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Gray pride alive in the workplace

By Neil Curry for CNN

Richard Gere
The "Richard Gere look": older and wiser or past his prime?
Is grayness an asset in the business world?
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Few are born gray, some achieve grayness and many others have grayness thrust upon them.

Not exactly the words of Shakespeare but a message nonetheless which will have relevance with a vast proportion of the world's hairy populace.

If going gray is your destiny, how will others react to the transformation?

Will the changing hue of your hair color people's perceptions of you at work?

Is gray hair an asset in the boardroom or a sign of approaching retirement and missed opportunities?

To get some answers, Global Office visited two contrasting hair salons in London.

Geo. F Trumper has been the barber shop of royal appointment since Victorian times.

For more than 30 of its 130-year history Mike Mason has been a gentlemen's barber there, cutting the hair of showbiz royalty such as Dirk Bogarde and Tony Curtis.

Sporting a silver coiffure himself, he says he is comfortable with his appearance and has found many of his gentlemen clients feel the same.

"I don't mind gray hair. To a lot of people I've found that having gray hair has no effect on your job," said Mason.

"I think nowadays people accept people for what they are. I think it's quite nice to have a bit of gray. It goes back to the old idea of being slightly distinguished."

Compared with Trumper's long history, ColourNation is a mere youngster on the London haircutting scene.

The company's salons use "cutting edge" technology to accurately mix 270 different colors, rather like a DIY store mixes paint. Among the colors on offer -- several shades of gray.

"Image plays a large part in today's society, people obviously want to look good," said managing director Seema Dass Flowers.

"So we have people coming in who perhaps they want to get their gray hair colored, both men and women. Conversely we have people who want to get their hair colored gray because they want to have a more distinguished, sophisticated look."

Back at Trumper's shop John Callen is having a trim in the barber's chair. As a director of Maturity Works he spends his days tackling ageism and equipping maturing employees with the skills they need to avoid age discrimination.

"Obviously gray hair carries a whole stereotypical set of expectations and values: you're older, maybe wiser, you're probably just a bit less enthusiastic, less motivated, less dynamic, so a whole mix of things but I think what really matters is the person and how they respond," he said.

Callen says signs of ageing, such as gray hair, can cause some workers considerable stress.

"I think the most important thing is to find ways to be comfortable with your own maturity and gray hair if that's what you've got, so you are not old in the workplace despite gray hair. So for example you're current in terms of the current social issues, maybe music."

The current issue for many of ColourNation's clients is for a pre-appointment consultancy by e-mail. Customers range from teenagers to one lady in her 90s.

Seema thinks that far from being a hindrance, gray hair can be a help: "If you've got gray hair in business I think it can lend itself to maturity and sophistication. I think it's that Richard Gere look, that suave, sophisticated sexy look. The older man. And I think it's got its advantages."

Mike Mason concurs: "I have noticed that with the people who used to come in and get their hair colored to stay young that it now seems to be more accepted in the workspace that if you've got a little gray hair you've got a little more gray matter as well and I think that's quite true."

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