by Marcia Wade Talbert of Black Enterprise.com
Are natural hair and locs unprofessional in corporate America? That was the subject broached by the friend of a friend on Facebook recently. The young lady stated that she likes natural hairstyles, but because she works in an entry level position at a conservative investment bank, she doesn’t think it is “work appropriate,” and that it would be difficult to move up the corporate ladder with an “ethnic” hairstyle. The statement made me wonder whether many women on Black Enterprise’s 75 Most Powerful Women in Business list wore their hair in natural or “ethnic” hairstyles. A cursory glance produced about five, including Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox and one of the most powerful women in business. I couldn’t think of any C-suite men who had locs or short afros. When I informed the young woman on Facebook what I found, she countered that those five women were at the top of their game, and that their hair may not have been “kinky” on the way up.
Hmmm. She’s got a point.
I’m a believer in freedom of expression when it comes to appearance. I definitely do NOT believe that all Black people should wear their hair natural. But for those who choose to, the idea that you can’t succeed in business if you choose to leave your naturally curly hair, curly, really bothers me.
So, when I pitched the idea for an article about natural hair in the C-suite at a recent meeting, a few of my BLACK ENTERPRISE colleagues said that the way in which one wore their hair was an expression of fashion; something meant to change with the seasons and maturity. Others thought the issue had been played in the media too many times. And some just wondered why anyone would care about expressing their self through hair if they were unemployed and in desperate need of work.
Then there were those like me who asked the same question that actress Tracie Thoms did in Chris Rock’s movie Good Hair. Why is it that wearing one’s hair, the way God created it such a revolutionary idea? After debating our different perspectives for the next 10-15 minutes, we all realized this was truly a divisive issue worth covering.
Why is natural hair such a big deal? Here is some background for anyone who is completely clueless on the subject and a reminder for those who already know. There is a negative stigma attached to natural Black hair in the United States and frankly in most places of the world. The story starts way before the current natural hair craze that some people think is a fad, and before the 1970’s when afros became popular as a “political statement” for activists who wanted to revel in “Black beauty” but was then temporarily accepted by the rest of the Black community and White ones too.
In the 1800’s and early 1900’s nappy, kinky, curly, hair was deemed inferior, ugly, and unkempt in comparison to the flowing, bouncy, hair of people from other cultures. The caricatures of Blacks that surfaced during that time in movies, children’s books, on laundry detergent, and food products were commonplace and they taught Blacks and Whites alike to loathe the appearance of Black hair and to associate it with dirtiness, unruliness and even character traits like laziness and dishonesty.
While the dark complexions, wider noses, and fuller lips of Blacks were also disparaged, the texture of our hair was the only thing that we could realistically and drastically change (at that time) about our appearance to escape those negative associations. And making that change was encouraged as Blacks who straightened their hair were deemed more likable, agreeable, and dependable by Whites; even more employable.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, that sentiment still exists, although I do believe that fewer Whites and more Blacks actually believe it to be true. If you haven’t noticed recently, Black women with kinky hair dominate the same commercials that are cast by all White ad agencies (that is the only time you’ll hear me giving Madison Avenue props). It’s mostly Blacks, not Whites who have internalized the hype from 100 years earlier and who just won’t let it go.
The aspiration to straighten and lengthen our hair wasn’t all bad. The money that was created from Black businesses like Madame C. J. Walker, Dudley Hair Care Products, and hundreds of thousands of Black beauty parlors has done some good for the Black community. It also led us to experiment with our hair and pave innovative roads in hair fashion. But our obsession with straight flowing hair has also caused us to allow some people to take advantage of us financially.
As a woman who chooses to wear my hair in natural styles, it’s disheartening to me that I receive more negative comments from Blacks about my hair then I’ve ever received from Whites.
That’s not to say that White people don’t still feel nappy Black hair is hideous, but they aren’t as vocal about it and when they are, they’re usually condemned as racist. Remember the White staffer from Glamour magazine who told a group of lawyers that ethnic hairstyles were a fashion don’t when it came to corporate dress? She was reprimanded and the editor and managing editor of the magazine was made to apologize publicly on her behalf.
