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Updated Feb 14, 2024

Physical Height Is a “Complex” Hiring Bias

Ali Saleh, Contributing Writer

Napoleon movie character

Director Ridley Scott’s latest historical biopic, Napoleon, showcases the titular conqueror’s prowess and wit on the battlefield. But the film might surprise viewers by not showcasing Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix) as particularly short.

In fact, historians now believe Napoleon was of average height — or even slightly tall — for an 18th-century Frenchman. The notion of him as vertically challenged is likely due to confusion between the British inch and the longer French inch, and due to British cartoonists’ propaganda.

Still, the trope of a “Napoleon complex” has an unfair modern impact in the workplace. Research shows that higher stature is associated with higher pay, with each additional inch more valuable up to six feet. A 2016 study found that shorter men earn approximately $4,200 less per year, with taller men getting promoted into leadership positions more often.

As employers strive to eliminate other biases in compensation and career development, remember that Napoleon won his battles with meticulous planning and perseverance, not the ability to dunk.

This article first appeared in the b. Newsletter. Subscribe now!

Ali Saleh, Contributing Writer
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