Going Gray: When did my hair become part of my resume?

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:: I wrote this blog in the spring, but only had the nerve to post it after reading an article on the same topic in yesterday’s New York Times. Author and age activist Ashton Applewhite’s  call to action is the same as mine: “Rather than hiding from age, supposing women embraced it by not trying to look younger than their years. That might help remove the stigma of aging.”

I remember the day I decided enough is enough…my hair dresser politely suggested that I needed to start coming to see her more often. A little slow on the uptake that morning, I tuned in more carefully as she explained that to cover my gray I’d need to start coming every 3 weeks but that she would cut me a deal. Since I have trouble sitting still for any length of time, the idea of doing this “chemical dance” more often was just dead on arrival. Besides, I’d begun to wonder if the dye was just making my hair look dry, dull and frazzled — the dreaded “shoe polish” look in varying shades of auburn.

While I considered alternative hair treatments and even dying it myself; I finally landed on this question, “Who was I kidding anyway?” What my hair didn’t tell you about my age, my skin certainly did. As a pale kid growing up in San Diego before effective sunscreen was widely available, I have plenty of life’s artifacts on my skin. What they used to call “sun kissed” is now called “sun damage.” So I cut off my hair and let it grow in naturally.

Simple, right?

Not so simple. What I thought was a practical decision in aging gracefully, became a lightning rod for ageism in tech. Countless professional women weighed in with grave concerns. They were all a bit panicked saying things like…”you can’t do that”, “you have to dye your hair if you want to stay in tech,” or “you’ll never work again.”

At first I chalked it up to the Bay Area and start up culture where inexperience is valued directly proportionate to the flow of venture funding. But when I showed up to my family reunion in Southern California, the first words out of the mouth of my oldest sister were, “You will never get a job again with that gray hair.” The irony of that situation crystalized my thinking. My sister has a full head of gorgeous silver hair and her own consulting practice in non-profit accounting. “You can’t go gray” had to be everyone’s gut reaction, first response, or go-to answer to a nuanced situation they didn’t want to think about.

I was more than a little annoyed by this time. But I didn’t run back to the hairdresser. I stubbornly stuck to my guns and said to myself…watch me go get another job, gray hair and all. And that is exactly what I did. Now two years later I’m striking out on my own, grayer hair and all. Are their consequences of being an older worker in Silicon Valley? Yes there certainly are, but feeling trapped by one “must do” beauty regime does not seem to address the issue. Anyone who wants to know how old you are is just one Google search away from more details than they could possible need or want. Anyone who is afraid to work with or employ someone with years of experience is probably not swayed by the artificial color of your hair.

So I wear my gray proudly along with my sun damaged freckles, but that is my choice. I hope everyone feels the freedom to define their own beauty regime without fear of losing their livelihood.

amyjhuson@gmail.com' About Amy Huson

Amy Huson is a new member of WIC who is just starting her marketing consulting practice. She's focused on marketing strategy reviews and go-to-market planning for small to mid-size companies looking to re-align their digital and traditional marketing practices.

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