Meanwhile, day in and day out, Black women and men tell other Black women and men the exact same things without any condemnation.
Now, having said all of that, I’m going to contradict myself (Hey, Blacks are not a monolithic group and my opinions don’t walk a straight line either). The unemployment rate fell to 9% recently, but it is still 15.7% for Blacks not including the under-employed, marginally attached, and discouraged workers. The reality is that your chances for getting a job and getting promoted are lessened when you don’t conform/assimilate to an ideal, predefined standard of appearance in certain industries. Is it right? No. Is there something you can do about that? Yes. If you’ve demonstrated that you have an incomparable work ethic, you can tame your company’s most challenging projects, and you’ve dotted every I or crossed every T on your resume but you still aren’t getting hired or promoted, then you have three choices: 1) Change industries 2) start your own company or 3) conform and straighten your hair and/or cut your locs.
At any cost, as Indie.Arie once reminded us, we are NOT our hair, and if you cut it, it will grow back. And that’s just what you can do once you’ve proven your worth and scaled the company hierarchy. At which point you can start hiring some of those people who were in your shoes and make sure they don’t have to walk the “fine line” in order to make the cut.
Should it matter how you wear your hair as long as you present yourself well? Join the conversation by leaving your comment below.
Originally featured on BlackEnterprise.com
I worked in accounting department of a corporate headquaters. I was told by my supervisor, other managers that I should straightend my hair and wear it straight. It had nothing to do with the color of my skin. All the women with curly hair or wavy hair no matter what skin tone wore their hair straight. I wore my hair in a bun everyday and still was told by coworkers and superviser to get my hair blowdryed straight. Curly hair in in some companies in some department is seen as unprofessional. It all depends on the opinion of what is deemed professional by the head of the department. I would love if a list existed of curl friendly companies so I could get a job at one of those companies.
I believe that natural hair can co-exist, however, I do think that how nappy your hair is can be a deal-blower. Sorry, but that's how I feel. I am African American, and I have begun wearing natural curly kinky nappy hair, sometimes an afro, to my professional workplace. It's my hair and I can wear it as I please, and I do; but that doesn't mean that everyone else accepts it. The one way that I wear it that I am most comfortable with, is using Ms. Jessie's curly pudding, which leaves hair in a tight curly do, leaving the friz behind. And I do feel a bit revolutionary wearing my hair this way, especially in the setting of the courtroom, where those who look like me are a lot of times on the "other side." IF I choose to flat-iron it and wear more softer styles, that's my choice too. IF one is looking for a job, I think they should
"conform" first, and explore the more "militant" look once employed, if it works for them. Conforming can just be a matter of straightening the hair with a flat iron.
>But these are people who make a statement with their lives, not their hair.
Just thought that statement needed to be repeated.
@Anonymous 5.30 "If you believe your natural hair is holding you back then you're a victim" Nice judgment from an Anon – you need to get a life! Why make everything so extreme? This is just a normal DEBATE – like all other topics in life and on every other board on the internet if you choose to read – about various workplaces and their attitudes towards tightly coiled hair in a professional environment as opposed to another social one.
@Word – Your post was the most informed and cogent I've read anywhere on many sites regarding issues that some feel 'are done to the death'. What some fail to realize is that natural hair is still a fairly new MAINSTREAM hair expression and not everyone has been natural since 1982 or is or works w/a great natural-loving CEO. Your post was most appreciated.
Link at bottom for those who think, keeping natural hair 'neat and professional' is simply enough to stem workplace prejudice, slurs and employers' candid reprimands and refusals to hire. This is still a fight that needs teeth in this new America of 2011, wake up people.
The key is to be confident and to be professional.As long as the hair is groomed that is what counts. I remember being the only black woman in my office and when I had canerows with extensions I had so much complements everyone was just curious but no one had a problem I would even rock braid outs and I was not even transitioning.
Unfortunately, there are those of us who choose irrational militant attitude over common sense. There are some who champion the cause for natural hair who feel like they can work anywhere looking like anything and if anyone says anything about it they are selling out to the white man(blackfolk) or racist(whitefolk).
