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Hair Color Stereotyping and CEO Selection in the United Kingdom

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Hair color stereotyping is well documented in jokes and the psychological literature. Blondes are stereotyped as incompetent, but likeable, while redheads are seen as competent but cold, or often with a fiery temper. Do these stereotypes affect job progression, mobility, and the rise to the corporate suite? To test this question, the hair color of CEOs of the top 500 members of the London Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTE) was analyzed. The chi-square analysis supports the preconceived hair color stereotypes. Do the stereotypes and results point to discrimination in lower organizational ranks? The article discusses the possible implications of these findings as well as areas for further research.
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Hair Color Stereotyping
and CEO Selection in the United Kingdom
Margaret B. Takeda
Marilyn M. Helms
Natalia Romanova
ABSTRACT. Hair color stereotyping is well documented in jokes and
the psychological literature. Blondes are stereotyped as incompetent,
but likeable, while redheads are seen as competent but cold, or often
with a fiery temper. Do these stereotypes affect job progression, mobil-
ity, and the rise to the corporate suite? To test this question, the hair color
of CEOs of the top 500 members of the London Financial Times Stock
Exchange (FTE) was analyzed. The chi-square analysis supports the
preconceived hair color stereotypes. Do the stereotypes and results point
to discrimination in lower organizational ranks? The article discusses
the possible implications of these findings as well as areas for further re-
search. [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery
Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: <docdelivery@haworthpress.com>
Website: <http://www.HaworthPress.com> © 2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc.
All rights reserved.]
Margaret B. Takeda, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Management, The University of
Tennessee at Chattanooga, College of Business Administration, Chattanooga, TN. Marilyn
M. Helms, DBA, CFPIM, CIRM, is Sesquicentennial Endowed Chair and Professor, Dal-
ton State College, Dalton, GA. Natalia Romanova is Honor’s Student, School of Business,
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Chattanooga, TN.
Address correspondence to: Marilyn M. Helms, DBA, CFPIM, CIRM, Dalton
State College, 213 North College Drive, Dalton, GA 30720 (E-mail: mhelms@
em.daltostate.edu).
Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Vol. 13(3) 2006
Available online at http://www.haworthpress.com/web/JHBSE
© 2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1300/J137v13n03_06 85
KEYWORDS. Stereotyping, CEO, selection, hair color, blonde, United
Kingdom, London Financial Times Stock Exchange, England
When one hears the ubitiquous “dumb blonde” joke, like “Why did
the blonde stare at the orange juice box? Because it said concentrate,”
how often does the recipient of the joke imagine a dumb blonde male?A
recent informal search for “dumb blonde” jokes in numerous published
joke books and from an extensive Internet search revealed over 500 dif-
ferent “dumb blonde” jokes. Approximately 63% of the joke pool made
specific reference to dumb blonde females, while less than 5% made
reference to dumb blonde men. The remaining 32% of the dumb blonde
jokes were deemed gender neutral highlighting neither men nor women.
It is not surprising the majority of the jokes are about the stereotypi-
cal dumb blonde female, however, the fact that approximately one third
was gender neutral (a male could have been the subject of the joke) was
surprising as was the fact some dumb blonde jokes specifically targeted
men. As an example:
There were two blonde guys working for the city council. One
would dig a hole; the other would follow behind him and fill the
hole in. They worked furiously all day without rest, one guy dig-
ging a hole, the other guy filling it in again. An onlooker was
amazed at their hard work, but couldn’t understand what they
were doing. He asked the hole digger, “I appreciate the effort
you’re putting into your work, but what’s the story? You dig a hole
and your partner follows behind and fills it up again.” The hole
digger wiped his brow and sighed, “Well, normally we’re a three-
man team, but the guy who plants the trees is sick today.
The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between hair
color bias and CEO selection. The study further suggests, based upon
substantial theoretical support from the social/psychological literature,
such biases do exist in today’s business world. If these stereotypes of
blondes and blonde men in particular exist, do they carry over into the
workplace? For example, does hair color bias affect how managers
judge the competency of employees and in particular their competency
for leadership at the upper management ranks?
