“I made the decision, based on research, to change my perception so that it improved the likelihood of being taken more seriously as a leader, as opposed to maybe as a sexual object,” Carey, co-founder of Glassbreakers, a diversity and inclusion enterprise software company, told ABC News.
It stated with a friend’s advice to act proactively against the offensive stereotype of blond women as empty-headed or frivolous.
“When I first started the company and I was fundraising, I was given advice from a friend who just broke down in plain and simple terms perception and how I would be perceived,” she recalled.
While running her company as a blonde in a male-dominated workforce, Carey said she feared her hair color made it less likely she would be taken seriously by potential investors.
“I kept getting comments like, ‘It’s so impressive that you’re so young and you started this company,’” she said. “They were talking to me like I was 23 but I was 31, so I dyed my hair.”
But it’s not just her hair color that changed. Carey said she made a conscious choice to dress down too, ditching contact lenses and dresses in favor of glasses, T-shirts and rugged jackets she calls “androgynous.”
“I just wanted to appear a little less sexy,” she said of her decision.
Social psychologist Karen E. Dill-Shackleford said such feelings are common in the workplace.
“There are some research studies that women who dress more feminine, wear more jewelry and look more attractive are less likely to be hired for managerial positions,” Shackleford said.
Carey said she’s heard plenty of stories like her own, and not just in Silicon Valley.
ABC News’ chief business, technology and economics correspondent, Rebecca Jarvis, said this is a trend she’s hearing about everywhere.
“It takes different forms, but women all over the work force are trying to be heard and taken seriously,” Jarvis said. “One simple and really straight forward piece of advice that I heard from a top female CEO in Silicon Valley is to speak up once a day in a meeting.”
Jarvis said if women make the commitment to themselves to speak up once a day in a meeting, it gets more comfortable to do.
“And the more that you talk, the more you’re heard,” she said.
Marie Claire editor-in-chief Anne Fulenwider said Silicon Valley “definitely has a sexism problem and that has got to change.”
“Women, no matter where we work, are going to be judged more harshly than men, and you kind of have to play that game,” Fulenwider said.
“Do I think you have to change the color of your hair? Absolutely not. But if that gives you the confidence to walk into a room and own it, then I say go for it.”