Natural hair didn't start yesterday. I have been on this earth 45 years and have seen plenty of natural haired blacks throughout the years, plenty of whom have been quite successful. They don't make a big deal about their hair and no one else does either. But these are people who make a statement with their lives, not their hair.
The only problem with our hair is the war we are fighting amongst ourselves. If we would just chill and enjoy the versatility of our hair, the rest of society would fall in line. These extremes of anti kinky and anti straight keeps the focus on craziness and not on our overall beauty as a race.
You go BellaBelle! 🙂
I had reservations prior to going natural. I'm the Director of Legal Affairs and a member of Executive Management; I'm also the attorney for 2 boards; and I also speak several times a year at conferences on legal and healthcare issues. I must say I had no negative comments from anyone other than my own people (which is sad). The CEO (my boss) actually mentioned in one of my evaluations that he LOVED MY "DIRTY" NEW HAIR…yes that was a compliment for him (he thought it was sexy). I found that for some reason all the white men were really turned on by my kinky curly tresses! I was pleasantly surprised by all the compliments I received…i was a little surprised by my own peeps response. I wils say my transitioning did encourage other sistas at the company to embrace the au naturale; our medical director being the first after me and now there are about 15 of us. I do host a quarterly lunch for all of us together and discuss products and etc. And I have noticed more and more Executive level professionals such as myself embracing our natural coifs! BellaBelle
I consider this obsession with hair texture in the workplace to be a kind of MAGICAL THINKING that many black Americans have succumbed to.
The idea being that if only black women could have the same straight looking hair as whites, then somehow noone will notice that they are actually black and they'll supposedly be able to sneak through the corporate doors that would otherwise be barred against them.
The fact that whites can spot what you are from 50 paces won't matter anymore cos that perm or weave will somehow magically make your dark skin and all the other black features disappear from view.
It's ludicrous but essentially that's the only logical conclusion I can draw from some of the arguments on this post.
If natural textured hair was so mad bad and dangerous to know, how have black men survived in the corporate world without perms? If their hair is completely acceptable, why is ours beyond the pale?
This kind of crazy thinking is a sickness and we need to find the cure ASAP.
I think that having natural hair in the workforce is not a hindurance in the workplace. As long as you keep it looking decent then you should have no problem with it. However, if they want to give you flack over it, then they could have a lawsuit on their hands for terminating you on the basis of your hair. I have tried my hair in different styles and have had no problem at the workplace.
I am happy to say that over the last ten years i have been hired at several jobs w/
"ethnic" hair styles and have never fealt pressured by an employer to conform. I recently started working at a health care company and feel as though 25% or more of the black women in various positions at my office wear their natural hair. And I am so excited….. but, I don't think that most white people even care if it's curly or straight, they don't understand the lenghts we go through to meet a standard that is in our own heads…..just like that scientist was baffled in "good hair" when chris rock explained that black women put acid on their head to straighten their hair". The black community has been creating this fear of being judged like little kids on a playground. personaly i get more complements from white people and self depricating comments from black women "oh…. well i don't have that good kind of hair to wear out like that"
I hate articles like this and avoid people who are always trying to make something about US an issue. As a black woman, I find that the most unaccepting of our hair in its natural state are other black people. I remember when Spike Lee's movie Shes Gotta Have It came out… all the guys loved Lola and yet many black women that I came across was like what was up with her hair. SHE WAS NATURAL and had like a flat-top fro. I think most black women relax today to appease one another because we are our harshest critics!
As long as your hair is neat and clean, the fact that you choose not to change the texture is a non-issue…all of this is nonsense. and it's mostly black women hating on other black women about their hair. i am happy to be nappy…since 1999!
I think we need to know the companies that do not allow natural hair in the work place or dont allow these people to be promoted. I don't want to patronize these companies. At the least I want to know their names so that I (or we) can voice our disapproval.
I agree that natural hair and professionalism can co~exist, but I definitely feel that most companies prefer conservative hairstyles. Please note that first impressions count and the reality is that people are judged on their appearance. Personally, I think that the people who made it to the top and wear their natural hair are opening doors for all of us.
