Jessica-Joan Richards, a 28-year-old marketing manager working in recruitment, logged in to her LinkedIn account in early July to upload something she never thought she would share on the professional networking platform — her profile picture.
In a now-viral post, Richards, who was born in the Philippines before moving to the U.K. with her family when she was 7, explained that following an alleged body-shaming incident at a previous place of employment, she decided to delete her LinkedIn photo, in fear that her weight may ward off other professional opportunities.
“I had a previous senior leader say that I was too fat for my job & that I needed to lose weight,” Richards wrote. “Whether true or not, this statement really affected me, so much so that I stopped allowing my photo to be taken, personally & professionally. Removed my picture from LI for fear that people wouldn’t want to work with or employ me because of my weight.”
“I wanted my experience, energy, loyalty and passion to do the talking rather than my looks,” she added. “Someone [recently] mentioned how I didn’t have a profile picture on LinkedIn which set off those fears again, but instead of allowing them to spiral, I thought to myself, no, I am confident in my abilities and what I can offer to the world, regardless of how I look, my weight or any other shallow opinion people have about me. I am more than what my appearance is, & so are you.”
The inspiring post has since racked up more than 570,000 reactions and over 38,000 comments from supportive professionals around the world.
Richards told In The Know that the alleged incident outlined in her post began following a medical diagnosis that would require her to attend a doctor’s appointment four times a year.
“My senior leader was frustrated that me being recently diagnosed with sleep apnea meant I needed to go to the hospital for monitoring once every three months,” she explained. “These visits would have to take place during work hours as the clinic was only open for a few short hours a week.”
The appointments, meant to keep tabs on her potentially-dangerous sleep disorder, were non-negotiable, and Richards said she did her due diligence to ensure she didn’t have to miss work for any other reason to make up for them.
“I paid more for a private dentist as it meant I could visit outside of work hours, often on weekends, so it meant I didn’t have miss work for that,” she shared. “I knew of senior leaders taking time away from work to do beauty treatments and come back into the office much later than they should. There was so much that other people were allowed to get away with.”
Still, after informing management she would have to take time off for her medical appointments, Richards claims she was subjected to a barrage of unwelcome comments about her appearance, in what she considered “a hate attack.”
“It was not right that I was judged based on my weight and having someone insinuate that I was incapable of doing my duties because of my weight,” she said. “I took it personally, but never said anything because being a mixed-race employee in a predominantly white office, particularly when it came to the senior team, I didn’t feel like I had any ground to complain.”
Eventually, Richards says she found herself under such mental distress she decided to seek advice from her healthcare provider, who gave her the appropriate paperwork to allow for two weeks of medical leave from her job.
“After a series of feeling absolutely broken by what was happening in the workplace and getting to a really dark place, I went to the doctors and updated them on what was happening at work,” she explained. “They signed me off of work for two weeks, I believe. I handed this sick note in and on day two of my two-week sick leave, I got a phone call from my line manager telling me that the company was sending a courier over to pick up my work equipment — a laptop and an iPad. This behavior hardly made it like I felt welcome to return.”
After an allegedly ineffective experience dealing with her former company’s occupational health team and human resources department, Richards says she handed in her official notice and began looking for new jobs.
“Much of what I had to say felt like it wasn’t really being listened to,” she recalled. “I felt like I’d already lost before I even started. Ultimately, I had nothing more I could do.”
Even so, the toxic work atmosphere impacted Richards long after she left the particular employer.
“It made me so fearful of life, made me believe so much negativity I was receiving was deserved,” she revealed. “This person took away my confidence and made me feel like I lost the family that I had developed during my time at the workplace. Because despite the horrible experience I had with this person, I had the most amazing clients that I enjoyed working with and made some really amazing friends who didn’t abandon me despite their attempt to really ruin my reputation.”
Ultimately, Richards hopes that by speaking out about her past trauma, she can prevent others from enduring the same hardships she had to go through.
“I would like to make it clear though that I’m not interested in getting revenge on this senior leader or anyone involved,” she told In The Know. “My only hope is that if ever they read my post that they think back on how they behaved and be better next time. I really want people to stop tolerating this kind of behavior and the only way we can do that is to start speaking out.”
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