Natural Hair in the Business World- "So are you really going to wear your hair like that?"

Dr. Kimberly Nettles writes:

I will never forget my first time preparing for a pharmacy job interview. "So are you really going to wear your hair like that?", my fellow colleague asked peering into my Afro as if it were a foreign object. I had never given a second thought to the idea if my hair would be "acceptable" to wear to a job fair. I always put more emphasis into making sure my makeup didn't look too bright, my business suit wasn't too tight, or that my heels weren't too high. Professionalism was something I always took pride in, but the concept of how I would style my hair was never a concern.

Read On!>>>

Hair Offenders.

Recently I had the displeasure of having my hair bar me from a job. Despite the fact that I didn't really care for the job, I decided to go on the interview just to see what the job entailed. I sat calmly waiting for my turn. The first person to be interviewed was a Black man with the standard hair cut for a Black man, the tried and true shaved head; complete with an impeccable line. You know the hair cut I'm talking about. NASA can't even get lines that straight! At the end of his interview the interviewer/boss told the young man he was to start on Sunday. I thought to myself, "Wow that is an ultra fast response!", because usually they let you know in a week or a few days if they are interested in hiring you.

Next up was a girl from Syria. I know she was from Syria because that was brought up during her interview. Her interview went on the longest, because her and the interviewer got into a heated political discussion about the ongoing conflict in that region. I used to work in HR and I know that politics shouldn't ever be brought up in an interview. I looked into the office at the interviewers face he seemed a bit flustered at the young ladies thoughts. I feared the worst for her… But then he told her, "Alright we will start you on Sunday!". Then he thanked her and patted her on the back on the way out. At the door he called in the next person.

Again I sat there, waiting and listening. The next person didn't seem completely there mentally. And this was also reflected in their voice and speech during their interview. Luckily this was also the shortest interview. At the end of the interview the boss said, "I'll be honest I'm not completely sure you can do the job, BUT I'm all about giving people chances here! You will start on Monday." That was really nice of him I thought to myself. I didn't have time to dwell on that thought long because I was next!

I walked into the office, and sat down. He looked up at me as I sat down, then spent the remainder of the interview staring down at my resume. He wasn't all warm and friendly with me, like he was with all of the other people he interviewed. There was no eye contact, and no rapport either. When I answered his questions he didn't really seem to care what I was saying. He didn't take an interest in my answers like I had just witnessed him do with the three people that preceded me! Then I found out why…

"So this hair of yours" he started, finally looking up at me, "do you think I should hire you with that hair?"

"What does that have to do with this job?" I responded.

"Do you think I should hire you with that hair" he asked back in a snippy tone.

I looked at him and said, "I don't know. You're the boss here…"

Natural Hair in the Corporate World

 Is there a Place for It?

by Susan Walker of Earthtones Naturals 

I attended a natural hair party a few weeks ago and one of the women made a comment that struck me as interesting.  We were discussing products and she informed me that her hair needs to be “neat” for work. She works as a graphic designer in a corporate office. When I asked her to clarify what she meant by “neat” she told me that she couldn’t have her hair “out” and made a wide gesture with her hands indicating that it couldn’t be big. Her hair was blow-dried straight and flat-ironed to encourage the sleek, straight look she was going for.

My conversation with her had me thinking about my own natural hair experience and working in a corporate office with other individuals who are not black. I realized that at no point in time did my boss, the CEO of the company, or anyone in Human Resources ever say to me that my hair had to be styled a certain way. In fact, when I did the big chop a few years ago and feared going into the office with my textured hair, my mind was instantly put at ease when I received compliments about my new look. It was then that I realized that a lot of time we as naturals often put parameters and limitations on how we think our hair should look and be styled. I realized very quickly that I had the problem with how my hair looked thinking that it wasn’t “professional” enough, inappropriate or too “wild” for the workplace.