But the reality is that there are business schools that won't accept students with locks and employers that are not interested in employees expressing their personal style through their hair. The fact that more people are wearing their natural hair will help our natural hair become the norm, but I agree with the young lady from Good Hair that said (Please note I am paraphrasing ) "I never thought wearing my hair the way it grows out of my head would be considered a revolutionary idea" and I am happy to be apart of a revolution that embraces me being me.
I work in the legal profession and I am 6 months into my transition. I keep my styles fairly conservative. Flat twists updo with 2 strand twists pony tail/bun. My White co-workers have complimented me several times. I have worn the style to court with no problem. I don't think it is the texture, but rather the style. Let's face it, there are some crazy permed looks out there that are not professional either.
Let the church say amen @BrownEmber!
Would you bleach your brown skin in order to be more professional? If you don't think that that corporate success is worthy of that mutilation, why would perming your hair be any different?
In my 20 years of living, the ONLY people to ever comment negatively on my natural hair are ignorant black folks. There aren't many of them holding high positions in my field of interest so I'm not worried 😉
The white folks that I'm looking to impress with my intellect either hate me because I'm black PERIOD (skin, hair big nose and all. They don't CARE how "ethnic" you or I look. Black is BLACK. And black sucks. lol ) or they're smart enough to realize that my intellect is in my brain…not on my head.
For many people…black is not professional. Of those, some (white people) will write a black person off as soon as they walk in a door. And some (black people) will withhold judgment until they can determine how assimilated (how white-i-fied) the black person is. Natural hair isn't very assimilated lol. So I can understand their distress.
I believe that a person can style their hair in its natural state in a neat style that will meet any firm's definition of "professional" unless they consider people African feature inherently unprofessional. If my hair is long, I probably wouldn't wear an afro. But, if it is short, I think a neat afro will work. I believe locs in an updo will not raise eyebrows. I believe its all in putting together a neat, well arranged appearance.
I won't say that this topic has been done to death, even though it has. What I will say is the fact that anyone would even CONSIDER changing their natural texture because they feel it's necessary to get a job, because that's what you imply with:
The reality is that your chances for getting a job and getting promoted are lessened when you don’t conform/assimilate to an ideal, predefined standard of appearance in certain industries.
Since you say it's not right, the idea should not even be entertained. Would corporate America ever think it's okay to tell a lady her nose is unprofessional so she should go get a nose job in order to keep her job? What if we told a blonde man that he has to dye his hair black if he wants to keep his job? None of this sounds quite right, either.
And yet a number of people still believe that African-Americans or anyone with tightly curly hair needs to consider changing the natural texture of their hair in order to hold down a job. If you lose a job because of your hair, that's one job. We're not going to keep things the way they are just because some people are afraid of change. We can't have that mentality if we want people to get used to natural hair as something more than a fad.
And notice how I say hair TEXTURE, because that's what we're discussing. Tightly coiled hair can be styled professionally or not so just like straight hair. A woman with bone-straight hair wouldn't walk into work with two pigtails tied with ribbons, just like a woman with 4a hair wouldn't walk in to work with a frohawk. It's jut common sense.
Braids are a HAIR STYLE not a hair texture. Straight haired people can wear braids too – Kim Kardashian?!!
Mohawks, shaven sides, messy bedhead etc are also straight HAIR STYLES that wouldn't be acceptable in many corporate settings!
The acceptablility of certain hair styles is a seperate issue from the acceptability of our GOD GIVEN NATURAL HAIR TEXTURE.
If you have a conservative type job, wear your hair in a neat inconspicuous twa, bun or updo etc and KEEP IT MOVING.
If you believe your natural hair is holding you back then you're a victim.
Perhaps its easier for some people to focus on "hair" than address their own professional anxieties and failures.
Like crabs in a barrel we pull ourselves down over and over again.
This is my second time being natural. The first time, I relaxed due to peer pressure and fear of perceptions at work. Needless to say, I regretted it and two years later I went natural again. I have an accounting background and work for a large corporation where a polished look is expected. I've learned that updos work for my schedule and give me the look I am going for. After all, a French roll is still professional regardless of whether your hair is relaxed or natural. I just save the puffs for after hours and the weekends.
