Female CEO says she dyes her hair brown to be taken seriously at work

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Sarah Biddlecombe

A Silicon Valley CEO has shared what she thinks helped her get ahead in her career – and her story appears to confirm that sexism is alive and well in the workplace (as if we needed reminding).

Eileen Carey, who runs a software start-up called Glassbreakers, revealed that one of the secrets to her success was in her appearance. Speaking to the BBC, Carey says she used to have blonde hair and wear contact lenses – but now she dyes her hair brown and ensures she wears glasses at all times.

And the transformation she underwent to get ahead in the fiercely competitive Silicon Valley doesn’t end there. Carey sais she has stopped getting blow drys and manicures, and doesn’t feel “comfortable” in make-up or high heels in the office. She also revealed she favours loose-fitting, “androgynous” clothes.

“I want to be seen as a business leader and not as a sexual object,” she explained. “Those lines are still crossed very often in this space.”

Sadly, Carey is far from the only woman who has felt compelled to ditch her blonde hair in order to get ahead.

Adding that she had met many such women while interviewing candidates for her company, which produces software to help companies attract a more diverse workforce, Carey said there was a “fetishisation of blondes” in society.

"People are more likely to hit on me in a bar if I'm blonde. There's just that issue in general,” she said.

“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.”

And perhaps surprisingly, the advice to get rid of her blonde locks came from another woman, who warned her that the investors she was pitching to would feel more “comfortable” associating with a brunette woman.

“The first time I dyed my hair was actually due to advice I was given by a woman in venture capital,” Carey told the BBC.

“Being a brunette helps me to look a bit older and I needed that, I felt, in order to be taken seriously.”

Yet despite making such radical changes to her appearance, Carey is still all too aware that it takes more than a simple packet of hair dye to help most women get ahead in male-dominated workforces.

Here in the UK, the gender pay gap still stands at a staggering 18.1%, and analysts predict women’s earnings won’t match up to men’s until 2069 at the earliest.

Add to that the depressing statistic that the proportion of senior business roles held by women in the UK actually fell by 2% this year, to a woeful 19% across the country, and it’s clear that it will take more than a little make-under for women to reach equality.

To that end, Carey shared some final advice – just don’t work for a company that doesn’t value equality.

“Look at the numbers. Look at the leadership. Talk to women who work there,” she added. 

“If that doesn't seem like a place that you can reach your highest potential, don't work there.”

Sound advice indeed – although we’re hoping initiatives such as the Government’s new gender pay gap reporting scheme will mean companies themselves will start tackling the issue, rather than constantly passing the buck to the women who are being needlessly penalised based purely on their gender.



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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter

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