Do hair color stereotypes represent one of many unconsciously en-
acted barriers to managerial success, in addition to racial and gender
86 JOURNAL OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR IN THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT
stereotypes which are well understood and documented? Do the stereo-
types validate the theory of ambivalent stereotyping?
The London Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) top 500 com-
panies by market capitalization were selected as the database for anal-
ysis. The United Kingdom’s sample was selected for a number of
reasons. First, there is a long history of racial diversity in the corporate
environment in the United Kingdom as well as pressure to increase
both the recruitment and retention of ethnic minorities as well as to
end age and gender discrimination (Hills, 2004; Basit & McNamara,
2004; Sassi, Carrier, & Weinberg, 2004; and Kenney, 2004) in addition
to numerous studies on gender and racial stereotyping and their effect on
employment success in the U.K. (Field, 1987; Green 1997; Iganski,
Payne, & Robert, 2001; Model, 1999; Perotin, Robinson, & Loundes,
2003; Bagshaw, 2004; and Perotin & Robinson, 2000).
CEO SELECTION FACTORS
Since the 1980s, research on leadership has concentrated on personal
attributes considered essential for success as the Chief Executive Offi-
cer of a large corporation (Ocasio & Kim, 1999). The traits most associ-
ated with successful CEOs assume their leadership style to be based on
a set of competencies relating to the operation of a business and the
management of its employees. These traits include leadership abilities,
high levels of education and training, political savvy, and functional ex-
pertise (financial, marketing, or operational). These requirements all
describe a certain competency or working knowledge required for per-
formance at high levels (Cooper, 2000; and Jordan & Schrader, 2003).
Still other competencies include creativity, innovation, continual
learning, flexibility, strategic thinking, vision, conflict management
skills, integrity, decisiveness, problem-solving skills, technical credi-
bility, human resource management expertise, influencing, and negoti-
ating, to name a few (Jordan & Schrader, 2003). Interestingly these
competencies are not personality traits related to being likeable but
traits linked to specific job performance skills and activities. Thus, com-
petency is cited most often as a critical factor determining a CEO’s busi-
ness success. But are these competencies objectively measured during
the lifelong career of the CEO as they climb the corporate ladder? Or,
could it be as the CEO-to-be develops a reputation for being competent,
this reputation creates a halo effect?
Takeda, Helms, and Romanova 87
Research on CEO selection indicates executives with financial back-
grounds were successful in gaining control of the highest levels of cor-
porate power as far back as the 1960s (Hayes & Abernathy, 1980). This
rise of finance personnel, it is argued, led to a transformation in corpo-
rate governance, reflected a strong financial bias, and shaped corpora-
tions around the world for decades to come (Ocasio & Kim, 1999). But
the decade of the 1980s saw the destruction of corporate institutions as
the finance empires began to crumble. Mergers, acquisitions, leveraged
buy-outs, restructurings, bankruptcies, and hostile takeovers were com-
monplace. What emerged from this chaotic period in corporate gover-
nance was the importance of the role of the CEO as a leader, a catalyst
for change, and a strategic visionary. During this time, leadership re-
search grew and CEO selection became a hotly contested topic in man-
agement research (Paul, Costley, Howell, & Dorfman, 2002; Judge,
Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002).
Are traits the key determinants of mobility or are stereotypes in-
volved? Specifically does hair color bias affect the perception of CEOs
as a competent leader and if so, does it affect their selection? In effect,
are blonde managers less likely to become CEO merely because the
presence of blonde hair is considered to reflect incompetence? Discrim-
ination or bias based on skin color and ethnicity is widely documented
and legally prohibited. Does hair color bias represent another form of
“color” discrimination? In order to answer this question, this study ex-
plores the recent research on stereotyping bias, which challenges the
long held assumption–stereotypes are role based, not content based. In
addition, this study postulates because the nature of stereotyping of
blonde hair is one of incompetence, bias against blonde male managers
does exist. We discuss the implications of this bias and recommend ar-
eas for future research.
