Career Advice Mar 19 2012

How Tall People Get Ahead

By jo piazza

Economists are convinced that height confers a natural advantage in the workplace, but some of the tallest New Yorkers still turn to each other to get a leg up in their careers.

Local talls, as they call themselves, use monthly meetings of the Tall Club of New York City as a networking venue. Members must meet minimum height requirements—5-foot-10 for women and 6-foot-2 for men, as measured without shoes—but otherwise they have little in common and hail from an array of industries.

Like-heighted comrades came to the aid of Mary Sue Lundy (5-foot-11), who saw her prospects as a mortgage-consulting instructor decline in the wake of the recession. Club members circulated her resume and coached her through an interview at Bloomberg LP, where other talls already worked.

She got the job. "It was a huge networking opportunity for me," said Ms. Lundy, 47 years old.

Tall Club President Barry Hanold (6-foot-3) believes the economic research into the so-called height premium, in which tall people rise faster and earn more than their shorter peers, fails to capture the full picture. Sure, there are some perks with an above-average height—but there are challenges as well.

"Height is not a disability," Mr. Hanold said. "But it is less understood in the workplace."

The academic consensus offers a rosier view. In a 2004 paper, three social scientists argued that the link between higher heights and higher wages can be traced to adolescence, leading to speculation that taller youngsters develop self-confidence they carry into their careers.

"It has been known for a while that taller people earn more. We are talking about roughly 3% higher wages per inch, on average," said Nicola Persico, one of the study's authors and a professor at Northwestern University.

But Mr. Hanold, 47, points to drawbacks outside the office that might even the ledger.

"All talls quickly learn that all things cost more, so earning more money is a must," he said. "Car size cannot be too small. Airlines always charge more for the extra room. Clothing must be custom-made or -sewn."

Even low-ceilinged restaurants can be prohibitive, leading to careful scrutiny of the club's meeting venues. "If I don't have at least a foot of ceiling clearance I know my members won't be comfortable," Mr. Hanold said.

When the Tall Club gathers on the first Friday of every month at Pranna, a cavernous restaurant on Madison Avenue, all manner of height-related issues are discussed. For business suits, members tend to frequent the same three tailors. They trade information about ergonomic chairs and computer accessories designed for the tall.

The talk often circles around work-related topics. At a recent meeting, one tall woman revealed a tactic she had used: sitting during encounters with her shorter boss, to avoid creating a feeling of intimidation.

Mr. Hanold owes his current job in computer operations to a colleague with a link to the Tall Club, and he now repays his good fortune by contacting members when he learns of openings in his industry. "I don't give them preferential treatment but I do throw it out to them first," Mr. Hanold said.

Annie Watt, a 5-foot-10 photographer and the Tall Club's founder, set out to create the group nearly two decades ago with more personal priorities in mind.

"My motivation was to date someone tall," she said. "It worked the first night."

Ms. Watt, 59, used her own money to place an advertisement in New York magazine: "Hi, We're a Tall Club," it read. Fifteen people showed up at the first meeting, and twice that number at the second. The Tall Club now counts about 100 members.

For Ms. Watt, the professional boost came from the high ratio of models and actors in the club, who often turn to her for headshots and suggest her services to other long-limbed performers.

"Annie knows how to make sure we don't look like an all-neck giraffe in pictures," said Kim Blacklock, a stand-up comedian who bills herself as one of tallest women on the planet.

She is a legacy member of height-oriented social groups. Her parents, both over 6-feet tall, met at a 1952 gathering of the Tall Timers in Syracuse, N.Y. Ms. Blacklock credits the New York City club with helping her stand proud after a childhood of mockery. (She reached 6-foot-5 by age 15.)

"My mother spent a lot of time crying because of how kids treated me," Ms. Blacklock said. "But I go to the Tall Club, and they tell you that you are beautiful and wonderful. That helps when you go out into a world filled with boneheads."

This story first appeared on WSJ.com.




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