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The Gray Area
Would You Dye Your Hair To Get More Respect At Work?
© pressmaster / Adobe Stock
Alex Wilson

Would you dye your hair if it made you successful at work?

That’s the dilemma Eileen Carey, CEO of Glassbreakers, was faced with early in her career. A natural blonde working in Silicon Valley’s tech industry, Carey got advice about dying her hair from a female venture capitalist she had been collaborating with; per the advice, dying her hair brown would help investors feel more comfortable around her.

“I was told for this raise [of funds], that it would be to my benefit to dye my hair brown because there was a stronger pattern recognition of brunette women CEOs,” Carey said to BBC News.

Carey stopped getting her hair professionally blow-dried and her nails professionally manicured. She switched out her contacts for glasses and focuses on wearing “androgynous” clothing — pieces that are comfortable and loose-fitting — in the office.

“For me to be successful in this [tech industry] space, I’d like to draw as little attention as possible, especially in any sort of sexual way,” Carey said. “I want to be seen as a business leader and not as a sexual object. Those lines are still crossed very often in this space.”

Her efforts to actively avoid the male gaze at work aren’t unwarranted. A 2016 survey detailed women’s experiences with issues in the workplace — specifically within the tech industry. The study, appropriately titled Elephant in the Valley, arose from the lack of awareness men had about the issues women face at work.

“While many women shared similar workplace stories, most men were simply shocked and unaware of the issues facing women in the workplace,” the authors wrote. “In an effort to correct the massive information disparity, we decided to get the data and the stories.”

The study included an entire section on “Harassment & Safety.” The stats? Unsurprisingly disappointing:

  • 90 percent of respondents witnessed sexist behavior at company off-sites and/or industry conferences.
  • 60 percent of women report unwanted sexual advances. 65 percent of women report unwanted sexual advances from a superior, with half receiving advances more than once.
  • Of the women who reported their sexual harassment, 60 percent were dissatisfied with the course of action.
  • 39 percent of those harassed chose to do nothing because they thought it would negatively impact their career.

“There’s a problem in our industry, period, around sexual harassment,” Carey said.

Amidst this data, however, there is a silver lining. In recent months, increased media attention on Silicon Valley has pressured various leaders accused of sexual harassment to step down. Most recently, CEO and co-founder of SoFi Mike Cagney announced that he is stepping down after several employees came forward and alleged he empowered other managers to engage in sexual conduct within the workplace.

When job searching, Carey advises that women look for companies that have opportunities for career growth and women in visible leadership positions. “Look at the numbers. Look at the leadership. Talk to women who work there,” Carey said. “If that doesn't seem like a place that you can reach your highest potential, don't work there."

In addition, more start-ups are focused on building inclusive company cultures. Carey’s start-up, Glassbreakers, builds software aimed at attracting and empowering diverse workforces. She’s living her own advice to female entrepreneurs — “be the change you want to see in the world.”


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