Stereotyping Theories
Bargh (1999) in his examination of stereotypes found stereotypes are
not under motivational control as Neuberg (1989, 1994) found, but they
are uncontrollable and the result of unconscious action. Bargh (1999)
further argues the evidence of controllability is weaker and more prob-
lematic than previously realized. Glick, Fiske, Xu, and Cuddy (1999) in
their groundbreaking study challenged the long held assumption stereo-
types were largely role based, grounded in historical roles and embed-
ded in the human psyche from generations of historical story telling.
They hypothesized and later discovered an arbitrary dynamic exists
88 JOURNAL OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR IN THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT
within all stereotyped groups, regardless of their historical foundation.
These manifested as two complementary images recurring across a va-
riety of outgroups, namely, competent but cold (unlikable) versus in-
competent but warm (likeable). The authors suggest these two
dimensions underlie many stereotypes and are mutually exclusive when
applied to a stereotyped group. As a result, stereotypes are more ambiv-
alent than typically considered. Moreover, social structural variables
predict which groups will be viewed as competent and which will be
viewed as warm.
Asch’s (1946) earliest research on perceptions of an individual con-
trasted a warm, competent person with a cold competent person. His re-
search revealed the meaning of intelligence differed in a warm (wise)
individual and in a cold (sly) individual. Zannah and Hamilton (1997)
expanded on this early research by showing the single trait representing
warmth (cold) carried more significant meaning. They argue stereotyp-
ic content results from structural relationships between groups (rather
than from societal roles). Specifically, two groups, (1) competent and
cold and (2) incompetent and warm, represent the social structural foun-
dation for stereotyping. Thus people envy and respect high-status
groups (wealthy people) but do not like them and people disrespect
low-status groups (maids, people with disabilities) for their incompe-
tence but may like them. Also, they argue twin dimensions of liking and
respect operate reciprocally, i.e., groups are high on one and or the other
but not on both at once.
In studies on stereotyping (Glick, Fiske, Xu, & Cuddy, 1999; Asch,
1946), the traits consistently linked with competency included intelli-
gence, confidence, competitiveness, and independence. The traits
linked with warmth (likeable) were, sincerity, being good-natured,
warmth, and tolerance. They ranked six groups to be significantly more
competent than warm (from highest to lowest): rich people, feminists,
business women, Asians, Jews, and Northerners. They found seven
groups to be consistently more warm than competent: learning disabled
people, housewives, disabled people, blind people, house cleaners, mi-
grant workers, and welfare recipients. This paper extends this frame-
work of stereotyping to include groups based on hair color along with
perceptions forming around hair color.
Specifically, it is argued blondes tend to be stereotyped as incompe-
tent and therefore may be more liked (popular). Redheads on the other
hand tend to be stereotyped as not likeable (cold) and therefore are con-
sidered competent. We argue, because of this underlying tendency to
dichotomize the two groups as competent and cold (redheads) and in-
Takeda, Helms, and Romanova 89
competent and warm (blondes), managers and executives will tend to
promote the redheads over blondes. Other hair colors (brown, black) do
not share these stereotypes.
A Hair Color Bias?
Bias or identifiable stereotypes are developed largely to make sense
of outliers or things, people, or practices different from the mean (Roll
and Verinis, 1971). They are formulaic oversimplifications of concepts,
opinions, or images. Stereotyped groups or individuals are attributed as
embodying or conforming to a set image or type. Social groups formu-
late stereotypes as a by-product of labels given to out-groups. Stereo-
types are almost always developed for “out” groups. People who share
our same attributes or beliefs are typically never labeled. Cambell
(1967) and Levine and Cambell (1972) suggest racial stereotypes result
from work roles. Physical laborers are characterized as strong and stu-
pid and pleasure loving, resembling animals and their evils are charac-
terized as sins of the flesh. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are
classified as grasping, deceitful, clever, and domineering and inhabiting
the sphere of commerce with its materialistic sins.
