From Marylin to Brigitte, Kim K to Beyoncé, we’re a world obsessed with blondes. Except, apparently, when it comes to the boardroom. Last week Silicon Valley CEO Eileen Carey made international headlines with her admission she dyed her hair brown to be “taken seriously” at work.
Carey was told the investors she was pitching to would feel more comfortable dealing with a brunette woman, rather than a blonde, so she made the switch. It could almost be a scene straight out of Working Girl, when Melanie Griffiths lops off her wild tresses to a boss-worthy coiffed bob (“You wanna be taken seriously, you need serious hair.”) Except this isn’t an ‘80s movie, it’s 2017.
The US CEO revealed she knows a number of other women in her industry who’ve ditched the bleach for similar reasons – and Brits are doing it too. A 2009 survey by Superdrug revealed that 31% of British blonde woman had switched to brunette to be taken more seriously at work, with 62% of UK workers believing brunettes look more professional.
So what’s the problem with being a blonde? According to Carey, being brunette helps men see her “as a business leader and not as a sexual object” and – depressingly – she may have a point. Studies show men rate brunettes as more attractive, intelligent, competent and even-tempered than blondes – yet they’re more likely to hit on blonde women than brunettes in a bar.
Some scientists claim this ‘blonde effect’ is in our genes, as women with naturally fairer hair are likely to be more fertile. For a start, it’s a sign they’re probably female (more women are born blonde than males), and is an indicator of youth. Caucasian blondes are also usually higher in oestrogen than brunettes and more likely to exhibit other infantile traits indicating low levels of testosterone (fine facial features, narrow shoulders and childlike behaviour).
But seeing as only 2% of the world’s adult population are natural blondes, and the rest of us turn to hair dye, it’s clear these cavemen instincts are best ignored. Much more recent research has, in fact, debunked the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype – blondes were found to have a slightly higher IQ than brunettes and redheads. The difference wasn’t big enough to be statistically significant, but it’s still firm proof they’re not any less intelligent.
When it comes to earning power, the jury’s still out. Findings have been mixed – with some studies showing brunettes earn more and others vice versa – but it’s clear that brilliant blonde women are making their mark on the world. Take these two identical surveys by Clairol – in 2002, out of 1,000 American women, 76% believed the first female president of the United States would be a brunette. In 2008, women voted 50-50.
Instead of suggesting blondes darken their hair to reach the top, we should be encouraging these bright and successful women to be who they want to be – and if anyone pre-judges them, it’s just another chance to prove those hackneyed old misconceptions wrong.