Could My Hair Cost Me The Interview? Natural Hair & Getting The Job

April 25, 2015  |  

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.

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