I totally disagree with the above commenter, DD. I personally know three young ladies who in the past 3 years, were either turned down by jobs & confidentally (and off the record) told by either the company's employee (in one case, a white assistant in the HR department & in another, a white employee who happened to be a friend of the interviewee) that they didn't get the position was because of their hair (natural & not outrageous). And 1 of these jobs wasn't even considered high level either. One of the three young ladies applied for a security worker position at the airport got the job wearing her hair flat ironed for the interview, when she should up to work with braids, in her natural hair color, she was told to take them out because they were considered "unprofessional". Now I see no reason why these people (the employees or friend) would LIE to these potential employees when they confided in them about the reasons they were told they didn't get job. Also, in my opinion, I think it really matters the state, city that you live. If you live someplace that has more relaxed or straight haired people of color, it stands to reason that a natural hair people will stand out more. Saying all this, I wouldn't straighten or relax my hair for a job interview or position. That is what a wig is good for.
It's utterly crazy to me that a brown skinned, wide nosed, full lipped person of colour could possibly think that the only thing that stands out about them to non blacks is their natural hair texture. WTF!!!!
Hello!!!!!…most whites are too busy checking out your black features to even notice your hairstyle unless you choose to draw attention to it via an outrageous BAA or deliberately ostentatious or funky style.
So stop laying it on white corporate America, this is inner mental problem that black Americans are still plagued with from slavery on down, and the only solution is a inner mental change.
So let me repeat, WHITE PEOPLE DON'T KNOW OR CARE ABOUT OUR HAIR!!!!!!!!
In regards to a previous commenter:
I find it truly sad that a black woman believes that she is comfortable being natural at her job because she doesn't strive to be in a managerial position and that it is unrealistic, in the company she works in, to expect that a natural could become a manager.
Really?! This is ok with you??
I am encouraged by people who are motivated to seek higher positions, because God knows where we would be as a people, if we all adopted this kind of attitude. We DO need all types in this world, but we really need to increase the numbers of blacks in higher level managerial and professional fields.
I went natural yrs. ago, completed higher education and started my own business. Even though I don't have to worry about a boss and employment issues, I still have to look very professional for my clients. This, however, does not mean that I have to be untrue to myself or unhealthy to my hair.
@word 12:30 p.m.
i understand what you are saying in regards to being someone who is entering the workforce. but this topic has been done over and over and over and over not only on this site, but others as well. again, it is not the texture of one's hair that determines professionalism. that's why i stated in my previous post that the issue seems to be more about style. not all styles are considered to be appropriate for all positions. wearing a frohawk or huge fro with flat twists intermixed may be frowned upon if one is chairperson for the board of directors at a major company, but that same frohawk or fro/flat twist mix may be absolutely fine for someone who is employed as an artist or graphics designer. and by the way, serious side eye at the guest speaker who suggested that you would be successful but you need to tone "it" down a bit. i don't know all the variables, but was this a poc, would this person be in a position to hire (not that either of those things really matter), but that was completely off base. it would be like me telling a person with a loose curl pattern that they would be more successful if they added some kink to their hair.
I think there's still a stigma but it is changing. I wrote an article about it on my website, hairpolitik.com, called "Natural Hair and the Workplace".
This topic is up there with "do men like natural hair" in its redundancy. I sometimes feel like these natural hair sites are inadvertantley peppered with deterrents to wearing natural hair. I wish that we could just be matter of fact about natural hair, we're wearing it, it's fine, let's share health and styling information.
I disagree with those of you that state that this idea has been done to death. Especially as a person who is about to enter the work force, I sincerely want to know. I say that because I now work at a non-profit organization for kids, which I love. I'm sort of a tutor and a program aid so my hair is the last thing on my mind when it come to me going to work. Usually, I'm working with whatever protective style I've laid on for the week but on my nappiversary I decided to pull out my afro. That day we had a guest speaker come in that stayed around after to watch the kids and us work with them. About half way through my shift he pulled me aside and told me that he loved the way that I worked with the kids and that I was super passionate. He said that he knew I would be successful, but I just needed to tone "it" down. I was insulted on multiple levels, but mostly because I'd never thought about the connection between my hair and the way I would be perceived professionally.
