There's no doubt that being a woman in a male-dominated workplace is difficult. Not only might you have to fight for equal pay, but you also might have to fight for respect, authority, and leadership opportunities. Essentially, you have to work extra hard to ensure that others won't write you off based on false and misguided gender stereotypes.
According to BBC News, one woman named Eileen Carey knows this all too well. Carey is the CEO of a start-up called Glassbreakers, which is a company that creates software to help other companies hire and empower a diverse workforce. She has glasses and brown hair and wears baggy, androgynous clothing. But not by preference. Over the years, she has made a conscious decision to cater her appearance to her work, for the simple reason that woman aren't taken as seriously as they should be in professional environments. Keep reading to hear what she has to say about women, appearance, and work.
This photo is what Carey looked like before she dyed her hair and exchanged her contact lenses for glasses. "I want to be seen as a business leader and not as a sexual object. Those lines are still crossed very often in this space," she says, referring to the professional setting. It all started when she gleaned advice from another female professional. "The first time I dyed my hair was actually due to advice I was given by a woman in venture capital. I was told for this raise [of funds], that it would be to my benefit to dye my hair brown because there was a stronger pattern recognition of brunette women CEOs," she says. (Pattern recognition is a theory in which people look for familiarity in risky situations, such as when investing money into a start-up). "Being a brunette helps me to look a bit older and I needed that, I felt, in order to be taken seriously."
This practice of dying blond hair brown is more common than you might think. Carey says that she's come across other women who have done the same. "We discussed that there's the fetishization of blondes," says Carey. "People are more likely to hit on me in a bar if I'm blonde. There's just that issue in general. 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."
"I want to be seen as a business leader and not as a sexual object. Those lines are still crossed very often in this space."
It's incredibly unfortunate that Carey, along with the other women she encountered, felt the need to change themselves in order to get ahead. But it's clear that sexism is alive and well when it becomes a matter of safety and comfortability. "There's a problem in our industry, period, around sexual harassment," she says. She tells of one event in particular, where businessmen hired female models to dress like fairies and serve them cocktails. Carey was one of the only women present, and subsequently, one of the only people who saw how inappropriate the situation was.
Before we all throw our hands up in the air at the injustice of the whole situation, Carey has some advice. She recommends doing research before taking a position at a new company. "Look at the numbers. Look at the leadership. Talk to women who work there. If that doesn't seem like a place that you can reach your highest potential, don't work there." Otherwise, she says, "be the change you want to see in the world, which may mean sacrificing your personal life for a discrimination lawsuit. That's unfortunately how you have to change businesses."
What do you think of Carey's experiences? Tell us in the comments below. Head over to BBC News to view the full article.