The long and short of ‘hair’

June 25, 2010

I realize that being hung over makes writing even more interesting, though I am not sure if I can say it’s interesting for the readers!

As I sit in the salon while my hair stylist works his magic on my hair, I think about the time  I spent shampooing, conditioning, getting my hair styled, ironed, colored, etc, etc. Do I think it’s a waste of time? – nah, not at all, as I love long hair. This leads me to thinking that though I hate generalizations, most successful women in the corporate world have short hair!

Let’s take Fortune’s list of most powerful women in the world and you will see what I mean:

1. Indra Nooyi – Chairman and CEO, Pepsico
2. Irene Rosenfeld – Chairman and CEO, Kraft foods
3. Pat Woertz – Chairman, CEO and President, Archer Daniels Midland
4. Angela Braly – President and CEO, Wellpoint
5. Ellen Kullman – CEO, DuPont
6. Carol Bartz – CEO, Yahoo
7. Ursula Burns – CEO, Xerox
8. Brenda Barnes – Chairman and CEO, Sara Lee
9. Safra Catz – Co-President, Oracle
10. Ann Livermore – EVP, Technology Solutions, Hewlett-Packard
11. Sheri McCoy – Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson
12. Melanie Healey – Group president, Global feminine and health care, P & G
13. Anne Sweeney – Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, Walt Disney
14. Heidi Miller – CEO, Treasury & Securities Services, JPMorgan Chase
15. Colleen Goggins – Worldwide chairman, Consumer Group, Johnson & Johnson

Each of the above listed powerful women has short hair. Even Hillary Clinton and Australia’s first woman Prime Minister Julia Gillard have short hair. Now let’s take a look closer home: Vinita Bali, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Naina Lal Kidwai, Anu Aga, Shikha Sharma, Kalpana Morparia, Lalita Gupte are the ones that come to mind immediately and each one of them again has short hair.

Notable exceptions are Andrea Jung, Chairman and CEO, Avon (being a cosmetics company) Chanda Kocchhar and Renuka Ramnath. Even the ones I see climbing up the corporate ladder have short hair – I mentioned this to one of the senior managers I work with (she has very short hair) and she said my observation was not completely off the mark.

Let us understand how hair can play truant when one is trying to create a serious impression – if in a meeting, while thinking about something, you absent mindedly play with your hair, chances are you wont be taken very seriously, specially by your male colleagues – not to forget getting disapproving glances from female colleagues who may think you are using your “looks”. Playing with hair is the one of the signs of flirting and sometimes women touch their hair subconsciously without even realizing it. Besides the risk of appearing overtly feminine, one also has to maintain hair – the time and effort spent is worth the final result – but successful and busy high flying women may not have the time, patience and inclination to style long hair when they could be making millions for the company. It is estimated that women spend 2.5 years and USD 50,000 caring for hair during their lifetime. Hair is something that ranks right up their with waist-to-hip ratio when it comes to men getting attracted to women. Hair is something that makes women feel feminine and can even help change personalities, depending on hair cut and hair color (as banked on by Loreal).

Of course, nowadays men too spend more time in grooming and getting dressed. So sometimes, for the women, more than saving time, it’s all about exuding power or trying to appear more masculine – to be more accepted in a largely male dominated corporate world – which may explain how pant suits may also find more favor with such women than dresses.

Also if your male colleague goes bald, you may hardly give it a thought but just imagine if your female colleague went bald – you would find that shocking, wouldn’t you? Women are sometimes under tremendous pressure to look a certain way; men can get away with a lot – though times are changing.