Why Redheads May Have an Advantage in the Workplace

Smily ginger campaigns for Scottish independence - Source: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Redheads, also called gingers by many, are one of the world’s rarest genetic makeups. They make up roughly 2% of the world’s population and yet have somehow managed to feel so much bigger than that, using those bright eyes and humorously short tempers to worm their way into our hearts. While there was a time when redheads were feared, and even burned at the stake for being witches, modern society has thankfully moved on to simply making light of their pale skin in cartoons.

But there is something special — or lucky, if you will — about redheads. Although scientists have only begun to touch on what exactly that is, there is evidence that redheads are more cunning and savvy than originally thought, particularly in the workplace.

A study from the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, put together by Marilyn M. Helms, took a look at the relationship between hair color and CEO selection in the U.K. to see if there were any correlations to be found. While she touched on the basic facts of hair color stereotyping, such as the old gag that all blondes are dumb, Helms did come away with some interesting findings. By looking at the hair color of 500 CEOs, all members of the London Financial Times Stock Exchange, she came to the conclusion that stereotypes actually do play a part in how executives are selected.

Surprisingly enough, redheads are the group that benefit the most.

“Blondes, who are historically viewed as incompetent and likeable, were underrepresented in positions of corporate leadership in the U.K. Redheads, while a minuscule number in the U.K. population, were over selected to lead some of the United Kingdom’s (and Europe’s) largest, wealthiest companies,” Helms writes.

“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,” Helms says, “sample one would expect to see 100 blonde CEOs (or 20% of the group) and 5 (1%) CEOs with red hair.”

What does it all mean, you may ask? Are gingers simply better business people, or more willing to go the extra mile to get ahead? Not necessarily. Helms instead thinks that the disproportionate number of gingers in leadership positions has more to do with stereotypes than anything else.

Simply put, blondes are often seen as incompetent, but likeable — not traits you’d necessarily want in a leadership position. Redheads, on the other hand, are often viewed as unlikeable but typically very competent — often better leadership material. These stereotypes, though not necessarily supported by much evidence, have managed to actually manifest themselves in the U.K. workforce.

The inevitable conclusion that Helms reaches is that because those stereotypes are in effect in the workplace, we actually see the statistical deviation. “Negative stereotyping of hair color does appear to affect placement into leadership positions, particularly at the CEO level,” she says. “The dumb blonde myth then is not a myth. Perception becomes reality and the pattern perpetuates.”

As for those with black, brown, and other common hair colors, there was no outlandish deviation from expectations.

But the truly interesting thing here is that not only are blondes being unfairly stunted in terms of career growth, but that somehow the gingers have managed to swoop in and steal a good portion of the blondes’ thunder. While most people are probably familiar with the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype, the image of the cutthroat ginger business executive is not as pervasive. Instead, the jokes have mostly focused on the fact that redheads can develop sunburns from being outside for roughly five minutes or, more recently, that they don’t have souls.

Hell, there’s even Kick a Ginger Day.

Is the climbing of corporate ranks by a disproportionate amount of redheads simple payback for all those years of being called ‘carrot top,’ or ‘dingy gingy’? It’s hard to say, but the research definitely supports that gingers are kicking more than their fair share of ass in the workplace. It’s just too bad that it’s coming at the expense of another group, through a malicious stereotype.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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