This week in frustrating sexism: Female CEOs and senators are disproportionately blond because people feel less threatened by women they perceive as “young and docile.” The findings come from recent research conducted by Jennifer Berdahl and Natalya Alonso, two business-school professors at the University of British Columbia. Christina Cauterucci has a summary of their work over on Slate.
While only 2 percent of the world’s population and 5 percent of white people in the U.S. have blond hair, “35 percent of female U.S. senators and 48 percent of female CEOs at S&P 500 companies are blond.” Some of this is because white people take up a disproportionate amount of space in the highest ranks of business and politics, and white people are more likely to be blond. But even taking that into consideration, there’s something else at work. After all, blond men make up “just over 2 percent of male Fortune 500 CEOs,” close to the national average, even though white men are very overrepresented in leadership positions.
It turns out the blond female leader conundrum constitutes a weird paradox: Berdahl and Alonso conducted a study in which they found men were more likely to recommend brunettes for leadership positions, but also rated them as less warm and attractive than blondes when they used a “dominant leadership style.” (Berdahl and Alonso showed men photos of blond and brunette women with quotes like “I don’t want there to be any ambiguity about who’s in charge,” and “My staff knows who the boss is.”) Blond women weren’t judged nearly as harshly for using this dominant tone—even when it was just a photo of the same woman with different color hair. Berdahl tells The Huffington Post, “If the package is feminine, disarming and childlike, you can get away with more assertive, independent and [stereotypically] masculine behavior.”