Stereotypes emerge out of groups’ relative status and their structural
independence. Status predicts perceived competence and interdepen-
dence predicts perceived warmth. For example, one envies and respects
high status groups for their competency but does not like them. One dis-
respects low status groups for their incompetence but one may like them
as they fulfill roles the dominant group needs (Glick & Fisk, 1999). Ac-
cording to Synnot (1987), hair is perhaps the most powerful symbol of
individual and group identity–powerful first because it is physical and
therefore extremely personal and second because, although personal, it
is also public.
Synnot (1987) further argues stereotyping permeates cultural beliefs,
as is evidenced by dumb blonde jokes. In her 1992 study, she found red-
heads to be categorized as active, no-nonsense executive types while
blondes were found to be attractive and happy. Hair color, although ap-
pearing to be an innocuous physical trait, remains a solid basis for ste-
reotyping.
Blondes: Incompetent and Likeable. In their 1986 study on blonde
and red haired males, Clayson and Maughan found blond males per-
ceived to be strong, active, and pleasant in demeanor. Their likeability
was considered to be much higher than their redhead counterparts. In a
recent study conducted in Germany of 50 subjects with learning disabil-
90 JOURNAL OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR IN THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT
ities, 10 subjects (20%) were blonde. In contrast, in the same study only
121 of 1,067 subjects without learning disabilities were blond (11%).
Subjects with learning disabilities were nearly twice as likely to be
blond compared with non-learning disabled subjects. These results raise
the possibility melanin may be involved both in the development of mo-
tor dominance and independently in the development of neural systems
which, when maldeveloped, result in learning disabilities (Schachter,
Ransel & Geschwind, 1987).
Redheads: Not Likeable and Competent. According to Cooper (1971)
blonde hair traditionally is appealing, brunette hair lacks any distinctive
positive or negative attributes, but red hair has “blazed an erratic trail.”
In a study by Feinman and Gill (1978) in which they examined “likes
and dislikes” preferences of opposites based upon physical attributes,
they found over 80% expressed a dislike for people with red hair. In the
same study, the skin color of most redheads was the most disliked of the
eight skin colors. In their study they asked the research question, “Why
is there such an aversion to redheads?”
Clayson and Maughn (1986) attempted to answer this question, find-
ing redheaded females to be unlikable but competent, while redheaded
males were found to be unattractive and unsuccessful. They concluded
redheads may be stereotyped negatively because they are rare. Heckert
and Best agreed (1997), arguing red hair has been stigmatized in part
because it is rare (and therefore threatening as extreme in its deviation
from the norm) representing only 1% of the population. This stigma de-
creases the attractiveness value of people with red hair, resulting in low
likeability scores. It is argued (Glick et al., 1999) these low likeability
scores result in the ambivalent ascription of “competent.”
Thus, redheads may not be likeable, but it is the very nature of their
un-likeability which results in their being labeled competent (Glick et
al., 1999). This leads to our research question: Does hair color stereo-
typing affect selection bias in the workplace? Are CEOs with blonde
hair underrepresented as compared to the percentage of people with
blonde hair in the overall U.K. population (currently at 25% based on
expert opinion and data from the World Health Organization and CIA
Fact Book)? Are CEOs with red hair overrepresented, as compared to
the percentage of redheads in the UK population (currently at 1%)?
Methodology
While this research is exploratory in nature, it does address the possi-
bility of stereotyping based on hair color within the top ranks of the
Takeda, Helms, and Romanova 91
U.K. executive suite. The results should be important to a number of
groups including human resources managers, selection committees,
boards of directors and other top governance groups, shareholders, and
other stakeholders. Manufacturers of hair color, dyes, hair dressers, sa-
lons, and other sellers and applicators of such products would be inter-
ested as well. Hair coloring products usage by men, in particular, is
increasing. This has been largely attributable to the tight economic cli-
mate and job market and the need for a younger image (not gray) to se-
cure employment. Approximately one in eight American males between
the ages of 13-70 dyes their hair. This has doubled from ten years ago
and the percentage is expected to grow in the future (Brown, 1996).