On the flip side. I went to an interview for this corporate research organization. I ended up ruining my hair the night before so i decided to pull out my fro. The interviewers were both which and thinking back I'm sure I was the only poc in the building. We sat down for the interview and after finding out how qualified I was, I got the job on the spot. I ended up turning it down, so there's no telling what would have happened during my work there.
But my point is, I don't think the subject should be numbed over. Like most natural hair issues. I know that it's frustrating to continually discuss them over and over again, but I know that ever time i discuss something of this magnitude it's because the issue is important. More often then not, I know that every time I'm discussing the issue either way, I'm inspiring or education someone who just doesn't know. And in this case, I really don't know! And what does a conservative natural hair style look like? Most of the black people I run into seem to think that natural and conservative is an oxymoron. That any natural hairstyle makes a statement. To me corn rolls are pretty conservative but I just read and article that said I shouldn't do it. I know I can't be the only one with these types of questions, so if there's anyone other there with a more clear cut definition of a "profession hairstyle" please plug in.
i mean, how many times does it have to be stated that natural hair can absolutely be professional. it all depends on the style. would you wear club-wear to work if you are employed in a conservative environment? i certainly hope not. styles such as frohawks and huge afros with flat twists mixed would not be considered conservative or work-appropriate, but would be great at the club or just hanging out on your own time. i think the biggest issue that some are having is that is our hair texture viewed as professional. and again my answer to that is a resounding yes. as long as my hair is clean and styled appropriately for my line of work, it is of no one's concern about its texture. i am not about to change the actual texture of my hair for a job.
ITA with everyone saying this topic is done to death-I thought i was reading an Essence issue from the seventies. But I understand if someone is young, just entering the work force and wants to know what their options are.
It's just common sense-natural hair can be conservative or flamboyant. The style the young lady is wearing in the article's photo is appropriate. My textured bun works well in every financial services firm I've worked in, the BAA I wear on my own time would not go over as well. Period.
Most white people I work with think my hair is interesting and beautiful. They just see me as a curly haired woman, not a "natural black woman". They've asked me if I would straighten it out of curiousity of how long it would be. But I have never had a omplaint about my hair from a caucasion. It's like saying the "n word" to them to say anything about my hair. This is just another excuse for black people. Other blacks are the problem with not accepting natural hair, not white corporate america.
i think if people who chose to wear their hair "natural" feel inside that their hair is beautiful and professional suitable then, with time, having "natural" hair in a professional setting will be normal. Remember constant exposure to something eventually becomes part of the norm
@ Anonymous 11:35
I totally <3 you and all the women on here that are smart enough to see that it's not always about the unaltered texture and 'we' should stop diminishing it to that.
Another attorney who thinks that this "debate" is tired and needs to be laid to rest. There is NOTHING unprofessional about natural hair. Like any other hair type, it can be styled in ways that are professional or unprofessional. I currently work in the legal field and before that I was in banking, two of the most conservative fields there are. I have gotten jobs in law firms, insurance companies and my current position at a major technology company, all while sporting my natural hair. Anon @9:20, natural hair does fly in my technology company's law department! I wear it in neat hairstyles such as a loose bun, braids or twists in a bun or a braidout or twistout and have not had any problems.
Societal expectations for hair (if by society we mean white people) has definitely changed! As someone else mentioned, those ad agencies casting all the beautiful textured hair are overwhelmingly white. In many professional settings, hair texture is a non-issue. My company (one of the top IT companies in the world) uses women with natural hair in our internal training publications to represent professionals who work at the company. Even the Wall Street Journal (an extremely conservative business publication) published an article about dressing professionally that featured a black woman with natural hair. It's fitting that this article was published in Black Enterprise because usually it is those type of people who are the ones saying natural hair isn't professional in the first place.
Why in the world are HBCU's teaching their students not to wear their own natural hair?!?!?
