Study: Men see brunette women as better leaders than blondes

Men already judge women leaders for being too aggressively ambitious and too nepotistic in their goals. And according to new research, we now know that for men, hair color can make all the difference for how they judge female leaders.

Brunettes are perceived as more competent

In three studies, University of British Columbia researchers Dr. Jennifer Berdahl and Dr. Natalya Alonso surveyed some 100 men to see how they felt about women CEOs who were blonde and brunette. Although men rated blondes and brunettes the same in attractiveness, in the important quality of leadership, brunettes were seen as superior.

When men were shown the same woman with different-colored hair, they thought that the blonde version of the woman was less competent and independent.

The most flattering brunette shades for your skin tone
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The most flattering brunette shades for your skin tone

Golden brown

There's no shortage of reasons to envy Gisele, but her beachy hair color rises to the top of our list. "It's very natural-looking and warms up her skin," says hairstylist Harry Josh, who colors the supermodel's hair. Ask your colorist for a light brown base with highlights a few shades lighter added to give it dimension: "We don't go much further than her natural color so that she can go forever without a touch-up—three times a year, max," Josh says.


Yes, we're still into ombré. More specifically, Jessica Biel's ombré. The varying dark-to-light shades blend together so there aren't any harsh lines. "The color actually threads to the top around her face," Josh says, which keeps it from looking severe around her fair skin. To steal Biel's look, ask your colorist for a medium brown base and stick within a two-shades-lighter range through the tips. A bonus styling trick from Josh: "Waves look the best with ombré," he says. "Worn straight, you can see how the color is painted in."

More: Celebrity Hairstyles That Will Make You Look 10 Years Younger


Katie Holmes's dark, even shade may be understated, but it's still rich. "It starts with a really chocolatey base, but there's a hint of ruby," says colorist Rona O'Connor. Ultradark shades can look goth against light complexions, but that little tinge of red has a big impact: "It comes through in thick ribbons, and because the shades are very close to each other, it looks really soft," says O'Connor.


Sandra Bullock's olive undertones can handle the intensity of this deep walnut hair color without looking washed out. (A touch of red in the shade helps, says Josh.) It has to be shiny, though, to keep the color from falling flat. Josh's fix? Stop by the salon between color appointments for a gloss, or try an at-home version. Maintenance is crucial, too, when you're going for even, all-over color, so be prepared to visit the salon frequently: every five weeks if you have grays or every two months if you don't.


"Sofia Vergara's a natural blonde, so we lightened her up toward that," says O'Connor. The technique: Begin with a light brown base, then paint very thin golden highlights across the crown. "The highlights start an inch from the roots, with the slivers getting bolder as you go down," she says. "The brightest halo of color should be in the front and start at the cheeks."

More: Find the Best Haircut for Your Face Shape


Jessica Alba's subtle, modern ombré is "dark at the top, but the bottom is ashy instead of bright," says O'Connor. To get this look, ask for sandy brown highlights blended over an espresso base. The shade may be muted, but it noticeably warms up medium complexions: "There's a really soft transition of color that gives it a golden feel," says O'Connor.

Ashy bronze

Leona Lewis's hair color glistens—and it's not just because of the camera's flash. "She has bronze skin, so the ashy brown base is a good start," says O'Connor. "The muted gold tones around her face are a good balance—too much yellow would make her skin look orange." Because this shade can easily become brassy, O'Connor recommends washing with a violet-tinged shampoo and conditioner to prevent fading (we like Clairol Professional Shimmer Lights Shampoo).


"It looks all one color, but it actually gets lighter from the ear down," Josh says of Joan Smalls's deep coffee shade. To get the look, be sure to stay within two levels of your base color: It makes maintenance easy and the shade believable. And don't forget the brows. "It looks like her brows were lightened ever so slightly to take the edge off," says Josh. "It all blends harmoniously with the tone of her hair."

Raven brown

"Zoë Saldana is on the lighter side of dark skin, but because this raven brown shade doesn't have much blue in it, it doesn't look hard on her," O'Connor says. When you're going for an intense, all-over shade—this one's nearly black—shine is superimportant. So's your hair's texture: "If you have frizzy hair, do a smoothing treatment before you get it colored," says O'Connor. "Smooth hair reflects light better."


The irony: Women who are blonde are overrepresented in corporate leadership compared to women with dark hair — and even men with light hair. Although only about 2% of male Fortune 500 CEOs are blonde, 48% of female CEOs at S&P 500 companies and 35% of U.S. female senators were blonde, the researchers found.

The majority of men thought that brunettes would make a better CEO or senator than the blondes. The fact that participants were being shown the same person, just with different-colored hair, shows how subjective these criticisms can be.

The blonde Glinda-the-Good-Witch effect

But that doesn't mean brunettes weren't getting negatively judged, too. When men were asked to look at the same women leaders and judge them based on their dominant leadership styles, they universally penalized brunettes for actually leading teams. In that situation, blondes came out ahead.

When men heard the firm, decisive words of "my staff knows who the boss is" from a brunette, men rated her as less attractive and warm. But when a blonde was shown to say the same thing, she was perceived as warm and attractive in what Berdahl called the "Glinda-the-Good-Witch effect."

"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," Berdahl wrote. "Barbie can be CEO as long as she is young and/or docile."

In other words, the blonde advantage is that you can get away with more aggression than your brunette counterparts because men in power will incorrectly see them as more docile, gentle, and less independent-minded.

10 richest women in the world of 2017
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10 richest women in the world of 2017

Former No. 1. Liliane Bettencourt

Net worth: $39.3B

Origin of wealth: L'Oreal

Via Forbes

Current No.1 Alice Walton

Net worth: $34.3B

Origin of wealth: Wal-Mart

Via Forbes

2. Jacqueline Mars

Net worth: $27.2B

Origin of wealth: Candy

Via Forbes

3. Maria Franca Fissolo

Net worth: $25.3B

Origin of wealth: Nutella, chocolates

Via Forbes

4. Susanne Klatten

Net worth: $20.5B

Origin of wealth: BMW, pharmaceuticals

Via Forbes

5. Laurene Powell Jobs

Net worth: $20.2B

Origin of wealth: Apple, Disney

Via Forbes

6. Gina Rinehart

Net worth: $14.5B

Origin of wealth: Mining

Via Forbes

7. Abigail Johnson

Net worth: $14.4B

Origin of wealth: Money management

Via Forbes

8. Iris Fontbona

Net worth: $13.1B

Origin of wealth: Mining

Via Forbes

9. Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken

Net worth: $12.7B

Origin of wealth: Heineken

Via Forbes


It shows the double bind that many women face from both men and women, however: You can be either seen as competent or likable, but you only get to be one.

But you shouldn't take this research as reason to bring out the hair dye. Sociologist Kjerstin Gruys critiqued one journalist's analysis that this research means "woman who want to be leaders should dye their hair blonde" as short-sighted.

Gruys responded that dyeing hair blonde doesn't take into account the hair of women of color — and that changing one's haircolor doesn't do much to change how women, as a whole, are paid or promoted or treated at work.

Whether you're blonde or brunette, this research shows that for women, you will be judged on your looks.

This article Study: Men see brunette women as better leaders than blondes appeared first on Ladders.

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