With the results of this research, the color choices, particularly for the
upwardly mobile executive may change, not only in the U.K., but in Eu-
rope and other multicultural settings.
Our unconscious processes may preclude us from selecting someone
for the top management position based solely on their hair color, even
when other quantifiable measures of leadership and leadership potential
exist and have been validated by prior business research. Even with per-
formance management processes, leadership trait theories, leadership
assessment centers, management development programs, and outward
bound CEO training courses; in the end it could be hair color that deter-
mines CEO selection.
While the methodology is exploratory, the sample used for the re-
search is well validated and is the 2004 FTSE listing of companies
(www.londonstockexchange.com). Using annual reports for the fiscal
year 2003-2004 and photographs from www.ceo.com as well as www.
google.com and www.soople.com image searches, the photos of CEOs
were examined to determine hair color. The CEOs were categorized as
blonde, red heads, black hair, or brunette. In bald or gray-haired CEOs,
past photos were gathered from annual reports or the researchers called
or e-mailed the company’s human resource department to determine the
original color of the CEO’s hair.
Of the 500 CEOs, 25 (5%) had blonde hair, 20 (4%) had red hair.
There were 114 CEOs with black hair (22.8%) and 341 (68.2%) with
brown hair. Of the 500 UK CEOs, only two were female and both had
brown hair. They were included in the sample. There was no minority
CEOs. These findings were compared to normal population statistics on
natural hair color provided by the CIA Fact Book (www.cia.gov), and
supported by further research (Snee, 1974) on hair color and eye color dis-
tributions. In the U.K. population inclusive, it is estimated 25 percent of the
92 JOURNAL OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR IN THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT
population is natural blonde, 68 percent is natural brunette (brown), one
percent is redhead, and six percent have black hair.
Findings
Of the 500 CEOs analyzed, 5% were blondes and 4% had red hair.
Given that within the U.K. population, approximately 25% has blonde
hair and 1% has red hair, are our findings statistically different than ex-
pected? Given these U.K. hair color statistics, in our CEO sample one
would expect to see 100 blonde CEOs (or 20% of the group) and find 5
(1%) CEOs with red hair. To test the hypothesis–Is the distribution of
hair color of the FTSE CEOs the same as the distribution of hair color in
the U.K. population?–a Chi-Square statistical goodness-of-fit test was
computed. The P-value for the statistical test was zero indicating the
two populations in fact, have significantly different distributions as
shown in Table 1.
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
As would be expected from the literature review, blondes, who are
viewed historically as incompetent and likeable, were underrepre-
sented in positions of corporate leadership in the UK. Redheads, while a
miniscule number in the U.K. population, were over selected to lead
some of the United Kingdom’s (and Europe’s) largest, wealthiest com-
panies. Stereotypically this would be expected as redheads are per-
ceived to be competent, though not particularly likeable. Overall, brown
or black hair is the predominant (and seemingly preferred) hair color of
Takeda, Helms, and Romanova 93
TABLE 1. Chi-Square Goodness-of-Fit Test
Hair Color Actual Hair Color Hair Color Expected
Based on U.K. Population
Percentages
(A-E)2/E
Blonde 25 100 56.25
Red 20 5 45.00
Black or Brown 455 395 9.113924051
Total 500 500
Test-Statistic 110.3639241 P-value 1.08337E-24 or almost 0 with 2 df
CEOs in the FTSE top 500. As previously noted, hair color stereotypes
are not directed to black or brown hair as these two hair colors repre-
sents the majority in the U.K. Our findings are consistent with the view
blondes are characterized as more likeable and possibly less competent.
This stereotype of incompetence, by definition, affects the status of
blondes in society and in particular in the workplace. One may conclude
if a stereotype operates to label a group as incompetent, it also restricts
their ability to raise their status in the corporate hierarchy. Thus, nega-
tive stereotyping of hair color does appear to affect placement into lead-
ership positions, particularly at the CEO level. The dumb blonde myth
then is not a myth. Perception becomes reality and the pattern perpetu-
ates. By having an awareness of the issue, further investigation into the
stereotyping is important and warranted. While the research indicated
stereotyping is unconscious, moving such awareness to instruments in-
cluding job screening forms could help counter such seemingly dis-
criminatory actions and possibly minimize the stereotype.
