Delaware workplace hairstyles: Can wearing you hair long hurt your career?
You’re over 40. Can long hair hold you back? More important, should it?
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It’s the difference between Demi Moore and Catherine Zeta-Jones, explains Strange. “They both have long dark hair, but Demi Moore has straight hair while Catherine Zeta-Jones oozes romanticism and sensuality. She would be perceived very differently in the courtroom.”
Nancy Greenberg can vouch for that. The 47-year-old real estate associate who claims she’s had more coifs than Katie Couric, says that longer hair fetches more compliments from male co-workers. “When I have shorter hair, the men in the office don’t flirt with me as much,” she says. “They take me more seriously.”
Women in male-dominated industries who want to wear their hair extremely long—and it is a personal decision—would do well to pull it back in a neat bun or sleek ponytail. “That would take her from a very ‘yin’ to a more ‘yang,’ which is more authoritative and more credible,” Greenberg says.
Greenberg ties back hers just-below-the-shoulder-length locks when she meets a client for the first time. “When it’s pulled back it’s less distracting,” she says. “I don’t want any distractions. I want them to focus on what I’m saying, not on the way I look.”
Although Sue Thomas works behind the scenes in a North Wilmington medical practice, she speaks in similar terms about the power of appearance. She never shows off the wavy waist-length hair she began cultivating 15 years ago for fear that it could be a distraction or somehow make her appear less credible.
“Usually what I do is pull it back in a ponytail or arrange it in a French braid,” says the 53-year-old from Yorklyn. “I’ve worked for one practice for 18 years so I think that speaks for itself.”
Carol Arnott Robbins says that all things being equal, the woman who presents with a more polished look and confident style has an edge in the hiring process. “I would be more inclined to hire the person with the more professional appearance simply because in client interaction, appearance is obviously very important,” says the 53-year-old who works as a regional sales manager in the financial services industry.
Changing hairstyles cannot only make employers take a woman more seriously, it can make her take herself more seriously. Michele Weiner says her waist-length hair has never been an issue in the workplace. But when she worked as a corporate trainer, she decided to make an edgier, bolder statement by adding bangs to her usual chignon or ponytail. “I just wanted to look and feel more professional,” says the 58-year-old New Castle resident who now teaches high school English.
Long hair was well-suited to Greenberg’s life as a stay-at-home mom. If she was rushed, she could pull it back in a ponytail and be on her way. “It was easy,” she says. “No fuss, no muss.”
But when she decided to re-enter the workforce seven years ago, she took stock of her image and decided to go with a slightly shorter hairstyle. “I felt that in order to be taken more seriously, I had to present a more polished persona and that my longer hair didn’t say, ‘I’ve taken more time and I care about my appearance.’”
Is it fair that a hairstyle that calls attention to an individual’s womanhood should set her apart as less than competent? Is it fair that women should have to go through such a delicate balancing act?
“No, it’s not fair,” says Arnott Robbins. “But it is what it is. I would like to be able to (wear my hair) a bit longer. I don’t know if it would prevent my career advancement because I do a good job, but it’s very important for me to maintain a professional image in whatever I do.”