Does Natural Hair Have A Place In Corporate America?

April 27, 2012  |  
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As natural hair becomes more of a trend across the board for African American women, it was only a matter of time before the question of its acceptance in the workplace would arise. Whether you’re a sales executive or a television host, appearance matters. And in a society where image is everything, is the natural look holding people back or is it off the table as an issue? We spoke to six women about their personal hair experiences in the workplace.

Lauren, Preventive Case Planner in New York, NY

For Lauren, the decision to be natural came after years of desiring to fit in with a perm.  In the ninth grade, things changed and Lauren decided to go natural. Now eleven years in the game, she has gone from an Afro to locs, which have caused no problems at her job. The only questions came before she pursued employment. “When I was graduating from college…a couple of my peers asked what I was planning to do with my Afro. I remember feeling very offended at the idea that my hair was not professional or that it implied a ‘less than’ position.”

Cheryl, Sales Executive in Fayetteville, NC

Cheryl didn’t initially want to wear her hair in a natural style, but after going through chemotherapy for breast cancer and losing her hair, her hairstylist persuaded her to let her hair grow out before getting a perm again. After awhile, she fell in love with it. When it comes to her job, like Lauren, it’s never been an issue. “I work with business owners, so the style of my hair has never been an expectation. It’s expected that my hair is neat and presentable.” Cheryl, who has been natural since 2007, believes the natural look is gaining more acceptance. “It’s becoming more common; you just have to keep your hair neat in a style that’s acceptable.”

Natasha, Assistant Buyer in New York, NY

With Natasha’s occupation, it’s almost a given that she has a bit more freedom in her hair choice. “Since the retail industry is closely associated with the fashion industry, people are a lot more open to different fashion styles and hair.” However, she when she began interviewing for corporate positions, she was more inclined to wear her hair diferently. “I did feel that there was some type of expectation to wear my hair straight as opposed to having in its natural state. I’m not quite sure if this is pressure I put on myself to fit in and make my interviewer feel more comfortable of if it was an unspoken expectation.”

Chanelle, Writer for FOX News in Brooklyn, NY

For many, FOX News is seen as the most conservative network and entity on television. It is also perceived as a minority-vacant and sometimes racist workplace, but Chanelle has never had any problems at her job when it comes to her hair. “I generally have my hair straightened. If I do rock a ‘fro, I usually pin it up for proportional reasons.” Chanelle has been natural for six years and feels that since natural styles are becoming more prevalent, it’s only natural that it becomes more accepted in the workplace. “The more corporate America is graced with these images and the more women of color flaunt their crown of glory, the more they’ll be comfortable and accept this new sense of empowerment and self-love.”

Shannon, TV host/photographer/author in Toronto, Ontario

“I don’t think Canada is as overtly racist as America is,” says Shannon. “I think my non-straight hair is an advantage in an industry where everyone looks the same…they have questions more than anything.” However, as the television host points out, she hosts a lifestyle television show and not a strictly news program.  While Shannon’s curls have a looser curl pattern, she went through a time where she chose to perm her hair, but in 2005 she decided to go back to her natural curly state. “Going natural is a process; mine was a 4-year process after perming my hair. Up until last year, I wasn’t really happy with my hair, but I’d rather have gone through that than continuously damaging my hair.”

Amy, Senior Underwriter in Richmond, VA

Amy is new to the natural hair game. “I’ve had a relaxer since I was three [and] wrapped [my hair] every night,” she says. She described her hairstyling as one marked by consistency, but the first week of April she decided to make a change and do the BC: Big Chop. Once she went back to work, the comments began to pour in. “The Associate Vice President said, ‘I love your natural hair; your face is so good for it.’ Everybody has been really complimentary.” However, Amy noted that most of the criticism that she’s received has been from African Americans. “It’s funny that it’s our own people saying, ‘Oh, you’re doing this? You’ll scare them.’ I don’t see why it would be a problem or a hindrance.”

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