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Unconscious Height Bias

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

I am under five feet tall. I have trouble reaching things that most people have within arms reach. I often joke that I married a man that is well over six feet tall so that he can reach items in the upper cabinets.

Last week, while grocery shopping with my daughter, I could not reach the chopped spinach at the top of the freezer isle. Frustrated, I turned to her and said, “I hope you get tall soon so that when we go shopping you can reach things for mommy.” She laughed and asked what I was going to do. I smiled and said, “climb on the freezer,” which I did.

"I’ve never thought about my height as a barrier to a career progression until a mentor asked if I feel my height is an unconscious bias."

I often forget about my height. Yet, people constantly remind me of how short I am. When I wear flat shoes to work, my co-workers chuckle and state

they did not realize what a difference my shoes make. Sometimes I laugh, and others I roll my eyes with sarcasm and say, “really? I had no idea.”

Most people don't mean any harm. They make innocent comments intended to be endearing.

I’ve never thought about my height as a barrier to a career progression until a mentor asked if I feel my height is an unconscious bias. This mentor went on to say that being small, may unintendedly lead to the perception of youth, inexperience, and unfit for a leadership position.


Coupled with Asian genes and a cheerful personality, is there any hope for me?

Not sure, but this awareness has paved the way for a few adjustments:

  1. I’ve worked hard to tone down my cheerfulness. Not many executives care for it, and quite honestly, my energy level scares people in the corporate world - as opposed to a must-have skill when I hosted a TV show.

  2. I try to dress very professional, in classic styles and muted colors.

  3. I often wear my hair in a bun at the top of my head to add a few inches of height – laugh all you want, but it works.

  4. During meetings, I am attentive and ask the right questions. I learn everything I can about the project so that I can be confident and welcomed to the conversation as an expert.

I can't change my height, but I am grateful that at my age, I look much younger. There are many unconscious biases, and becoming aware of them can help leaders see a person’s potential. Explore any biases and assumptions you may have about a person's height. Challenge yourself to be a great leader, and see past the physical differences that make everyone unique and diverse.

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