Why is it that natural hair appears to be looked upon unfavourably in corporate North America? I understand the negative stigma attached to natural hair historically and the psychological vestiges of slavery when it comes to hair types and texture. And I guess some of us have been taught – either through media images, society and members of our family – to loathe the appearance of natural textured hair and have affixed negative adjectives to it. Historically when black hair was straightened we were seen as more likeable and agreeable, and less unruly and uncivilized. Much like skin tone, the more “white” we appeared, the more comfortable others were with us and the more accepted we felt. My husband likes to say that relaxed hair makes Caucasians relaxed. While there is likely some truth in this statement in the 21st century, I wonder if it doesn’t have more of an effect of making us (the wearer) relaxed around other people who don’t have textured hair. It’s sad really but feedback from other naturals has indicated that other black women are more critical and negative of natural hair than white people. Is this the self-loathing that is so apparent with us or is something else at play here? I’m not sure. A controversial decision was made by the dean of Hampton University Business school to ban the wearing of dreadlocks and cornrows by men in the classroom due to the “unprofessional” look of these styles. He defended his decision by stating that the ban has been effective at helping graduates find work. Is he right or wrong, I don’t know. But the decision goes back to what hairstyles are deemed to be acceptable and professional in the workplace, especially the corporate environment.

It still takes work to appreciate, be thankful and grateful for my hair texture. The availability of hair products and resources that assist in the proper care of our hair has helped tremendously. And because of the number of women deciding to embrace their natural hair textures, there is strength in numbers. We still have a lot of work to do to see our hair as an adornment of beauty rather than something to be scorned at and tamed. I love my hair because of its versatility; I can wear it straight and sleek or big and curly, and everything in between if I choose to. I see all of these styles as a representation of who I am and my hair hasn’t been a deterrent to me achieving success and advancement in my career. However I understand that this may not be the case with every woman who chooses to go back to her natural roots. I believe that this inability to wear our hair in specific natural styles can be an obstacle to the emotional advancement of women who are really trying to love themselves completely. I could be wrong but I definitely think it’s worth the discussion.

What do you think? Is wearing your hair natural looked down upon in your workplace?

TWA in the Workplace

via LifeWithBabyJ

So what is a TWA you ask? Teeny Weeny Afro! That is the classification of my hair at the length that it is at right now. Although I think I will be past that stage very soon because I am almost able to put my hair into a ponytail now... MILESTONE!!

Anyway... That's not the point of this post.

A few weeks ago I received a message from a fellow 'Nuturalista' asking me about styling options for her TWA for work. She was bored of wearing her hair in just the Afro and wanted something "more professional".

Around the same time, there was a lot of discussion in the natural hair forums that I frequent, about how much trouble some women were having in the workplace with their natural hair. There were some that even suggested that natural hair is not professional (huh?). Some women said that they wear wigs to work in order to look more presentable.

My take on this? It's not just your hair that makes you look professional or presentable. If you don't look like you put any effort into your entire appearance, it won't matter if your hair is natural, relaxed, twisted, straight, long, short, whatever!

Also, if you don't have confidence within yourself to know that you are beautiful with your hair the way it is, it will show... and this will just open the door for ignorant people to add their unnecessary commentary. But that's just my opinion.

So... I was inspired to go through a week and style my hair the way I would to work (yes I have actually worn ALL these styles to work before). By doing this I hope to inspire those who are either bored with their TWA, or simply just want new styling options.

Video tutorials are also available if you click the captions... Hope you enjoy!

Naturally Professional -- Carolyn Edgar

The Naturally Professional series on and was created to make a positive statement. Our intent is to disprove false and long held beliefs that wearing ones hair in a natural style — including locs, sisterlocs, and loose natural hair — makes a person somehow not professional enough for a corporate environment. Natural hair IS professional, beautiful, well taken care of, and welcome in any kind of workplace. This month’s Naturally Professional woman proves that you can wear your hair in whatever style suits you, and rise to the top.

Name: Carolyn Edgar

Age: 45

Title: Vice President and Legal Counsel, The Estee Lauder Companies

Tell me about your natural journey. What styles have you worn your hair in? How long have you been natural? What led you to wear your hair in a natural style?

