Posted by: jennaaduvall | September 8, 2016

The [Hairy] Reality

Would you consider yourself to be more than just your hair cut? Many individuals in academia are at odds with one another. Some actively argue that hair length and style do not contribute towards perceptions. However, others say that hair length and style do, in fact, largely contribute to important issues such as personal brand, professional success, and even connotations about sexuality.

After searching for more material to reference, I found an interesting short article about hair style & length. The author, Chalabi compares hair typology in 2013 and in 1970, creating a graph based off of the 2013 Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women” in business list. She concludes that nearly half of these 50 most powerful women (26/50) had “shoulder length, no longer” hair styles. Conversely, only one woman (1/50) in the list had the “too curly” hair cut that was considered in the 1970’s to “test poorly for the business woman.”

The images Chalabi referenced were from a book title “The Woman’s Dress for Success Book”, published in 1978 and written by a white male (not surprisingly)! However, it made a drastic realization that the assumptions and expectations put on woman in the 1970’s still carries some weight in the twenty-first century. In fact, it can contribute towards perceptions of leadership styles, standards of maintenance, and even forcefulness.

I am eager to hear all of your thought about the impact of personal branding, specifically hair styles in a professional setting. I am also eager to learn your opinions on the importance of “packaging yourself.”

-Jen Duvall


Source: Are Business Woman with Short Hair A Cut Above the Rest? Author: Mona Chalabi May 2014.




  1. I had never really thought of the hair length and leadership correlation. I was looking up the list of the 50 Most Powerful Women when I was looking for people to do our leadership presentation on, and I did take note that almost every woman pictured had short hair. I feel like this makes people almost view them as more “manly” because men usually have shorter hair while women are pictured with longer hair. I can’t say that is true or not, but that is my speculation on the subject. On the other hand, I feel like the more powerful leaders we talk about and see are older (than our generation). I was thinking back to the older women in my life (and when I say older I am talking like 40s or so, I just mean older than our generation), and the majority of the people I know have shorter hair. Either hair that is a “bob” and right at their shoulders, or even shorter. So I wonder if this is an actual correlation, or if the people we talk about in leadership are at an age where they just prefer the shorter hair.

  2. I agree with the above comment (Kaitlyn). I think the influence of appearance, especially regarding hair, is an interesting aspect of how women are perceived as leaders, but I would be most interested to see how it relates to younger female leaders. Does short hair become less “acceptable” for a female leader who is under 35? I also feel like there must be a difference depending on the culture which would also be interesting to explore.

  3. That article was extremely interesting. I never realized how much one’s hair length and style can affect people’s perception. It is even more surprising that even today similar ideas remain about a women’s hair style and performance. However, it also does not surprise me that women have more weighing on their appearance. This fact has been shown time and time again by research about women political candidates. As Michael A. Genovese and Janie S. Steckenrider (2013) indicate in their research, the media was more more likely to focus on the, “women’s viability, family status, emotionality, personal traits, appearance, and gender” (p. 327). Even though, we have come along way in our beliefs about how a women is suppose to look and act many of the initial expectations and beliefs still remain constant. The focus on a women’s appearance plays into the idea of the “double-bind”. As Eagly and Carli (2007) show, women must behave according to their gender role (nurturing, caring, others-oriented) while also displaying competence and assertion in order to get things done– the “double-bind” (p. 101). Women must walk a tight line in order to be accepted by their follower’s, especially their male counterparts. The idea of a women’s particular hair style and length plays into this idea. Women are expected to look and act feminine to fit their prescribed gender role. This is a perfect example of the “double-bind” in action.

    Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Through the labyrinth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

    Why no madame president: Gender and presidential policies in the United States. (2013). In M. Genovese A. & J. Steckenrider S. (Eds.), Women as political leaders: Studies in gender and governing (pp. 307-335). New York City, NY: Routledge.


