Transforming the Everyday to Transform the World

On a minute by minute basis, hair impacts every person on the planet. Some may dismiss it as trivial, or superficial, but the reality is, hair has the potential to change the world.

We’re not joking.

For the past 20 years, Pantene has been working with Dr. Marianne LaFrance at Yale University to understand the power and consequences of hair. Dr. LaFrance discovered that seemingly small things – like how people feel about their hair – affects happiness and even professional success. Her most recent study included 4,400 female participants across eleven countries, with at least 400 women participating from each country.

The results revealed two critical things. The first is that when women feel confident in their hair, they feel confident in themselves, their abilities, and what they’re able to achieve. The second is that, on an average day, 95% of women do not feel great about their hair. They might feel like it’s an okay day, but rarely is it great.

As the world’s leader in hair care, this means we have a lot more work to do.

After reading Dr. LaFrance’s results, we realized that the impact is far reaching. When millions of women around the world feel less than empowered, they create less, they build less, they solve less, and they achieve less. What at first is just an individual problem scales up to be globally significant. We’re talking about an on-going drag on economic activity, creativity, and joy.

Small things, it turns out, have a big impact.

To understand why so many women do not feel great about their hair, we embarked on our own journey. And like many journeys these days, we started on the internet. We began searching for images of great hair and discovered photos of hair that didn’t reflect a wide swath of our customers. That led us to search more expansively.

We noticed that if we searched for images of a “successful person,” men were the top hits. It wasn’t just a one-off coincidence: Search “successful business person,” “successful engineer,” or even “successful painter,” and you will see one type of face, one type of person.

These results are not because women do not exist in these fields, it’s that they are just not showing up. In a study on gender bias in web searches done by the University of Washington and University of Maryland, results showed that while more than half of U.S. authors are women (56%), an image search showed only about 25% female authors.

What type of message does this send to young women? Imagine a young African American girl considering her future. If she doesn’t see herself represented in these images, how likely is she to pursue these professions? To believe that she has the potential to do something great?

Search results hold a mirror up to society. They are like a distillation of the small, negative signals that women experience every day.

We wanted to envision a different future for ourselves and our customers. So, on April 30, 2019, Pantene will introduce S.H.E. (Search Human Equalizer), a browser extension that seeks to rebalance the search equation so that men and women show up equally.

It’s a tool that enables us to see a world that is less biased.

Our hope is that S.H.E. will allow a teenager with curly hair in Kansas to see herself as a doctor. Or a middle schooler with short hair in Florida to see herself as an inventor. Or a mom with a long hair in New York to see herself as an author.

This vision of the future is just the first step. It plants a flag for the transformation we want to see in ourselves and the world.

That is why we are supporting organizations, groups and individuals that are flipping the narrative and helping everyone see the world more positively. We are working with The Wing to create a mentorship program for college-bound high school girls to guide them through their own transformations. And we are changing internally as well.

As one of the world’s leading advertisers, we produce a lot of the messaging that women pick-up on, the kind of messaging that gets distilled in search results. And so we have resolved to do more to contribute the types of stories that need to be told.

Specifically, we are committing to telling stories of transformation, of women who have overcome the obstacles to achieve things big and small. We believe that these stories will help inspire us all to take action to transform the world.

"Media exposure matters,” says Dr. Calvin Lai, Director of Research for Harvard’s Project Implicit and Assistant Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, where he runs the Diversity Research Lab. “Maybe one ad doesn't really change people's minds, but if you build that up over years and years and years, you're seeing genuine societal changes.”

This is our aim. And, as our work with Dr. LaFrance and Yale has shown us, even the small things have outsized power to affect the world for good.

Pantene. The Power to Transform.


Marianne LaFrance Ph.D. Professor of Psychology at Yale University Author of “An Experimental Investigation Into the Effects of ‘Bad Hair’” and ”The Importance and Satisfaction Women Attach to Their Hair: Causes and Comparisons Across Eleven Countries.”

Linda Odioso Research Fellow of 35 years at P&G Researcher on the Good Hair Day Study

Tracey Long Senior Manager, Company Communications at P&G Worked with Dr. LaFrance on the Bad Hair Day Study

Calvin Lai, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis Director of Research for Harvard University’s Project Implicit Research Lead for the Diversity Science Lab

Safiya Umoja Noble, Ph.D. Visiting
Author of “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism”

Alexis McGill Johnson Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Perception Institute Lead Researcher on “The ‘Good Hair’ Study: Explicit and Implicit Attitudes Toward Black Women’s Hair”

Sean Munson, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Human Centered Design & Engineering University of Washington Co-Author of a study on the hidden gender bias in Google Image Search.

Vivian Diller, Ph.D. Psychologist and author of “The Psychology Behind a ‘Good Hair Day.’” Author of “Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change”

Emma Tarlo, Ph.D. Professor of Anthropology, Director of Research at The University of London Author of “Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair.”

Teiahsha Bankhead Ph.D., L.C.S.W. Associate Professor in the Division of Social Work at California State University, Sacramento. Author of “Self-Esteem, Hair-Esteem and Black Women with Natural Hair.”

Peter Belmi, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the University of Virginia Co-author of the study “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Fairest of Them All”

Mahzarin R. Banaji, Ph.D. Professor and Department Chair of the Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University Co-founder of Harvard’s Project Implicit

Kate Ratliff, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Social Psychology Area Director at the University of Florida Executive Director of Harvard’s Project Implicit