As a child, I wore my hair completely natural and unprocessed. Straight, pressed hair was reserved for special occasions, like Easter and picture day. In middle school, my mother started giving my hair a light press that usually didn’t survive the week, or gym, whichever came first. From high school until I entered law school at 25, I wore my hair pressed straight. My mom pressed my hair until I went to college, and then I learned how to press it myself. My mom was very good at pressing hair, and she taught me well, so my hair was thick, long and healthy. But when I went to Harvard Law School, I decided pressing was “old-fashioned” and it was time for me to enter the modern world of relaxers. My almost waist-length hair got shorter and shorter. But apart from a brief period when I wore braids to grow out some damage from a particularly bad relaxer, I kept my hair relaxed, even though I hated the damage.

In a way, though, I’m grateful, because if I had continued to press my hair, I never would have discovered the beauty of my own natural hair texture. My family is from the South, and my mother was firmly in the “good hair” camp. I grew up believing my own natural hair texture, while not quite “bad,” certainly wasn’t “good.” And since it wasn’t “good,” it needed to be straightened. It took a long time for me to look at my own natural hair texture without cringing. Finally, in about my 7th year of practicing law, I got tired of relaxed hair breakage. I was also a new mom, and I wanted my daughter to grow up embracing her natural hair. I decided to grow out my relaxer. I didn’t do a “big chop.” I stopped getting touch-ups and cut the relaxed ends off, bit by bit, until I had enough length to finally let the rest of the relaxer go. I went back to pressing briefly, but disliked being so vulnerable to the elements. I then shifted to twists and wore two-strand twists for about five years. When I got tired of getting my hair re-twisted every 3 weeks, I decided to loc it.

Was your hair natural when you entered the working world? Or did you go natural while at your current job?

I wore my hair straight when I first entered the working world, and kept it that way until I finally grew out my relaxer. I don’t distinguish between the years I pressed and the years I relaxed my hair, because both were the result of my not liking the way my natural hair looked. I didn’t wear my hair straight because it was more manageable, I wore it straight because I thought it looked better that way. I was embarrassed to be seen with naps and frizz. When I transitioned to natural hair, I was a bit nervous at first. No other black woman lawyer at my conservative firm had ever worn natural hair, so I wasn’t sure how they were going to respond, but I received nothing but positive comments.

Have you ever faced any undue scrutiny and/or adversity in your career because of wearing your hair natural?

Not at all. I had all these hang-ups and ideas and beliefs about what the “right” styles were for black hair in white corporate America. I thought our hair had to be straight. I thought my natural hair was not only unprofessional, but ugly. Letting go of relaxers and pressing combs allowed me to fall in love with my natural hair and to call it “curly” instead of “nappy.” I learned to work with my hair’s natural curl pattern instead of trying to get rid of it. I had this image in my head of what “white people” would say or think about my hair. It turned out no one cared what I did with my hair, as long as it was neat. That doesn’t mean people didn’t notice, or ask questions. But I have never been reprimanded, “talked to,” or discriminated against because of my hair.

Do you think there is an issue today with acceptance overall in the corporate workforce for women who choose to wear natural hair?

I think it depends on where you are and in what industry you work. I know black women lawyers who practice across a broad range of specialties, from patent law to tax to environmental to corporate, who are natural. I know television producers, PR specialists, real estate brokers, accountants, managing partners at investment banks – all natural. In New York City, for the most part, natural hair isn’t much of an issue. I find it ironic that even in industries where natural hair is less accepted – such as entertainment, beauty and fashion – black women who are in front of the camera wear their hair relaxed or in weaves, but black women who work behind the scenes, including in senior management, are often natural. It’s definitely true at Estee Lauder. But at the same time, my friends and family in my hometown of Detroit tell me that natural hair is not as accepted there, and I suspect that’s true in other parts of the country as well.

I’ve also learned that this isn’t just a black woman’s issue. Just the other day, a white co-worker said she always thought her curly hair was “unprofessional” but she had chosen to wear her natural curls to work because of the heat. Curly-haired women of all races and cultures feel pressured to wear their hair straight and think of their own natural hair as “unmanageable.” I think all women would benefit if acceptance of our hair’s natural texture became a cross-cultural or multi-cultural conversation.

