Most people would assume that workplace success should be influenced solely or mostly by factors that directly contribute to performance, such as job-related competence, productivity and intelligence. However, we rarely consider how much our height bias affects short workers’ careers and paychecks.
Unfortunately, height discrimination is as pervasive in the workplace as in the greater social world. It permeates employment decisions as much as race and gender. Taller people are more likely to occupy leadership and management positions and otherwise achieve higher status in professional and educational endeavors. Taller people (including women and minorities) earn higher wages than their shorter colleagues. There is no escaping the fact that height clearly matters in career success.
From the very beginning of their careers and at each phase of their working lives, short people face prejudice which contributes to unfair hiring and promotion practices, compensation discrepancies and the general failure to take short people seriously. Managers and co-workers instinctively believe short people to be less mature, less positive, less secure, less masculine (in the case of males), less successful, less capable, less confident and less outgoing. These are preconceived superficial and irrational judgments about a person’s character based on a physical feature – the very embodiment of prejudice. Short people are presumed to possess these qualities before anyone takes the time to actually get to know them as individuals.
Short people who display confidence and leadership qualities are often referred to as “little dictators” or “little tyrants” in an attempt to belittle and minimize their influence.When a short person is described as a brilliant or strategic leader, people tend to be surprised. Somehow, our inherent instinct is to expect short employees to behave like children: quiet and obedient. When they do not meet those expectations, it makes people uncomfortable and leads to inappropriate responses.
To short people, the discussion of height in the workplace is particularly relevant and significant, because it has a long-lasting material impact on their paychecks. But height discrimination in the workplace is no less relevant for the health of the workplace itself, and it should be as much a concern to executives as other forms of discrimination.