One would think that obtaining a leadership position should be based on merit alone. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, especially not for women. According to research from Jennifer Berdahl and Natalya Alonso, professors at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, the majority of women in major leadership positions are blond. Despite the fact that only 2% of the world’s population is born blond, over one-third of female senators have that hair color while nearly half the female CEOs of S&P 500 companies are also blonde.
Writer Minda Zetlin decided to examine this phenomenon, noting that the perception of youth plays a role, since many of us have blond hair as children, before changing colors in our later years. Race is also an important factor, as white people are by and large the majority when it comes to leadership roles in America. Zetlin goes on to point out the inherent irony of the hair color here, noting that in the annals of American pop culture, blonde women are traditionally painted as being less intelligent than their brunette counterparts.
Berdahl and Alonso believe that women in leadership roles try and use that contradiction in their favor. Being blonde might actually help to soften the way others perceive them, especially when they take an authoritative stance, as leaders are often required to do. Berdahl and Alonso tested their theory by asking 100 men to rate photos of women, both blonde and brunette, based on "attractiveness, competence, and independence."
At first, the men found that the brunettes seemed more competent. But once women were paired with assertive quotes like "My staff knows who’s boss" or "I don’t want there to be any ambiguity about who’s in charge," the blond women suddenly rated higher. "The same woman changes her hair color from blonde to brunette, and she’s seen as a bitch," Berdahl told Huffington Post.
Does that mean women who want to be successful should dye their hair blond? Berdahl seems to think so. "If women are choosing to dye their hair blonde, there’s something strategic about the choice," she said. "If the package is feminine, disarming, and childlike, you can get away with more assertive, independent, and masculine behavior."
Learn more about the dynamics of women in leadership roles with a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and tell us if you buy into the notion that blonde women have a better shot at leadership roles in America.