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Women, Confidence, Power Positions and Height

The article “The Confidence Gap” in The Atlantic by two female journalists highlights the self-doubts that sabotage many women’s careers. The article is an excerpt from their book which discusses the social, cultural, psychological and biological (neuroscience) basis for confidence and why it is so sorely lacking in women.

Also of interest –Amy Cuddy is a Harvard Biz School professor who has researched body language and its physiological effects on feelings of confidence and power. She became aware of this while teaching biz students. The women were always demure when raising their hands while the men leaned forward and waved vigorously. Of course the men got called on more.

I first read about her in Harvard Magazine and then heard about her TED talk. I wish I knew this stuff when I was starting out in my profession… except there wasn’t any social psych research like this in the 80s. At least not in readable form. Malcolm Gladwell started writing his popular books in the mid 90s and TED talks came about even later.

(Shout out to Professor Nolan and why the study of story, that is literature, is important. Story makes your ideas memorable. Gladwell did not do any original research for his books. He just re-packaged existing social psych research into a more user-friendly form).


Profile of social psychologist Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School | Harvard Magazine Nov-Dec 2010

fyi: Height differentials and positions of power. I did notice how height was highly correlated with power and prestige when I worked at Wilson Sonsini during the IPO-crazed 90s. We would attend all-hands meetings — 30 people in a large conference room. And the late night sessions at the printers w/ catered food. I put on at least 20 lbs.
At these all-hands meetings you could quickly tell who was which profession just by height.

Remember, this is a room filled w/ a majority of white men.

The investment bankers (the money) were ALWAYS the tallest (over 6 feet tall). Perhaps another reason women can’t get traction in leadership. Too short. I think I met one female investment banker after attending dozens of all-hands meetings and I never once met a lead banker who was female.

The company people were next tallest in the room. The CEO was ALWAYS taller than the CFO. I remember meeting a CFO who was 6’3″ and thinking to myself “How tall is the CEO?” Yup. Taller. 6’5″.

Statistically, men over 6′ are less than 15% of the popn.  Malcolm Gladwell summed up the economic value of height in his New Yorker article “Why do We Love Tall Men.”


The corporate lawyers were next, w/ most averaging about 5’9″. I don’t believe I ever met a corporate partner over 6 feet tall.

Accountants were the shortest, shorter than the lawyers.

On the totem pole ranking, the heights tracked the importance of the profession. Investment bankers were the most powerful and hence, the tallest. Accountants and lawyers just followed orders and did the paperwork. They were the shortest.

At the law firm, I also noticed a height differential among practice groups. Litigators were usually the tallest at a law firm with the exception of tax, bankruptcy and IP litigation. These are the most nerdy of litigation practice…

The general civil litigation attorneys were all over 6 feet tall. I also noticed that tall corporate associates (over 6 feet tall) often left in a year to either go to litigation or to investment banks or hedge funds where their height was the norm.

Psychologically, a short corporate law partner does NOT want an associate who looms over him.

What does your husband see at his firm? What did you notice at the DA’s office? (How tall is Kamala Harris? In the pix w/ Obama — he’s 6’2 or 6’3,–she seems fairly tall. Not Michele tall, but Kamala is taller than your average woman.)