Are there any particular natural hairstyles they feel are no-no’s for the workforce or a particular style that is “safer” or more accepted than others, based on your experiences?

I’ve seen women of color in the workplace in New York City wearing just about every natural hairstyle that exists, but I do feel men are more restricted in their options. For instance, I think locs are more readily accepted on women than men. A young black man who works in my building, but not for my company, told me recently that his manager made him cut off his locs. The manager, a white woman, was in the elevator when we were having this conversation. She said to me, “He’s more handsome this way.” I was angry for a minute, but had to let it go. I couldn’t jeopardize that young man’s job by going off on his boss. So I just said to her, “He was handsome before, too.”

How do you or have you handled any questions or issues you’ve faced regarding your hair?

I feel like there are no dumb questions. White people don’t have to learn about black hair in the same way that we learn about white hair. Many people, regardless of race, don’t understand locs and think they’re unwashed and dirty. Some of the most negative comments I’ve heard about my hair, in fact, have come from black people. My mom, who passed two years ago, called my locs “a waste of long hair” because to get rid of them, most people just cut them off. I’d rather answer and provide information, than ridicule or make someone feel badly for what they don’t know.

Your job is an interesting mix of both beauty and the legal world. Does that make for a more creative working environment? Do you think your natural hair and style would be more or less welcome in an alternative legal career?

The Legal Department is comprised of lawyers who specialize in different areas. Some of our lawyers interface regularly with the beauty side of the business. Others – like myself – have less direct involvement with the beauty side, and more involvement with operations or corporate governance. The work done by the lawyers who handle our contracts with our models, for example, certainly appears glamorous from the outside. At the heart of it all, though, we provide legal advice to our clients to help them manage risk and make better business decisions, and it almost doesn’t matter whether the business is beauty or widgets. But the fact that we are a global prestige beauty company permits us, as employees, a wider degree of flexibility in self-expression than I think would be present in many other corporate settings. Some of our lawyers are very fashionable, others dress more conservatively, and the rest of us are in the middle. When I was in private practice, I wore a business suit every day. Today, I own two suits, and I almost never wear them to the office. I favor slacks with blouses or fitted tees, or dresses. I think if I were in an alternative legal career, such as working for a non-profit, I would dress pretty much the way I do now. I do wear more makeup than I used to before I joined the Company. I was a consumer of our brands’ products before I became an employee, and I love the fact that I get to experiment with our different products and brands.

There is always discussion and sometimes concern about wearing your hair natural and working, as well as succeeding, in the corporate workforce. What strategies can you offer other women who wear their hair natural on handling issues they may face in the workplace regarding their hair choice?

I think it is important to understand the environment you are about to enter before you begin working for a particular employer. A headhunter or recruiter can help you suss this out, and if they can’t, you are working with the wrong placement team. There is a lot you can assess about a place as you walk around meeting people on interviews. In most companies, “fit” is as important as skills and experience – even more so in this competitive environment. So you have to determine whether or not you are a good fit for the workplace you are contemplating, and whether they are a good fit for you. If wearing your hair naturally is something you value, you should work in an environment where your hair will not be a limiting factor in your ability to perform, achieve and succeed.

As a leader what insight can you offer women in general, natural or not, on succeeding as African American women? What are the top 3-5 tips to success you can offer?

1. Manage your own career. Know what it is you want, and find out what you have to do to get it. People are willing to help you, but you have to let them know what you want.

2. Be confident. If you wishy-washy in conveying your opinions, people will stop asking you for them. If you are apologetic when you ask someone who works for you to do something, they won’t take you seriously. If you say you are going to do something, do it; and if you figure out you can’t do it, own up to it.You don’t have to be perfect, or in possession of perfect information, to express yourself with confidence. Our CEO, Fabrizio Freda, encourages Estee Lauder employees to “lead from every chair.” That phrase means a lot to me, because it recognizes that even if you aren’t the person whose name is at the top of the org chart, you can demonstrate leadership within your sphere of influence. The more you step up and demonstrate leadership, the more people will recognize you as a leader.

