My favorite work colleague and I were walking back from lunch when she told me about an article she’d read. Something about how your executive potential is limited if you wear your hair long. She wondered, with her lovely long hair blowing in the wind, you think that is true? Hmmm, I’m not sure, I responded.
I thought about all the executive women I knew. I couldn’t think of any with long hair. But then again, none of them were in their late 30s or early 40s. I’ve experimented with my hair over time – going from very long when I married, to a fairly short inverted bob, to my fairly nondescript shoulder length style now.
So I decided to do some research. Yes, it seems completely superficial, AND IT IS, but what goes in print? Think about it. During Hillary Clinton’s race, the media talked about her hairstyles and wardrobe. It’s completely a double standard, but does long hair put you at a disadvantage if you’re trying to climb the career ladder?
Where do you start? Well, I started with the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women in the World. I already knew I’d exclude any television/music types on the list because the corporate career rules don’t apply to them. I also thought it would be interesting to see if there were universal rules versus the rules that apply to American corporate woman.
The first woman on their list was German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has short hair so there went my European theory. The third woman on the list had long hair, and not to diminish the incredible work that she does (truly, she’s amazing), but it was Melinda Gates who came into her money through her husband’s career so I didn’t feel like I could count her as one who climbed to the top of the corporate ladder with long hair. Weighing in at number 11 was South Korean President Park who also sports very short hair.
At number 18, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo had about the longest hairstyle out of the top 25 (tied on length with the President of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner).
Here’s the women that made it to the Top Five:
From top to bottom: Germany Chancellor Merkel, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Philanthropist Melinda Gates, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde
Then I thought, well it’s age. Most women tend to shorten their hair as they age. What about young CEOs? So I looked at Forbes list of the Most Promising CEOs Under 35. They listed 23 CEOs in different industries. ZERO of them were women. That’s right, absolutely not one promising young female CEO out there apparently.
So I settled in on The 25 Most Powerful Women CEOs list by CEO.com. Aside from Maria das Gracas Silva, the CEO of Petrobras in Brazil, the only women CEOs with hair past their shoulders were in retail markets (Burberry, TJ Maxx).
I have no answer to this novel question about whether or not, even unconsciously by your evaluators, a hairstyle can impede your climb to the top, but I loved my friend’s perspective. She said: We’re young. Why don’t we change things? We’ve got more than 20 years to stretch our career muscles and we should change things. We should make sure that executive potential is never diminished over something as ridiculous as a hairstyle.
I wholeheartedly agree (and spoken like one with oodles of executive promise). First impressions absolutely count and, as you progress further in your career, you should make sure that your look exudes career potential. That means looking polished, having a career wardrobe, and carrying yourself with confidence. But I believe those exact principles apply to men. Dressing for the job you want applies to any gender in a corporate environment. Hopefully, as my friend and I move through our careers, short hair won’t be a prerequisite.
What say you? What’s your take on a hairstyle impacting career potential? We’re curious!
Merkel Photo Credit: AP Photo/Facundo Arrizabalaga
Yellen Photo Credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Gates Photo Credit: Frederic Courbet
Rousseff Photo Credit: Wiktor Dabkowski/ZUMAPRESS.com/Newscom
Lagarde Photo Credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Mayer Photo Credit: Britta Pedersen/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom