When I appeared this week on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight with Michael Reagan and Margaret Hoover for a prime time Presidents Day panel of U.S. presidential descendants, Piers' first question (a real hardball) about William Howard Taft was...you guessed it:
"Your great grandfather [who weighed in at 340 pounds] was the heaviest president in U.S. history. Is it true he once got stuck in a White House bathtub? Because you're the guy who must know the answer."
The continued fascination with my great-grandfather's weight -- which Piers linked to his subsequent good-natured question about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the role his large size might play on his political future -- points to the fact that tolerance and acceptance of obesity remain a diversity issue in our society, particularly in workplaces (including, apparently, the White House).
My response to Piers: "If you need a proof point of the fact that being a large individual is no impediment to serving in high office, my grandfather is that proof point."
But in today's workplace, historical proof sadly doesn't matter. Research by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity shows that weight bias -- the negative attitudes leading to rejection, prejudice, and discrimination of overweight people -- influences hiring preferences, promotions, employment termination and creates wage inequities.
Currently, Michigan is the only state outlawing discrimination in the workplace based on weight. Experts agree that over the next five years U.S. courts and government agencies will be forced to address a number of serious issues regarding how severely overweight people are treated in the workplace, reports the Huffington Post.
More than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And this number is climbing.
My own experience as a CEO is that the best way to promote employee engagement is to create cultures that "do diversity well." Cultures that are welcome, supportive and inclusive. Cultures that not only accept and tolerate but celebrate differences. Cultures that create safe environments for employees to be authentically who they really are. We've made huge strides, recently, embracing and integrating GLBT employees into corporate cultures. Next step: the attitudes of leaders, executives and co-workers towards overweight individuals need to change.
My answer to Piers Morgan's question was that William Howard Taft did not get stuck in the White House bathtub.
And we should not get stuck on the weight of anyone -- whether they are a political leader, CEO or co-worker -- when it comes to getting their job done.