a proud rub of the stomach accompanied by the explanation, 'good living!'

The Cost of Fat

But, if size discrimination in the Western workplace isn't enough to drive one to the gym, a recent announcement by Ryanair that it was considering a 'fat tax' might just do it.

The low-cost airline – in a bid to attract more attention and custom – announced that it may impose a "fat tax" after more than 30,000 passengers voted to levy charges on overweight passengers. The airline made its controversial comments after a third of passengers on the Irish airline's website voted in favour of charging fees for obese passengers.

For many traditional Africans, a larger size denotes an abundance of food and, therefore, prosperity.

Recent research by First Choice, using a nationwide sizing survey, found that between 1951 and 2002, the average female in the UK has put on 1.5 inches around the hips. According to the holiday tour operator, British holidaymakers are becoming too fat to fit into conventional airline seats, with two-thirds of men now too broad-shouldered for their neighbours' comfort in 16-inch aircraft seats, the standard size in economy on many aircraft, while one woman in seven was too broad for a seat.

Jumping on the bandwagon, another airline, United Airlines, has admitted that it will start charging overweight passengers more, if they cannot fit into conventional economy seats. They insist that passengers must be able to put their arm rests down and fasten their seat belts or they will be asked to pay for an extra seat or be moved on to a later flight. The airline did not comment on whether it would reduce ticket costs for underweight passengers.

For larger women already struggling with a reduced pay packet compared to male colleagues and now restricted career opportunities, this latest news may come as one slight too many (again, no pun intended).

However, ladies, all may not be lost. 25% of those polled by Ryanair also recommended a charge of €1 for toilet paper – with Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary's face on it.

In This Issue

In this issue, Rachel Keeler reports on how Kenyan banks in Tanzania are finding a challenging business environment but with potential in very specific niches in 'Is Tanzania's Banking Sector Ready for a Nudge from Kenya?'

In 'Facing Up to Redundancy', leading coach Richard Yates offers advice on how adopting the right attitude can help you deal with this challenge, while our Career Coach provides advice on 'Getting a Great Guy to do a Great Job'.

In 'My Journey as a Writer', we speak to talented Ugandan author Goretti Kyomuhendo on the inspiration behind her writing and why Chinua Achebe was so influential in her decision to write.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has launched a coffee-table book detailing the events that occurred at the first Promise of Leadership Dialogue, held in March this year. This inspiring book is now available and offers fascinating insights into leadership issues.

We report on a new US survey, The Business of Society, which shows that MBA students want changes in their curriculum to address the social impact of business.

This month's '5 Minute Interview' features Mavis Amankwah, Managing Director of Rich Visions who shares some of the life lessons she has learned along the way.

We go back into the ReConnect Africa Archives and highlight Africa Investment Horizons, a film by award winning producer Carol Pineau, which shows the enormous investment opportunities in Africa.

October offers a wide range of exciting events in the UK and overseas and our Events listing gives you details of what's on this month.

As ever, we report on news from the UK and around the world and bring you an overview of news from across the African continent.

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