Should hair color be included in the anti-discrimination legislation?
If selection of CEOs is partly based on hair color as this sample indi-
cates, does it constitute a form of discrimination? If so, is it covert? In
the U.S., for example, color as currently defined in Title VII (statutory
basis for non-discrimination in employment) refers to the shade of a
person’s skin and not race alone, because within a race, a variety of skin
colors can exist. The U.K. and the world in general often biased toward
lighter colored skin tones. While most discrimination laws currently re-
fer to skin color, should they also include hair color?
Limitations and Areas for Future Research
This study is exploratory. It is limited and uses a U.K. sample of the
FTSE 500 companies. In addition, the FTSE 500 CEOs do not accu-
rately represent the U.K. population as a whole for either gender or race
distributions. According to the CIA Fact Book (www.cia.gov), the U.K.
population is 85.1% English, 9.6% Scottish, 2.4% Irish, 1.9% Welsh,
1.8% Ulster, and 2.8% other which includes West Indian, Indian, and
Pakistani. When considering gender ratios for the U.K. population age
15-64, there are 20,193,876 males and 19,736,516 females so there is
approximately is 1.02 males in the U.K. for every one female or almost
a 50/50 ratio. These demographics were not similarly distributed in the
group of executives profiled as only two CEOs (0.4%) are women
(where 49.4% would be normally expected in the U.K. population) and
there were no minority CEOs and 3% minority representation would be
94 JOURNAL OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR IN THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT
expected in a random U.K. population sample. A larger sample size
should include women and minorities in other leadership roles to test
whether the stereotype holds equally for both genders. A larger sample
of respondents including other levels of top management is also needed.
Hair color should also be correlated with other leadership and manage-
rial traits to determine if additional correlations exist.
While the purpose of this study is to highlight the discrepancy as pos-
sible evidence of the power of hair color stereotyping, we acknowledge
there are many factors for which we do not control. Future research
should address the limitations of this research and control for other fac-
tors that may lead to discrimination of some type a well as validate the
presence of stereotypes in the top management ranks. In addition a lab
study dealing with perceptions of hair color linked to resumes is needed
to validate the importance of this research stream.
Research with entrepreneurs is needed to assess whether hair color
patterns differ from these findings. If so, did individuals leave the cor-
porate world due to mobility challenges? Including more levels of man-
agement, particularly at the vice-president and corporate board of
director levels are needed to further explore these research postulates.
Also research is needed to determine if such hair color stereotyping vio-
lates the U.K. Race Relations Act of 1976 which prevents both direct
and indirect discrimination as well as victimization.
An international, global sample should examine predominantly
blonde cultures of Germany and Sweden to see what leadership differ-
ences and stereotypes exist as well as research in the predominantly
non-blonde cultures of Asia including China, Japan, and India. This in-
ternational research should address other cultural stereotypes of hair
color and covert discrimination issues since research agrees European
and Asian companies look to their own to fill the CEO chairs (Hymo-
witz, 2004).
Finally, further research should test the arguments with other job cat-
egories within organizations, particularly divisional or functional level
leadership positions. This research could be used to predict who is pro-
moted within organizations. Still other research should correlate hair
color with other traits of individuals including job title plus height,
weight, age, gender. This research can also determine which groups are
likeable and competent versus which groups are stereotyped as likeable
and not competent. Such research can raise awareness of hair color ste-
reotypes in hopes of changing ingrained misperceptions.
Takeda, Helms, and Romanova 95
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... Murphy, Hall, & Colvin (2003) Posture, gaze Positive relationship between intelligence ratings and longer eyegaze, more eye contact, and an upright posture. Takeda, Helms, & Romanova (2006) Color Red-haired women are overrepresented and blonde-haired women are underrepresented in corporate leadership positions in the U.K. ...
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