Working from home has turned women’s hair grey
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Workplace diversity & equality news every morning.
In 2020, with the pandemic forcing hair salons to close, many women did something radical: they decided to go grey. Aided by social media, it became a global phenomenon — one that some hope could help women mitigate workplace ageism.
On an Instagram account called Grombre, women started posting photographs and personal stories as they let their natural grey grow back. The account — founded in 2016, and describing itself as a “radical celebration” of grey hair — now has more than 240,000 followers.
Meanwhile, women took to Twitter to tell their stories, as well as uploading photos to Instagram at #silverhair, which now has more than 2.6m posts, and looking up Facebook pages such as Going Grey Gracefully, which now has almost 290,000 followers.
“There’s a kind of solidarity around it — I felt I’d found a community,” says Marci Alboher, a vice-president at Encore.org, a non-profit organisation that supports intergenerational leaders working together.
Alboher, who has not gone back to dying her hair, had been toying with the idea of going grey for years. “And I know from talking to peers that a bunch of us said: ‘Enough is enough. I want to see what it looks like, and I’ll make a decision.’”
The absence of in-person hair colour services was not the only way the pandemic helped working women to take that step.
“We all got used to seeing each other virtually, changing our appearances and seeing each other’s homes. So there’s been a breaking down of traditional barriers,” says Kerry Hannon, a careers expert and author of a forthcoming book, In Control at 50+.
Before the pandemic, says Hannon, “grey hair automatically put you in a certain category: you were passed over for promotion, you were not given client-facing opportunities,” she says. “It wasn’t all the time, but I heard again and again from women who felt that it sidelined them.”
And, while prominent women such as Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, demonstrated that grey hair and success are not mutually exclusive, many in the corporate world have still felt under pressure to cover up their grey.
One woman who admits that this was the case is Minerva Tantoco, a tech entrepreneur who, in the 2000s, moved into global finance. There, she started applying artificial intelligence to workflow tools — and she also started dying her hair.
“It was starting to go grey and I didn’t want to appear older,” explains Tantoco, who is now chief AI officer at the NYU McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research.
More from this report
Practical ways for women to reshape their careers
Nica Burns: risk-taker who worked to reopen London’s theatreland
The post-Covid contract for dual-career couples
Patience is running out over so-called banter
Why the UK ‘back to the office work budget’ does not add up
France makes patchy progress on pay and promotions for women
While ageism affects men, too, women are almost twice as likely as men to feel compelled to turn to hair dye, according to research by Fairygodboss, a US jobs site that focuses on supporting women.
“There is pressure on women in professional jobs, and [in] jobs that involve customer-facing roles, to maintain an attractive presentation,” says University of Kent sociology professor Julia Twigg. “And part of that will be looking youthful.”
However, she sees the “embrace-the-grey” movement gaining momentum. “Part of women’s growing position in the workplace means that they’re less judged solely in terms of being young and pretty,” she says.
“I now proudly wear the greys,” declares Tantoco, who says she gave up dying her hair during one of the pandemic lockdowns.
Even so, writer Anne Kreamer — who documented her shift from dyed mahogany hair in a 2007 book called Going Gray — argues that hair colour is too often linked to popular understanding of performance and vitality.
Older women in business — and prominent roles in society, generally — can set an example, Kreamer argues. “The more we have women in senior professional positions, the more important it is for them to model an empowerment of ageing.”
Hannon is optimistic too. “There’s a movement here,” she argues. “And we have enough power in numbers to make it stick.”