Despite the tired “dumb blonde” stereotype that has plagued women for years, most of the world’s most powerful females are actually blonde.
But remnants of that lingering stereotype could be the very reason this is the case.
Recent research from the University of British Columbia has revealed that blonde women are much more likely to end up a chief executive or U.S. senator than women with any other hair colour.
Two business-school professors at the Canadian university found that 35 per cent of female U.S senators and 48 per cent of female CEOs at S&P 500 companies have blonde hair.
Not to mention, female university presidents are likely to be blonde as well.
This is telling given that just 2 per cent of the global population and 5 per cent of white people in the U.S. have blonde hair.
What’s the cause?
Researchers Jennifer Berdahl and Natalya Alonso say some of this blonde dominance can be explained by race and age biases in leadership channels – but only in females. As Business Insider points out, a study published in 2005 revealed that just over 2 percent of male Fortune 500 CEOs were blonde.
According to Berdahl, it may actually be that ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype that accounts for the overrepresentation of blondes in leadership roles.
In a sense, women are almost capitalizing on it, in fact.
As the researchers highlight, light-coloured hair is typically associated with youth (since children are more likely to be blonde than adults), attractiveness, dependence and warmth.
“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,” she writes on her blog. “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.”
Of course, many of the blonde CEO powerhouses can attribute their fair hair to a good dye job more than anything else.
Still, however, that dyed population wouldn’t come close to explaining why one in three female senators and on in two female CEOs being blonde, say the researchers.
In fact, Berdahl told the Huffington Post that an amplified dyed-blonde population supports her conclusions rather than disproves them. “If women are choosing to dye their hair blonde, there’s something strategic about the choice,” she said. “If the package is feminine, disarming and childlike, you can get away with more assertive, independent and [stereotypically] masculine behavior.”
Despite the dwindling prevalence of “dumb blonde” jokes (honestly, when was the last time you heard one?), the research also solidified that the stereotypes associated with blonde women are alive and well.
At least, they are when it comes to the opinions of men.
Berdahl and Alonso got 100 men to rate photos of both blonde and brunette women on attractiveness, competence, and independence.
The two groups scored equally on the first measure, but blondes scored worse on the latter two. Adding injury to insult, when the men were shown images of the same woman with blonde and brown hair, the majority chose to recommend the brunette over the blonde for a job as a CEO or senator.
However, when the men were asked to rate photos of the same woman with blonde or brown hair, paired with dominant sounding quotes like “My staff knows who the boss is,” they thought the blonde woman was warmer and more attractive than her brunette twin.
Calling this the “the Glinda-the-Good-Witch effect” on her blog, Berdahl draws the conclusion that people are more open and accepting of a blonde female leader because they perceive her to be gentler, warmer, less demanding and more easily persuaded than her darker-haired counterparts.
So, it’s sort of a catch-22 situation for the blonde.
We’re playing into the stereotype – but also kicking ass in the process.