'We' are the problem.
@Anonymous 11:08 am, you said it right! Some people who have just gone natural want to wear their hair however they want. Just like with dress, you should stay away from certain hairstyles that might be too trendy e.g. frohawks etc. Choose something simple and neat and you should be fine. If you believe there is something wrong with your hair, body etc. It puts a dent in your confidence which affects your demeanour, so you may not feel as comfortable at work. Be confident, and if you aren't fake it till you make it!
Finally,I have to say I find it strange that black people in America still entertain the thought that something they were born with is not right. It makes me grateful for having grown up in a culture where there was less of these negative assertions and messages. Sometimes I question whether my hair style is neat and appropriate but I have NEVER questioned whether my natural hair texture was right or not, and neither should you!!
The article, in a word, is ridiculous. I am an attorney who has worked for the most conservative insurance companies in the country. I was on a partnership track in a conservative law firm with ALL white men and women. They respected my work and would hire me back tomorrow because of my work, not because of what or what does not grow out of my head. I left my law firm to become a full-time law professor. I have worked at every level law school except the first tier (and only because I haven't applied for a job at that tier yet). I make a six-figure salary, and I have been hired during a recession. My hair, long and natural and in natural styles for the entirety of my career, never hindered me from securing a judicial clerkship, a law firm job, or a tenure-track position in academia; these are the hardest positions in the legal arena and in legal academia to get. In sum, if we all continue to believe the lies that we will not succeed because of our hair, then we continue to endorse a view of corporate America that excludes us as us. This is unacceptable and a tragedy.
Natural hair is professional, of course. As long as it looks neat. People want to run around with locs down to their backside and frowhawks with cornrows on the side, etc. No. Just no. We all want to be able to wear our hair the way it grows out of our scalps, but you don't see other races in serious professional environments wearing their hair loose and all over the place. They tie it back. Tie your natural hair back, it's immediately neat and acceptable for the work place.
I work for a very conservative, very well known oil and gas company in Houston, Texas. I hold a position that enables me to meet many different people, at all levels from around the Company.I am constantly complimented by blacks and whites at all levels about my natural hair. I'm not alone. There are many naturals around here, a couple that I'm proud to say I inspired. Even a couple of our vps are natural. So I say, do you. You'll be fine.
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Straightening your hair should not even be an option! Why should we have to change our hair texture to climb the social (corporate) ladder. That is just conforming to societal standards that say that hair SHOULD be straight. You have to fight it. It's not fair and you don't sit back and change who you are in order to get what is rightfully yours. I am appalled at that whole idea! I am a college professor and I have been teaching at the college level every since I was a graduate student—-all the while being natural. Before I knew how to take care of my hair, it was looking a hot mess, but you know what I didn't change it. I went to interviews with my hot mess hair and I landed job after job with my hot mess hair. Now that I know how to take care of my hair it looks terrific and guess what, I'm teaching full time at the college level at 27 years of age WITH MY NATURAL HAIR. Ladies, do not change anything you do not want to change for a job. Let your intelligence and personality shine through. You are who you are. If you feel you are being discriminated against FILE SUIT! Seriously. You do not have to modify your hair in order to progress professionally.
The fact that we even have to have this conversation speaks volumes about our society. Of course it's possible to be natural and professional. It's all in the way you style your hair. If you work in a conservative corporate or medical environment, then you obviously don't want the biggest most obnoxious picked out afro. I do think some people experience set backs due to their natural hair though. However, it's on a case by case basis and depends on the personal preference of the people you're working around. I hate to go here, but I'm sure texture does play a part in some people's views of natural hair. I would love to see interviews of professional women VP or higher who are natural and have them talk about their experiences.
I've been struggling with this–especially as I interview at least once a week.
I studied business at an HBCU, and we were taught that 'natural hair' was not the way to go if you wanted to thrive in corp america. The kids w/ dreads were sometimes coaxed to think about cutting them off.
This is a real thing, and assimilation kills personal freedoms–like wearing the hair God gave us, lol… [insert heavy sarcasm]
Thanks for the post….
