There’s a reason why so many female CEOs are blonde and it’s pretty awful

It’s no secret that women are constantly bashing their heads against the glass ceiling. For every one step we make towards gender equality, it can feels like we take two steps back. And this recent study by the University of British Columbia isn’t making us feel any better.

It says blonde women are far more likely to end up a chief executive or U.S. senator than women with any other color hair.

Yup.  So not only do we have to battle our very gender to be respected, it seems we have to worry about what hair color we may have, too.


Though only 5% of the United States’ population are blonde, a stunning 48% of female chief executives at S&P 500 companies and 35% of female senators are blonde. Female university presidents are more likely to be blonde, too. It seems blondes don’t only have more fun… they also get the better jobs.


Those numbers are quite disproportionate to reality!

Study representatives Jennifer Berdahl and Natalya Alonso claim that part of this blonde overrepresentation “can be explained by race and age biases in leadership pipelines.” Blonde hair is primarily found in caucasians, and it’s no surprise that white-skinned people take up “a disproportionate amount of space” in the high-paying jobs. Also, children are more likely to be blonde than adults, which means blonde hair may subconsciously make people think of youth.


And yet, in a strange twist of fate, while blonde privilege may exist for women, it doesn’t for men. According to Slate, a 2005 study showed that just over 2 percent of male Fortune 500 CEOs were blonde. That’s quite a dip from the female 48%!

Jennifer Berdahl suggests the following reasons for these blonde vs. blonde discrepancies on her blog:

“Our data suggest that blonde women are not only assumed to be younger than their darker haired counterparts, but are also judged to be less independent-minded and less willing take a stand than other women and than men. In other words, Barbie can be CEO as long as she is young and/or docile, or being blonde might allow her to be older and more forceful than she otherwise could be.”


Berdahl also told The Huffington Post:

“If women are choosing to dye their hair blonde, there’s something strategic about the choice. If the package is feminine, disarming and childlike, you can get away with more assertive, independent and [stereotypically] masculine behavior.”


As part of their research, Berdahl and Alonso asked one hundred male subjects to rate photos of blonde and brunette women on attractiveness, competence, and independence. The two groups of women scored equally on the first measure, but blondes fared far worse on the latter two. When the male subjects were shown photos of the same woman with blonde hair and brunette hair, the majority of them said they’d recommend the brunette over the blonde for the job of CEO/senator.

Yet, strangely enough, when the men had to rate female leaders—photos of the same woman with blonde or brown hair, paired with quotes like “My staff knows who the boss is”—they thought the blonde woman was warmer and more attractive than her darker-haired twin.


As Slate points out, it seems folks are much more willing to stomach a female leader if she appears more gentle and less demanding than her male peers.

This is just getting depressing. Ladies, let’s work together to break these stereotypes and find women of all colors (and hair types) in leadership positions. The time is now!


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