  4. Wow this is something I always thought of but without being conscious of it. Being is a sorority with formal chapter every week, we always are talking about looking professional. While my hair is never a true topic, it plays a huge part into the “look”. The pencil skirt, white button up blouse and blazer would look complete with my hair in a bun. That is what many would say it true professionalism. I’ve always been taught to “dress for the role you want” and influences me to this day. I’ve never thought much of it other than just trying to look my best so I can be my best. This is, as you said, packaging myself. I had not even notice. I put my look together with my hair always in mind. Never really noticing that I had a professional hair and not. I does seem to matter a whole lot more than I ever realized. Long blonde hair will not get you anywhere in the STEM fields while it would get you further in others.

  5. Jen,

    I never thought of how hair length and style would have an impact on leadership. I think it is a really interesting dynamic to the leadership perspective because when you think about it, it makes sense. That being said, I am now curious if there is a correlation for men’s hair and leadership. I know way back when the mullet was a think and now it seems as if the man bun is becoming a thing. It would be interesting to see if a man’s hair style has the same impact on them as it would for a women.

  6. I think that hairstyles and “personal packaging” is very interesting. Especially that over time, the more common hairstyle for women in leadership was mid-length and relatively straight. I’m curious about what that says about what women in leadership should look like/exude. I have heard that when a woman goes in for an interview, it is best to put their hair up in some way, wear less make up and not too flashy or revealing clothing. Why is this? Is it that if a woman looks too “girly” they will be taken less seriously? If so, what does a woman’s make up have to do with her competence? I understand professionalism, but I feel like woman have higher critiques when it comes to appearance in the workplace and in leadership. Last thought, but who is setting these rules when it comes to “personal packaging” and what not? Because as much as I’d like to just assume its men, I bet women, at the very least, perpetuate it.

  7. Personal packaging is important for many reasons. One of those reasons is to look well-groomed, professional, and presentable. These expectations in the business and leadership world make sense because perception plays a huge role in a person’s influence. While I am not sure if there is a correlation between how people lead and their hairstyle, I do believe that influence can be interrupted by someone personal packaging. This goes back to our discussion on gender stereotypes and social expectations. For as long as the American society has been around, women and men are expected to dress and present themselves in a manner that represents their gender and their sex. Since women historically have kept their hair longer than men, it seems as though long haired women would fit our social expectations of femininity. However, it is interesting to point out that many women in higher level leadership positions have shorter hair; that begs the question, are women using their ‘personal packaging’ to resemble men, for a particular reason? Or is it just a coincidence that these women have shorter hair? I’d like to argue that there is a reason for this type of personal packaging because so many women do have the shorter hairstyles. Also, if men are wearing their hair longer, will they face the same scrutiny and close examination that women are? Will their personal grooming choices be examined under a microscope? I doubt that men would even face this type of conversation as far as personal packaging is concerned and that is why I feel we are still so far from gender equality in leadership.

  8. I am not surprised to hear that a man wrote instructions for women on how to achieve something feminine. Yes, we can relate to one another as humans. I am more upset about a man defining what is acceptable for a woman to do. A man doesn’t one hundred percent understand the female experience as a woman doesn’t completely understand the male experience. You can only preach to the choir if you are part of the congregation. I would have taken the article more seriously, if a woman author had written it.

    People are more than their physical appearance. Leadership is earned with experience. It is not the result of a haircut. 2 years ago, I donated the majority of my hair to Lock of Love and the result was I had “boy” hair. The way people treated me was astoundingly different. Males were much more direct and less careful with how they spoke in my presence. I am assuming that because of my haircut they saw me as “one of the boys.” I was a leader before I cut off my hair and I am still a leader now that it has grown back.

  9. Very interesting article! Women are often characterized by their appearance rather than their actual accomplishments. It is interesting to see how hair length/styles influences one’s perception or expectation of a leader. After reading the article I can honestly say that I wasn’t shocked to see that women with hair “too long” or “too curly” tested poorly for the businesswoman. These particular hairstyles are seen as more feminine than short hairstyles, but why? Hair is…hair! It should not determine leadership style. I am curious to see if there are different perceptions of businessmen with different hair lengths and styles.