3. Be helpful, but prioritize. Learn when to say yes and when and how to say no. You don’t have to say yes to everything you are asked to do, but there is an art to saying no. Make sure your priorities are in line with your management’s priorities and your company’s priorities, and hopefully those two things don’t conflict.

4. Be yourself, but be your best self. One mistake people often make is in thinking they need to fit into a mold to succeed. “Fit” means making sure your values and priorities, as well as your style of working, are aligned with the organization that you work for. It does not mean twisting yourself to fit into a box that does not suit you. We spend too much time at work to be uncomfortable there. Bring your whole self, but your best self, to the workplace.

Carolyn is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter, and you can read her eloquent and wise blog here.

Thanks for sharing your story, Carolyn!

Are you Naturally Professional? Do you know someone who fits the description? Then please send an e mail to [email protected] or to [email protected] using “Naturally Professional,”as the subject line. Please include the nominee’s name, photos, and a reliable email address.

Rene Syler on Black Women in the Workplace

Why Don’t Black Women Support Each Other In The Workplace

by Rene Syler of Good Enough Mother

I was talking to a good friend the other day when she asked me something that really threw me for a loop. I guess I thought, having achieved the level of success she has in her corporate career, she was immune to this trend. Maybe I thought because she wasn’t in TV, these issues didn’t pertain to her. But it was clear to me how wrong I was when Tracy took a deep breath and asked me, “Why don’t black women support each other?” Oh dear.

Tracy is thin, attractive, whip smart and graduated from a big name school near the top of her class. Warm, inviting, generous to a fault, she never met someone she wasn’t willing to give a fair shake to. But the pain in her voice was evident when she detailed how most of the relationships she’s experienced with other African American women in the working world, had been adversarial. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I understand. I really, REALLY do.

I remember early in my career, coming into a TV station where there was a well established, older, African American woman on staff. I had heard so much about her and was very much looking forward to learning from her. She, however, wanted noting to do with me. The benign neglect would have been one thing; the truly heartbreaking aspect was when I’d catch her with a scowl on her face as she was looking in my direction or the times she gave cub reporters, mostly men and some white women, detailed instruction on how to get better but could only manage remarks to me through her clenched teeth. I finally gave up but never forgot that experience, which is why I go overboard to share what I know with anyone who asks.

When I told my work hubby, Richard about Tracy’s experiences and my own, he was aghast. As a gay man, working in media, he’s constantly telling me about the “Gay Mafia” who look out for each other, alerting each other of upcoming projects and in general supporting one another. And it’s not just gay men; it’s common with other ethnic groups as well. Even African American men support each other more or, at the very least, are not actively undermining those they work with.

Knowing the “what” doesn’t make the “why” any clearer, but if I had to guess the cause of this trend I would think it’s rooted in two things. The first is the “only room for one” phenomenon, the idea that whatever the field, it’s a zero sum game and another woman of color is competition.

The other factor, and I HATE to admit this, is that women are catty. I’m not perfect and have to say I’ve been guilty of this bad habit myself at times. It’s far easier to tear another woman down, leaving you the last one standing, than to link arms with her and work together to make a real difference.

But the big issue I have with this alarming trend is that it targets the wrong people for blame. Shouldn’t we as black women be working together to make sure someone who looks like us, in gender and hue, gets the corner office? Wouldn’t that help the effort to get more representation among the people who do the hiring? And wouldn’t it be great if we learned to celebrate each other’s successes, confident that what we give, we get and at some point someone would be doing the same for us?

Alas, based on information I found out recently, I’m not sure how close we are to actually achieving that utopia. In the meantime, I’ll continue to do what I always have, offer support to those who ask, unconcerned with the false thinking that it weakens my position. Because the truth is, working together strengthens us as a whole. United we can move mountains.

Okay so I’m curious, if you are a black woman, what’s been your experience with other black female co-workers? Do you feel in constant competition? Do you think this is a phenomenon that other women in the workplace experience? Why do you think that is? Fire away!

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