Here is my short story. I am 5 foot 3, and that makes me shorter than most people who I have worked with throughout my career. For years in the corporate world, I always wore heels, to try and be taller. I would be in meetings with people towering over me, at trade shows with people peering down at me while I spoke. What I never really thought about too much was whether my height played a role in how people perceived me. Did they think less of me for being short?

Now I have looked into it, discrimination against people who are short is a common and often overlooked form of prejudice that can have significant negative effects on an individual’s well-being and quality of life. Here are some of the reasons why short people may be discriminated against and the ways in which society can work to combat this.

1. Our perception of leaders

One reason that short people may be discriminated against is that they are often seen as less physically capable or strong than their taller counterparts. This stereotype can lead to short people being passed over for certain jobs or opportunities, or being treated with less respect or authority in professional or social situations. It’s all connected to what we see in media and messages around us. We just have to look at some of the coverage of leaders who are shorter to see that this is the case.

Height is linked to higher income, and there is bias from recruiters to taller people, whether they are aware of it or not. There is a bias from a lot of people to feel that taller people are more ‘leader-like. If you look at language used ‘little’ is often used as a derogatory term. And in a study from Western University, showed that there is bias in hiring decisions towards people who are taller.

As a short person, I do find taller people more intimidating, and a room full of tall people especially intimidating. The feeling of being literally looked down to by someone much taller than you has an impact on relationships and perceptions.

2. Attraction

Many don’t realise that how we perceive people and how we value them is connected to how attractive we think they are. And we thankfully all find different types of people attractive. With all those media messages around us which value tall people, we subconsciously discriminate against short people as we see them as less attractive or desirable by some members of society. This can lead to short people being excluded from social groups or activities, or being treated differently by romantic partners. Many dating apps have data on height being connected to attractiveness.

This impacts with other factors too, ironically women who are tall are often viewed negatively, as if they are a threat. When it comes to dating there are a lot of ways in which height plays a factor. Women tend to want men who are taller than them, so shorter men find dating apps difficult. There was even a dating app launched for short people. And this is because society and the messaging around us values height and equates it with attraction and power. When you think about it, basing your attraction to someone based on height and ruling out a potentially fantastic partner based on this factor seems ludicrous. I see this play out with friends who are shorter and struggle in the brutal landscape of dating apps where it’s so based on how you look.

It doesn’t stop there, height is also seen as something amusing, to make a joke about. Randy Newman’s ‘Short People’ is from the 1970s, but the narrative that being short is somehow amusing and less attractive is still there. It’s all around us.

Randy Newman, Short People

3. Capability

The more damaging impacts of this is the link to capability. In addition to these direct forms of discrimination, short people may also face more subtle forms of prejudice, such as being overlooked or underestimated in social or professional settings. This can be especially challenging for short people who are trying to advance in their careers or build meaningful relationships, as they may be overlooked or dismissed simply because of their height.

For many of these situations, linking the discrimination to height is tricky as there is not a lot of data about this. How many people are even aware that they think differently of people who are shorter than them? To really tackle this, it requires people really thinking about how someone’s height may impact what they think about them. Are people considered to be less capable based on this factor? Many shorter people will say they feel they have to really prove themselves. I know I often used to wear high heels and stand up to speak to show a stronger presence and change how people perceived me.

Woman standing up to present at a meeting

So what can we do to combat this discrimination? One important step is to recognize and challenge any biases we may have against short people. This may involve educating ourselves about the ways in which short people are unfairly treated, and actively working to look at our own biases around this. New ways of working may well be helping with this already as we don’t know how tall someone is during a video interview, for example.

Another important step is to advocate for policies and practices that promote inclusivity and fairness in things like recruitment. How can we remove as much bias as possible from our recruitment processes? What things can we do to talk more positively about the benefits of being short. We rarely have to worry about leg room at venues for example!

Overall, it is important to remember that discrimination against short people is a real and significant issue that affects many individuals. By acknowledging and addressing this prejudice, we can work to create a more inclusive and just society for all.

To look at how bias may be impacting your recruitment and how you can be more inclusive, have a look at our Inclusive Recruitment programme and let us help you create inclusive teams, where how someone looks does not negatively impact their career.