A "Hair"-oing Tale: What Does It Mean For Your Career?

57% of men entering the workforce negotiate their salaries,
while only 7% of women do.

Ouch. This is one of the many powerful messages I took away from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s riveting TEDwomen presentation on why we have too few women leaders. I highly recommend watching this 15-minute talk. Sheryl’s comments are game-changing in the same way Gloria Steinem’s iconic “If Men Could Menstruate” OpEd was. Specifically Sheryl encourages working women to:

  1. Sit at the table
  2. Make your partner a real partner
  3. Don’t leave before you leave (re: balancing having a career & children)

These are all lessons she learned the hard way… through her own life experiences as she climbed the ladder from whip smart Harvard undergrad to one of the most powerful women in global business. After reading a recent profile about Sheryl in The New Yorker I felt aglow about the possibilities for women being financially rewarded for the business results they generate without having to tamp down their feminine sides. (While I’ve never met Sheryl, by all accounts she is warm, kind, supportive of others, and believes in “bringing your whole self to work.”  A working mom, she’s both feminine and ferociously effective in her career).
So what does this have to do with hair… and more importantly with your career and financial future?
First, let me confess that I’m very sensitive about hair. I have some of it growing in places where honestly, no woman should have to deal with it (yep, dreaded facial hair). And the bits on the top of my head have a mind of their own. They generally prefer to live in a state of frizz and are not easily tamed. Why this is relevant you shall soon see.
Right after reading the New Yorker article, I stumbled upon a piece in The Daily Beast called “Rebekah Brooks’ Distracting ‘Do.” Rebekah Brooks is the former CEO of News Corp.’s News International. She recently resigned amidst the fury of the News Of The World phone hacking scandal.
Oh – and she has long, red, curly hair.
As part of the ongoing investigation into who knew what and when, Rebekah spoke last week at a British Parliament hearing. Here are some excerpts from the article describing ex-CEO Brooks’ presentation:

Her hair hung thick and loose below her shoulders like a dense tangle of vines. It was free and unruly; it was hair that had been released from any need to be controlled and tidy.

Brooks’ hair was a distraction because it was a ballsy rebuke of our expectations governing how people on the defensive are supposed to tread. There was no suggestion of humility, timidity, or caution. There was no attempt to disappear into doleful anonymity.

That was look-at-me hair—stare at me, remember me. Me, me, me.

By the time I finished reading, I literally had to start deep breathing exercises to calm down. My joy at Sheryl Sandberg’s success had turned into despair. For goodness sakes, here was a scathing attack. Not upon Lady Gaga’s latest outfit at a concert but upon a professional woman’s NATURAL HAIR. (Would “don’t-look-at-me-when-I-speak-in-Parliament-hair” have been better?  And what would that hair even look like?)
Reading this article made me feel like someone was putting a bag over my head, trying to smother my ambition and sense of feminine self. For I too am a working woman with spirited hair. In frustration, I reached out to an older, wiser friend who reminded me Rebekah is merely one of many executive level women derided for the body she was born with. She pointed out it was not long ago that Hillary Clinton was taken to task simply for having breasts.
In the past I have written about how one key component in the wage gap between men and women is that we women don’t “Ask For It” – and by that I mean raises. In a world where a C-suite level woman speaking in Parliament, dressed authentically as herself, is derided for having “look-at-me-hair”… is it any wonder that so many of us women feel conflicted about standing tall in our authentic selves at work and asking for stretch assignments and raises?
After watching Sheryl Sandberg’s TEDwomen video & reading the Daily Beast piece on Rebekah Brook’s “Distracting ‘Do”… how do you feel about this whole to do?
[Note: Rebekah Brooks photo credit – PA/AP]

9 Replies to “A "Hair"-oing Tale: What Does It Mean For Your Career?”

  1. Some of your pieces ressonate more than others, and this one? Yikes, this one is it! Well said. Well noticed. Thanks for the wake up. 

  2. Thanks for the post. What I found even more disturbing than the commentary on Rebekah’s hair was the comments on the Youtube TED video and the dislike stat–almost 50%. It is clear that women are going to have to become deaf to criticism. If we continue to listen to the constant drone of it we will never get anywhere. We  must claim our own success for ourselves and our daughters and not be sucked into the acceptance treadmill.

    1. Yeesh – do I ever hear you. I’ve never considered myself to be particularly thick skinned… but am realizing ESPECIALLY in this highly wired world that it’s essential for both women and men to find happiness and a sense of self-satisfaction from within. Love your phrase “acceptance treadmill” – so true!

  3. I’m thrilled you’ve written about this. This mindset is everywhere, be it business, politics or PTA meetings. Please continue to enlighten others about yet another obstacle women must confront in order to become our authentic selves.

    1. Thank you so much for writing in – I confess I was nervous to write this post but I literally could not stop the words from flying out of my head and on to the keyboard. Something deep & pervasive as we all strive to live lives of meaning and joy.

  4. Manisha- Thank you for this blog post and for the awesome work you do.
    I cannot tell you how eye opening it was and how nauseated I felt while reading it. It made me feel as if women were thrown back to the days of wearing long skirts that brushed the floor because it was deemed  ” distracting ” for women to show their ankles.  My question is, when are we going to move passed this? 
    Sadly, we live in a society that focuses primarily on looks. If your too good looking its bad, because how can someone with looks have anything intelligent to say, right? On the flip side if your not good looking the media or society will rip you apart piece by piece. Its a double edged sword which for
    women like myself who work so hard to bust out of that mold is a
    nightmare. I want to be known for the great work I do, period.
    I wish people would listen more and judge less. I’m sure if they listened they would have been riveted by the words that were being spoken out of Rebekah Brooks mouth instead of being distracted by her hair. That’s the big take away here. Ladies, we still have some ways to go…
    Rebekah Brooks has beautiful hair and if  I had a nickel for every man with bad hair I would be a millionairess!
    Lisa Marie Rosati

    1. I’m so with you on this: “I wish people would listen more and judge less… I want to be known for the great work I do, period.” Well said!
      The one super positive thing I can say is that this post has generated a tremendously heartfelt reaction. Sometimes you need a stark example like this to get people (men AND women) to rethink what are often more habits than any deliberate, malicious intent to hurt others. I remain very optimistic that things will continue to move in a better direction for all. Eloquent comments like yours really get people to pause, think, and reassess. So thank you for writing!

  5. Found this post linked in Forbes. A woman’s hair is her crowning glory –
    many men (including this one) have always been a little envious of a woman’s
    option to make a statement with her hair – either fashion or otherwise. It
    strikes me that Rebekah Brooks exercised that option with perfect
    legitimacy, and the statement was simply “I retain my unedited persona.”
    Whatever I may think of her journalistic ethics, I have no problem with that. If
    a man chose to cut off a beard he’d always worn, put on a lousy suit or forego a
    necktie just to eat humble pie at a public hearing, it would be considered
    ludicrous. Why should Rebekah Brooks have been expected to do something similar?
    No doubt someone would have accused her of trying to manipulate public
    opinion if she’d done so – which would unfairly put any woman in a no-win
    situation. Let her hair be.

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