When I was working for the UK's leading employer I was told that I needed to stop bleaching my hair to get promoted. Having hit the bleach bottle since I was 13, I explained that as a dyed blonde I had to work harder than my colleagues in all situations to be taken seriously. Whether it was with a prospective builder on my house renovation, a man in a suit interviewing me for a job or the teacher who threw me out of the classroom, my hair choice has led to perceptions that have tried (and failed) to hold me back.
image by Sharon Cooper Photography
I remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. I was in my annual review as Head of Visual Merchandising and was talking about my desire to get to the next level when my female manager dropped the bombshell that maybe I should consider changing my appearance to be taken more seriously within a very male workforce. I remember being outraged and slightly confused as I had already managed to get to this level in my career looking this way so what was different now? Turns out having bleached hair was the issue and that people would consider me to be "less professional and less capable" because of it.
I pointed out that, because of this false perception, I have always had to work harder. At everything. When I walked into a business meeting my hand shake needed to be firmer to show that I was serious. I had to walk with more purpose, make more eye contact, just to show that I knew my stuff. Considering I worked with a man who asked if I was on my period if I dared to disagree with a point that he was making, as a woman I had to be stronger, but as a bleached blonde my journey was tougher.
I didn't stop bleaching my hair and yes, I got the job any way.
I first dyed my hair using Sun In, back in 1985 which was rebellious at the all-girls school I attended. For those that remember this spray in bleach, it left you with a strawberry blonde look rather than the Blondie-esque hair I love today. In hindsight, it probably didn't even look that different to my normal hair colour, but my R.E. teacher took a dislike to it and threw me out of the classroom. She singled me out for daring to be different, which was exactly what I wanted to be.
Her attitude affected nothing, I carried on dying my hair and got my R.E. O Level a year early.
In the noughties, I set about renovating my second property on my own, having relocated to be nearer to work. When the builders came around to quote for me, every single one treated me differently, not just because I was a woman but because of the way I looked. They talked to me like I was stupid (which they quickly discovered I wasn't) and tried to rip me off with their pricing. You could ask whether this was in my head, but the builder I finally employed revealed that he too had made this wrong assumption about me.
I renovated my Edwardian house, sold it for a profit and have since gone on to restore two further properties with my husband.
Fast forward to now and of course my blonde hair is still here. In fact, it has become one of my trademarks - my hair changes to pink and lilac then back to blonde and my Instagram feed is filled with people telling me they love it. It is part of my personal branding alongside wearing vintage; it is part of me.
I believe to be successful you need to be yourself, and be true to yourself. Your hair style does not define your capabilities nor should it hold you back. Being confident with who you are and what you want opens the door to opportunities and shows people that you are believable.
And they will love you for being you, rather than trying to be something that you are not.