Height has become an attribute that is used as a barrier to exclude some of the best and most talented individuals from receiving the attention they deserve. In all types of occupations, short people face difficulties in getting hired or promoted to higher level positions. Hiring managers usually will not admit that height is the reason for not hiring a candidate, but in fact, that is what often happens. Today, even though height is rarely officially considered in hiring decisions, it remains an implicit factor in those decisions. Employers overwhelmingly believe that persons of above average height are more impressive to customers and are somehow more capable and competent. Of course there is not a shred of evidence to support that assumption.
Most hiring managers who are interviewing candidates for a job are not even consciously aware that they are treating a taller candidate differently than a shorter candidate. But as they evaluate each candidate, they do so based in part on the perceptions that others, both inside and outside the organization, would have of him or her, and inevitably height will affect those perceptions. Without directly addressing the issue of height head-on, they conclude that the person is not commanding enough. The candidate lacks physical impressiveness, or “presence.” Consider all the value and talent that companies have missed out on by failing to consider shorter job candidates on such specious grounds, without ever giving the candidate an opportunity to prove his or her worth.
Even when they do manage to land that job, short people face a very tall glass ceiling. Once on the job, their abilities are underestimated and they are frequently overlooked for promotions to management and executive roles. In fact, the highest corporate ranks seem to be out of bounds altogether for short people.
Research confirmed that more than ninety percent of CEOs of large companies are not just overwhelmingly white and male, but also are well above average height. A majority of male CEOs are three or more inches above average, falling within about the top fourteen percent of the adult male population, and thirty percent of male CEOs are at least 6’2”, which falls into the top four percent of adult male population. Fewer than three percent of male CEOs were below 5’7”. When we do find a short person as the head of a company or on the board of directors, it is usually someone who founded and built the company him- or herself.
The same effect is found among female executives. The few female CEOs of public companies are on average 5’9” tall, which is above the ninety-fifth percentile for women’s height, and corresponds to the height of an average male. Most people would presume that there might be a penalty in income for very tall women, because our cultural stereotype is that tall women are unfeminine. In fact, taller women have higher income than both shorter women and shorter men.
This lack of short people in the executive ranks of corporations, both male and female, evidences the existence of bias against short people in the same way as the absence of women and racial minorities in the executive ranks evidences bias. Assuming that a company is staffed with people that fall into the standard distribution for height, one should expect that the height of individuals who get promoted into higher ranks will be similarly distributed. Short people should be in the executive pipeline along with taller people. It should not be unreasonable to expect employment outcomes, especially wages and promotions, to depend on factors related to productivity, leadership skills, education and experience, rather than something as arbitrary as height.