  10. This is ridiculous. It genuinely annoys me that people pay attention to hair this much. Haircuts are a fun way for people to express themselves but they do not define the individual. It honestly frustrates me that studies have even been conducted on hair in business because it seems like a silly thing to focus on when there are so many other aspects of women leaders that are far more valuable to study.
    I think it is important to be physically professional in business — which I see as being clean and tidy. There is so much value in getting to know individuals for who they truly are, not who their haircuts claim them to be.

  11. I think your personal brand is a very important factor in how you are perceived in society. It lets you put forth an image to others that you can have control over. I think shorter haircuts are preferred in this because they are stereotypically more masculine. This haircut probably conjures up images of more masculine traits that are preferred therefore these women are assumed to possess these traits. Women with longer hair are most likely assumed to be more feminine in an environment where feminity is not encouraged this longer hairstyle would be a setback. Personal branding gives control over these stigmas and allows you to use it to your benefit.

  12. Wow that is such an interesting find!! Issues like these always bring me back to the idea of stereotyping. How can we assume women with shorter hair are more desired for certain business positions? Sometimes I wonder if it have more to do with male preferences than the actual appearance of the women? Maybe shorter hair makes women look more masculine and that’s why it is deemed more acceptable since we tend to think of leaders in business as males anyways. I feel like hair style/ length is a personal choice ( as long as it isn’t wild and distracting to others in the work place). We had a speaker come and talk to my sorority about business professionalism and she told us she actually had an employer tell her she needed to cut her hair… wow! To me I think women should have to choice to wear their hair any way they want, this just seems like another ploy for men to dominate the work place.

  13. What about women in the military? Often times at boot camp they cut their hair because they do not want to deal with the upkeep of their hair. However, Admiral Howard, one of the first women to reach a flag rank has short hair and her leadership is often praised. I think people pay too much attention to personal appearance, who cares if you wear your hair short or long. Mark Zuckerberg is not the most attractive business leader in the world but nobody pays attention to that because his money is louder than anybody’s comments.

  14. I thought Casey’s comment was really interesting, about whether a woman’s age has any influence on how her hair and leadership ability are perceived. I feel like, at least in American society, as a woman gets older, she’s more likely to have shorter hair. I’ve heard many times that long hair “ages” a person, so it’s more typically to see older women with shorter hair. Thinking about women in leadership positions, Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, Margret Thatcher, all had relatively short hair, and all have been successful leaders. Then take someone like Sarah Palin; she wasn’t younger than 35, but she did have longer hair and wasn’t really perceived has a good leader. Now, this could be because of her ideas and the things she said, but her appearance was often talked about by the media. Are women with shorter hair seen as better leaders because that is a more masculine trait?

  15. As I’ve said before, the topic of hair and perception greatly interests me. I’m curious to know how many of those successful women had extremely short hair (such as undercuts or completely shaved). I’d be willing to bet that not many do. We’ve already talked about the connection between agentic qualities and leadership, so I’m not surprised that women with short hair (typically perceived as masculine, and thus connoting less feminine, or communal, values) are more common among successful business leaders. It’s kind of got that “power woman” association, sort of like pantsuits–less feminine, but not quite at the “masculine” level yet. Which brings me back to the shaved head point: we’ve already talked about how women who “don’t act like women,” the “bossy” women of the world (aka the more agentic women) are less liked because they violate our stereotypes for women. My thought is that it’s the same with hair: we want women who have short hair, but not too short. Short enough to indicate, “hey, I’m not the ‘normal’ woman, I’m the superpowered one who can do everything in the world,” but not short enough to be perceived as masculine. I could, of course, be reading way too much into it, and maybe those top women just like the style of short hair. But I have to wonder where the long-haired or boldly shaven women are in the business world.

  16. This is something I think about from time to time, especially since Monica Hill shared her story about feeling obligated to cut her hair when she joined the professional world. I have had long hair for all of college and it really is a part of my identity right now. To cut it off because I was told would go against my own personal beliefs about individuality. To some it may seem a harmless decision, but to others it is much more meaningful.

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