Does gray hair make a difference? From the archive.

by Michael Haberman on January 18, 2016 · 0 comments

"Wise and distinguished?"

“Wise and distinguished?”

I originally published this at this time last year. During that year I have heard more and more from friends about the age discrimination they feel they have been subjected to in their attempts to find work. Therefore I wanted to republish this since the subject is still relevant.

In a recent post writer, entrepreneur, and consultant Rebecca U. Harris asked the question “Can gray hair be a business issue for women?” Her answer was of course “Yes” as mine would be. However, I don’t agree with her statement about it being an issue for men.

Men don’t like it either

Harris makes the statement that “As men age and become grayer, they are generally perceived as distinguished and wise, while women are associated with getting old.” In my experience that gap is not as wide as that statement would lead you to believe.

I think the perception of someone’s age may depend on doing the perceiving. I find that women my age, who are hiding their gray hair think I am “distinguished looking”, but Millennials don’t offer the same observation. To many of them may ideas are not “wise”, rather they are “dated.”

Men don’t dye as much

Men don’t dye their hair as much because it is not as socially acceptable to do so. Women start using hair color at the first sign of gray, where men often don’t think about it until it is too late. By that time you can’t start coloring your hair because everyone knows. Even the commercials that advertise hair color for men recommend you phase it in and leaving that “touch of gray.” I have known men who went and colored their hair and everyone whispers behind their back. We have a local politician in my area that is generally laughed at for his dye job.

Men also have the issue of graying beards. The popular grizzled look of a couple of day’s growth doesn’t look as great if it is mostly gray. Men are more likely to use some color on their beards than they may their hair. I let my beard grow and it turned out it is much grayer than my hair. I shaved it off when I started getting reference to my “Colonel Sanders” look. Some men have solved their gray hair problem by “combing their hair with a straight razor” as my good friend Bill Ramsey states.

Jobs and perceptions

Harris references job interviews and the issue of gray hair. She says women with gray hair are discriminated against in job interviews. But it is not as simple as men with gray hair get jobs and women with gray hair don’t. I know plenty of men with gray hair who didn’t get jobs because of that perception of age.

She also tells the story of a woman being mistaken for her daughter’s grandmother and being upset. I can tell you that a male being mistaken for his daughter’s grandfather would be as equally upset. The appearance of age goes beyond just gray hair. Skin appearance, physical mobility and mannerisms all contribute.

In reality the issue is not gray hair it is age discrimination and it affects both men and women. Unfortunately we are a long way from solving that issue.

So sayeth the “wise man with the gray hair.”

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