Dolly Parton in a sparkly dress singing at the Grand Ole Opry
Timothy Wildey via Flickr

Oprah Winfrey, Melinda French Gates, and Dolly Parton All Agree This Is the Worst Advice for Ambitious Women

Jessica Stillman
3 min readOct 26, 2022

When you think of entrepreneurs, Dolly Parton might not be the first name that pops to mind. But from the humblest beginnings, the famously glitzy country singer, songwriter, and all-around national treasure has built a $350 million fortune through shrewd music publishing deals, real estate investments in underserved communities, and her Dollywood theme park.

Parton may not look the part at first glance. But the woman is a mogul.

When she offers fellow entrepreneurs career advice, they should probably sit up and listen. And that is exactly what she did recently on Wharton professor Adam Grant’s WorkLife podcast. And the advice she gave is almost identical to wisdom offered by her fellow female moguls Oprah Winfrey and Melinda French Gates.

Don’t tone down your sparkle for anyone.

Rather than offering good advice to those looking to follow in her footsteps, Parton flipped the script by talking about the bad advice she was happy she never took.

“The main advice that people wanted to give me was to change my look — to go simpler with my hair and the way that I dress, not to look so cheap. Nobody was ever going to take me seriously, they would say,” Parton told Grant.

But the bedazzled and big-haired musician brushed off these attempts to change her style.

“The way I look and the way I looked then was a country girl’s idea of glam, just like I wrote in my ‘Backwoods Barbie’ song. It was really like a look I was after. I wasn’t a natural beauty. I just like to look the way I look. I’m so outgoing inside, I need the way I look to match all of that,” she continued.

Clearly, her love of hairspray and rhinestones hasn’t held her back. In fact her instantly recognizable style, refusal to bend to the fashion of the moment, and irrepressible authenticity have been key to her success. Staying true to herself, even when that meant sticking out in a crowd, turned out not to drag her down but helped her stand out.

Other female moguls agree.

Jessica Stillman

Top Inc.com columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast. https://jessicastillman.com/