All Articles Tagged "natural hair in the workplace"
A little over a month ago, I got that dreaded call to HR that most employees fear when there is buzz of corporate restructuring. I was being laid off…after 12 years at my company. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but there was nothing I could do. It wasn’t personal or performance based, and the restructuring affected several other people with higher ranks in my department. It is what it is…time to move on.
I started looking for jobs almost immediately, and finally got a lead and call to come in for an interview. I told my mother that I had a meeting setup for the upcoming Monday, and her first words to me weren’t “congratulations” or “what company is it for?” Instead, she asked me quite simply, “So you’re going to get a perm?” Huh? What is that supposed to mean?
I knew exactly what she meant.
A little over three years ago I did the BC – the “Big Chop.” Now, my natural has grown to a nice “past my shoulders” length if I were to straighten it out – and that’s exactly what my mother thought I should do if I wanted to be taken seriously in an interview. Granted, while I had no idea how I’d wear my hair since this was my first job interview as a naturalista, I never once considered that being natural would actually work against me in an interview or automatically disqualify me from employment. While I was offended by my mother’s comment and narrow-minded view, she might not be too off base in her assessment of natural hair in corporate America.
While women of color – and men as well – embrace natural hair and styles, corporate America still has a very Eurocentric view of what “corporate” culture should look like. Cornrows, dread locs, and teeny weeny afros are still frowned upon in some industries and corporate settings, and are actually considered “unpolished” by many, even by some Black folks in these industries who have been brainwashed into thinking that the way you wear your natural hair is a reflection on your skills and ability to do the job. While I had relaxed hair when I began my old job 12 years ago, I’ve worn braids and then transitioned to my natural hair while there as well and no one had a problem with it. But perhaps because I work in a creative field, it’s seen as “interesting,” “cool” or “eccentric.”
But I wonder what would happen if I worked at a law firm or on Wall Street. Are there certain natural styles that are more accepting than others? I found myself Googling “natural hair styles for work” and looking up YouTube tutorials on how to do a chic updo or chignon. After all, I usually leave my hair in two strand twists until I’m ready to wear it “out.” But what if my twist out didn’t turn out so well the day of my interview? I sure as hell can’t go into an interview looking like Celie or Frederick Douglass. I would end up wearing it slicked back into a nice, neat bun. My interview went great, and I don’t even think my interviewer looked at or even cared what my hair looked like. He was trying to get to know “ME.”
That said, I’d be naïve to think that hair stereotyping doesn’t occur and affect a naturalista’s employment status. A person’s intelligence, skills or talents shouldn’t be overlooked because she has kinky or coily hair. A man shouldn’t be denied a job because he rocks locs, no matter how neat and well cared for they are. But it happens, and it’s a shame that the biggest worry a person might have is not that they didn’t research a potential employer thoroughly enough, but that they have to figure out how to downplay their natural hair in order to “fit in.” I can only hope that corporate America begins to fully celebrate our curly coifs the way we do so we don’t have to ask questions like, “So are you relaxing or straightening your hair for your interview?” To that I say unequivocally, “NO!” and if you disqualify me because of my hair, then I don’t want to work for you anyway.
Tamron Hall is like many Black women who feel the need to manipulate her hair texture to appear “appropriate” and “professional” in the workplace. Up until recently, most didn’t even know that the MSNBC correspondent was a natural girl, but it looks like she’s ready to share her natural hair story with the world. The 20-year industry vet recently shared her story with natural hair blogger Curly Nikki during a trip to South Africa.
“Like many Black women on television, straight hair has been her professional life and look… that was until our trip together to South Africa,” Nikki writes. “After hearing about my hair story and experiencing for herself, the positive and supportive natural hair community, she felt inspired to finally share her curly story with the world.”
“In a moment of pure honesty, she also shared that she sometimes felt a bit of resentment at her White colleagues who could wake up in the morning and come right in to work, entirely ‘appropriate’ or ‘professional’, but that she’d have to spend hours- that she could’ve spent resting or preparing- manipulating her hair to meet the straight hair standard of beauty,” she continued. “Sound familiar any one?”
“Tamron has been natural for a while but most folks wouldn’t know. Until this post, only close family and friends have witnessed the awesomeness that is her curly hair. She shared that most vacations end with her having to wear her natural hair and that when she returns from vacation, she has to take an extra vacation day to get her hair straightened for work. As we all know, straight hair is also beautiful and the limited use of heat-treated styles does not necessarily prevent us from having healthy natural hair. However, I suggested to her that the NEED to straighten one’s hair for personal or professional reasons can sometimes become a ‘quality of life’ issue. Tam’s response…‘I totally agree, and hope that being honest about my story helps other textured women struggling with this issue to try going natural either full or part time.‘”
Since her revelation, Tamron has received an outpouring of support from the natural hair community.
If there is one thing us women do not like it’s to be told how to wear our hair. In many instances, our hair reflects our personality, providing a canvas if you will for self-expression. Thankfully times have started to change with the greater acceptance of natural hair (though we do have more strides to make). You can’t flip through the TV channels without encountering some commercial that features a woman rocking her hair in its natural grace. Advertisers have also started branching out in their print and online campaigns which seemingly show their arms open to the idea that different just might be innovative. But what about Corporate America?
Though everyone’s journey and life experiences will differ, there still seems to be some resistance in certain traditional environments to natural hair. Whether people assume these hairstyles are too wild or unprofessional, the call will ultimately be up to you how you rock your hair to work. Should you be looking for a few ideas, here are some natural hairstyles to consider for the conservative workplace.
Over ten years ago, before natural hair became a huge trend for black women, my older sister Lydia was running around the campus of Spelman College curly and proud. “I was lazy enough to just not get a relaxer. I’d never had to really deal with my hair before on my own, so it was kind of a defacto decision,” she said. But the cultural security blanket of being at a historically black college in Atlanta protected Lydia from the trials of having natural hair around people of other ethnicities, specifically in corporate America.
Soon after graduating she started working as one of the few black female engineers at Delta Airlines, where she first encountered an adverse response to her au naturale coiffure. Changes in her natural styles were met with comments bordering on insulting.
“It was like, ‘Oh, your head changed’ or ‘Did you get a hair cut?’ As if I was another person. It was almost like if I had come to work with some really colorful wig when in actuality it was just a two-strand twist.” One co-worker at her second corporate job said she looked like “she stuck her finger in a light socket” in response to one of her natural looks. Eventually my sister, like many black women, decided her best option was to keep her hair pressed to reduce attention on anything other than her work quality.
When I was a child, African-American women like Melba Tolliver, Cheryl Tatum, Sydney M. Boone, Dorothy Reed and Renee Rodgers received national attention for the discrimination they faced while wearing Afro-centric hairstyles to work. While the black community is more accepting of natural hairstyles—now no longer solely seen as a black pride statement—the largely white corporate world isn’t totally there yet. But change is evitable and it hasn’t stopped black women from all walks of life from getting the big chop.
“Hairstyles all depend on your lifestyle, what you want to wear it for and if it suits [you],” said Amanda Charles, a natural-hair stylist at Time Studio in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. She says her clients run the gamut, from corporate types to artists who ask for different styles to reflect their personality, but also must fit in with a professional setting.
“I’m thinking a lot of people are going to be going natural; a lot of people have been saying their hair is breaking with the relaxer and they just don’t know what’s going on,” Charles said about her clients. “[Both] chemically treated hair and natural hair require regular maintenance to remain healthy, but natural hair is definitely doable for the office and women are just now realizing that.”