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Short Women in the Workplace

Ways Petites Can Stand Out on the Job

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People at work

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Is equality in the workplace just a dream? Women already seem to have one strike against them when it comes to the world of work. Robert Longley, About.com's Guide to US Government Info, has recapped what most of us have known and observed during our working lives, and that is the fact that, on average, women still make 80% of the salary and/or wages that men do.

The great number of women in the workplace is a relatively recent development. For centuries women's roles centered around home and family, and women were discouraged, or even forbidden, to work, but now it's common for both signle and married women to work. Although many factors affect the pay discrepancy, it's not a stretch to assume that there's some baked-in discrimination against women, which can account for the difference in pay between men and women. Bottom line: women still battle for equality at work where it's most noticeable -- in the paycheck.

So in the workplace, women have an inherent disadvantage from the get-go. If you're a short woman, you've probably also noticed another workplace phenomenon at some time or another: short women frequently aren't taken as seriously as others at work, and the height, or lack thereof, of a worker can be reflected in the employee's pay. Indeed, studies have shown that there is a link between height and salary for both men and women (Judge & Cable, Jounal of Applied Psychology, V. 89, #3) with tall people making more money than short people. It seems that when people say that they "look up to" an individual, they may mean it quite literally.

It all comes down to the fact that short women sometimes struggle to be taken seriously at work. Just how can a petite woman go about establishing a more powerful presence in the workplace? Several on-the-job strategies may be effective:

  • Do your job. Although this suggestion may seem obvious, plenty of people in the world of work spend more time chatting and taking care of personal concerns than actually working. It's a good idea not to be one of them.
  • Show initiative, rather than waiting for someone else to do so. Leaders, rather than followers, get the promotions and make more money.
  • Embrace change, rather than fighting it, and you'll be seen as a more valuable employee. Flexibility and an eagerness to learn new things and adapt rapidly to a changing work environment will earn you the gratitude of the boss.
  • Play on the team and not just for yourself. Concentrate on company goals and reaching them, and you may just help yourself at the same time.
  • Shake hands firmly, rather than simply offering your hand
  • Stand up and sit up straight. Great posture helps convey an imposing presence.
  • Speak clearly and avoid speaking too rapidly.
  • Counter jokes about your short stature with humor and then move the conversation to another topic.
  • Dress for success in clothing appropriate to your own workplace. Even if you normally wear business casual clothing to work, consider dressing in business formal attire for important presentations and meetings.
  • Don't feel obliged to wear the highest heels you own just to look taller at work. Wear heels that are in proportion to your height (usually no more than four-inch heels for a short woman).
  • Avoid wearing any clothing or fashion accessories that a child or a teenager might choose to wear. It's better to look like an adult if you want to be taken seriously.
  • Choose "power colors" to wear to work.
  • Don't be afraid to show some individual style flare so long as it's in good taste. People will notice, and you'll receive positive attention.

Although it can be a challenge for short women to level the playing field at work, it's not an impossible task. Years ago I worked at a company headed by a woman who stood about 4'10". All the department managers were men (some taller than 6'), who sometimes acted a bit sheepish about having to report to a petite woman, but there was never any doubt about who the boss was because she knew how to assert herself using the techniques listed above.

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