Height matters in the employment context. Short employees face serious bias in the workplace. The lack of representation of short people in leadership positions and the substantial height wage gap evidence the existence of bias. The bias may be inadvertent or unconscious, but it causes people to make irrational choices that seem to be driven by prejudice; choices that make no logical or rational sense.
Short people face too many size-related obstacles in the professional world that prevent them from reaching the leadership ranks. When short people act boldly and work to become more powerful, they are deemed to have violated the stereotypical expectation that they should be quiet and obedient, like children. This bias is at the core of why short people are held back from the top of the corporate ranks. To help combat this bias, managers, executives and other organizational leaders should follow the following etiquette:
- Become Aware of Height Bias as an Issue. Being aware of height discrimination is important for employers because discrimination in any form destroys business value. Regardless of whether the discrimination is deliberate or not, it should never be acceptable that competent, personable people do not get hired or promoted for reasons unrelated to their ability. It should never be acceptable that some people are paid less than others for the same effort and results.
- Acknowledge the Value of Diversity. A truly diverse organization is a better organization. Diversity encourages seeking out and developing the best talent and creating an inclusive work environment that values differences – in both physical traits as well as thinking styles, education and socioeconomic status, among other variables. The laws of economics and many studies of diversity have confirmed that if we use the entirety of human talent, our organizational performance would improve. Companies will achieve better results (i.e., profits) not only through providing more and innovative products but by providing an environment where all employees can realize their fullest potential.
- Be Inclusive. Act to neutralize both unintentional and intentional biases and work to create a culture of inclusion and generosity toward others. Realize that short people, women and members of minority groups tend to be very sensitive to being excluded. To be an effective leader, it is important to make a conscientious effort to avoid the behaviors that might lead other team members to feel discounted or ignored. An intentional effort to include others is critical to fostering cooperation among teams.
- Focus on Performance, not Perceptions. Perceptions are often colored by biases and our inherent instinct to stereotype. Managers should receive training not just on how to overcome unintentional biases, but also on performance management. It is important to evaluate employees using criteria which objectively link performance with business goals.
- Beware of the Tall Privilege. While most tall people are often unaware of the advantages they enjoy simply from being tall, some behave as though they are entitled to such advantages. The social deference that is granted to the taller individual sometimes begets the presumption of deferential treatment. The fact that tall people’s view of the world is shaped by their own vantage point is not their fault, but as a result of this viewpoint, tall people are sometimes blind to how they may overshadow the shorter people around them. Tall people can help counteract the negative side-effects of this privilege by developing cooperative skills, seeking solutions, using skills of persuasion, logic and reason and a spirit of equality and partnership.
- Seek Out Different Points of View. Better leaders work on developing the ability to understand and adopt another person’s viewpoint. To understand a short person’s point of view, a tall person should intentionally take the steps to consider the short person’s goals, qualifications, opinions, life experiences and internal limitations. The best way to start is to think before speaking, ask questions and really listen to the answers. Ask for their opinion, and be willing to hear them out without interrupting or belittling. It is important to remain aware of giving others’ ideas equal weight.
- Refrain from Teasing or Commenting about Physical Traits. There is no need to point out the obvious by telling short people that they are short. They know this. Short people also will not consider it funny to hear that joke again about how you almost didn’t see them there. Unless you know them very well, and are certain that they will not be offended, steer clear from questions about whether they shop for clothes and shoes in the children’s department or whether they are a dwarf or midget. These questions are very disrespectful. If you would not consider it polite to make a similar comment concerning a person’s race, weight or gender, then you should not do so about height. Belittling another person’s physical attributes or opinions, teasing or insulting them, are forms of bullying and should never be tolerated.
- Don’t Tell Short People to Just Be Confident. Many people wrongly assume that there would be no prejudice, or our biases would not matter much, if the victims would just act more confidently. Short people (as well as women and minorities) are often encouraged to act confidently as a way to counteract the prejudices they face. Certainly, all of us should work on having the appropriate amount of self-confidence. But it is not lack of confidence that causes inequality; it is our social and cultural biases. An internal effort cannot cure an external problem.
- Don’t Penalize Short People for Acting Confidently. Short people are often penalized when they act assertively. The same behaviors that are rewarded in tall white men are viewed as unlikable. While it is easy to advise someone who lacks confidence to simply speak up more and be more assertive, when they do, they are often interrupted and their ideas are shut down before they even finish speaking. If they continue to persist, they are judged as too aggressive. In the case of short people, we often jump to the conclusion that they are overcompensating as a result of their short stature because they have an inferiority complex. Instead, managers should become more aware of their own negative response to short people who do try to promote themselves and act confidently, and how it may be motivated by bias. Managers should encourage all of their employees, regardless of height, gender, race, age or other status, to reach for success, including leadership roles, if that is what they desire.
- Speak Out Against Height Discrimination. All of us, tall and short, must acknowledge how cultural stereotypes and biases perpetuate the status quo and strive to rise above them. We should be vocal in our negative response to any jokes and slurs about short stature, so that they come to be seen by society as unacceptable and as unwelcome as racist and sexist jokes. We should speak out when people make disparaging assumptions about the character of short people on the basis of height. When we fail to respond, we implicitly approve and condone such teasing. It is everyone’s responsibility to speak out against height discrimination.