Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ramblings on Employment

I have been hearing for a very long time about height discrimination in hiring. Trying to research this subject is difficult, as very few employers would ever admit to discrimination in this (or any) area and it's likely that quite a few people who are guilty of it don't even realize that they are actually biased (at least, I'd like to think that's the case). However, there are a few studies done in the U.S. and Britain that show a scary pattern.

The odd thing I found, though, is there is a lot of writing about how much more affected short men are than women, some even go so far as to say there is no height discrimination for women in the workplace, the only physical factor affecting hirability is obesity. However, I've been reading numbers from studies over the past few days and they tell a very different story. Short women who are considered attractive and are not obese do a lot better than short women who are unattractive and/or obese, to be sure, but there are still hiring and pay disparities that seems to be based solely on stature. Add in the still-normal difference between the genders in the job arena and it becomes even scarier.

The question is, how do you solve this? I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of adding legal protection specifically in this area, as it's easy to see that we could become just a society of protected groups, which can create reverse-discrimination that is just as damaging. On the other hand, this is just as unfair as any other form of discrimination based on something that a job candidate simply can't hide. If anything, height is the hardest thing to fake since people do notice the measures one can take, such as the height of one's shoes.

The only way to get rid of physical factors contributing to hiring seems to be to remove all physical contact until the employee is chosen, but that would mean abandoning the practice of interviewing, which would remove the ability to make a decision based on more than resume and references or skill tests (depending on the sort of job). That would also be dangerous, as a new hire's ability to fit into the culture of a company is very hard to judge without a chance to meet and that is one of the greatest factors in whether an employee will stick with that job and be at their best, productivity-wise.

Changing the public perception of height is more difficult than many other areas, as it is linked to our biological urge to get taller as a species. We are not just conditioned to admire the tall but are actually wired that way, particularly when it comes to men. Still, there is no correlation between ability to do most modern jobs (i.e. office or service jobs as opposed to hard physical labor) and stature. What we need are some role models of success who are not considered megalomaniacs and are not ignored by the media. It may be a very long time before we see that.

Fun fact: Did you know that Napoleon, perhaps the most famous short man in history, wasn't short? At 5'7" he was actually taller than average for France at the time. So much for the Napoleon complex!

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