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

by Manisha Thakor

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 climbing 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 over 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 womankind. 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 exactly 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 free-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]

[For more MoneyZen in your life, follow Manisha on Twitter at @ManishaThakor, on Facebook at /ManishaThakor, or visit MoneyZen.com.]

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