Helen Green

The appearance of leadership

Scanning the news recently, an article about a Silicon Valley CEO dyeing her hair brown in order to be taken more seriously caught my eye. Perhaps it made such an impact because it came hot on the heels of another article in the Huffington Post reporting research which revealed that a disproportionate percentage of women CEOs in the USA are blonde.

According to the report’s authors it’s all a matter of perception. Whilst their research did reveal that brunettes were viewed as more competent, they also found that blondes tended to be viewed in a more warm and feminine light and therefore assertive behaviour was more accepted.

The research was carried out on a male constituency and it would be interesting to see if the results were the same had women been interviewed. Nevertheless the perception challenge is not a new phenomenon; with research in the past highlighting the way in which the perception of people’s competency and ability to lead can be affected by a range of factors including dress, voice and appearance.

There is a lot written about the need to promote diversity and the benefits which a diverse workforce and leadership can bring to an organisation. There’s also a lot written about the importance of leaders bringing their true selves to the benefit of the organisation. Perhaps it’s time that businesses gave more weight to overcoming subliminal prejudice in order to free people up to be themselves. Only then will organisations be able to help their people to develop their true leadership potential.