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Pamela Tom Headshot

Go Gray and Go for Broke

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The graying of America now appears in full color. Bye-bye dirty brown roots. Hello to a head-full of glorious gray and all its variations ... from salt-and-pepper to silvery white.

Embracing gray has become the new "look at me" statement. We saw actress Jamie Lee Curtis go gray a few years ago. Singer Emmylou Harris not only revels in her grayness, she wears long tresses of nearly white, sculpted so one sees her hair before you even recognize her face.

In a recent article, San Francisco news anchor Dana King says she went gray after covering a story in Ghana where "society views older women as worthless." King decided by dyeing her hair, she was contributing to the lie. She says 99.9% of viewers supported her move to bare her natural color.

When I was a young girl, I thought you had to be a granny or at least 70 years old to have gray hair. As I aged, I realized those first sprouts of gray emerge decades earlier, certainly by one's 40's when often women are just beginning to come of age. In your 40's, you realize you no longer have to prove something to the world -- only to yourself.

Going gray may be a statement of strength and independence but so many women can't find the guts to let those gray hairs grow untouched. Look at Barbara Walters. She's 81 and still colors her hair. Female politicians? Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, our country's leading female politician, finds reason to maintain her blondish tresses.

It seems famous women who have boldly gone gray have nothing to lose. They are already successful, established -- and not in the job market.

According to Bloomberg News' Ryan Flinn, Facebook has the lowest median age of workers at tech firms -- 26. Of the companies surveyed, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have the oldest with a median age of 44. When I was 26, I was just beginning to establish my career, let alone snag a job at one of the world's most popular companies.

Regardless of whether you've established a successful professional career, if you're pushing 40+, is it reasonable to think you can obtain a new position with gray hair? There may be exceptions but I think not.

The problem is corporate America views gray-haired men as experienced, knowledgeable, and accomplished. Gray-haired women, on the other hand, more often are viewed as matronly or someone's grandma ... certainly not someone who can still be innovative, adventurous, and tech-savvy.

In Flinn's article, 27 year-old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is quoted from a company website, "We don't really believe you have to have a lot of experience to make a big difference." So what does that mean for experience? Should an older women omit key achievements on her resume that may indicate she's been around for a while? Or should she submit a multi-page resume of experience boasting her many accomplishments even if it will clearly reveal her age?

The technology age has all of us running full speed on the information highway. If you're not on it, you're obsolete. We may not be as intuitive about new technologies as the younger set, but we learn and can apply new knowledge to experience that can only be acquired over time.

Will there be a gray revolution? Will women finally believe that can go "au naturel" at no cost? Will society embrace their decision? Perhaps we need more big players in the media to show us all that gray hair is as desirable as any other color.

For now, like so many things, the evolution grows one step, one person, one strand at a time. I suppose the decision to go gray depends on one's confidence, station, and that inner voice that says: this is me.

As for me, I'm not yet ready to take the plunge. I'm not there yet ... when we look in the mirror, perhaps we need to see who we think we are and have always been. But who we are becoming is equally exciting. I would be more ready if I could trust that going gray brought liberation, not liability. What do you think, men?

Only my hairdresser knows for sure.