I am so tired of posts like these "natural hair is not professional" blah,blah,blah! As the picture above clearly shows that natural hair can be very professional. Signing off!
Natural *and* professional hair, it's nothing new. 🙂
sigh. i feel like this topic is as antiquated as it's sentiment.
I did the Big Chop about 4 months ago, so I love rocking my TWA. I did consider how my natural hair would play a role in the job market since I just recently graduated from college, however as an art history major, I found my hair to be an asset. It sparks conversations and offers a little edge to my experience and resume. In going on interviews with a more conservative firm, I will make it a little more conservative and tame, in the same way you would flat iron relaxed hair for a polished look, or pull back long hair into a neat bun. I think with the changing times and the great acceptance that has been visible on television, and ads, natural hair is becoming desired, and I'm proud to have my textured hair.
I meant I am fully natural and "wear"……..
"Also those who elect to wear such non-traditional hairstyles are "line" workers and are not in management. I am less inclined to believe that an employee who wears such hairstyles will make it into management positions or upper management positions unless they conform to societal expectations concerning hair. As one who has no desire to be a manager I can feel comfortable wearing my natural hair is I choose which I do not at this time."
I've met plenty of women with full out afros, locs, twists who are in management positions.
I go to work everyday wearing my hair how I please. I am fully natural and where my hair in an BAA whenever I feel like it. No one bats an eye– or maybe I just don't pay attention to it if they do.
I think this article was very well written and just says out loud what we all know already. With that said, natural hair will remain "unprofessional" in many places of employment if we do continue to conform. If you always alter your hair texture and never challenge standards how will things ever change?
I think it really depends on how the natural hair looks. Is the hair well groomed and clean. Before the natural hair revolution (just a description) I remember women in the work place with TWA's (before the name twa). Their twa's were jazzy, to me there was a certain air of sophistication and high self-esteem about these women. They spoke well, had pretty faces w/matching hair, were suited down and very professional. I was rather young at the time. I admired them from afar. And depending on the industry on works in, in corporate America a funky, jazzy, popping fro is OK. It really should not matter how one wears the hair, unfortunately if its your company u set the policies and procedures.
@Lilith_Eve one of the women with natural hair was probably Sheila Jackson Lee. Lee is a congress person from Houston. She's been natural for years, but there was a time when she was relaxed.
I think we would be deceiving ourselves if we think that natural hair vs straight hair can not be an impedipent to some careers and/or within some companies. As an IT professional I am in a skilled based career so yes I will be judged primarily on my skills. In my IT department I have seen white men with long ponytails, black men with braids or locs, and yes black women with natural hair. However, the same hairstyles will not fly in our company's HR, Communications or Law departments.
Also those who elect to wear such non-traditional hairstyles are "line" workers and are not in management. I am less inclined to believe that an employee who wears such hairstyles will make it into management positions or upper management positions unless they conform to societal expectations concerning hair. As one who has no desire to be a manager I can feel comfortable wearing my natural hair is I choose which I do not at this time.
And if you want to keep your natural hair you can wear lace frong wigs (no glue ever, ever, ever), weaves, or tree braids in order to get a straight look and stay away from relaxers.
I am in this position currently, I have a curly fro which I twist at night to define my curls. I am also unemployed. I love my hair and I am enjoying the outcome of twist-outs and happy that it is healthy, not breaking and growing.
However, I found myself asking a recruiter if I should blow and flat iron my hair for an interview so that I could definitely get the job and I will say it has actually been nagging at me that I felt the need to change who I am in order to make sure I could put food on the table. At the end of the day, my suit looked lovely, my makeup was perfect and my resume spoke volumes. No I didn't get the job, but I can guarantee you, it had NOTHING to do with my hair.
I worked my way up in a white male dominated industry with natural hair. I think its less about whether you are natural or not, and more about how do you keep your hair. Is it clean?, Is it tamed?, etc.
I do not wear the biggest fro to work, but I do wear nice buns, tamed twist-outs, and pinned up styles.
Frankly, companies that will discriminate because you were born different than they were, has no place in 2011. First it’s your hair that does not conform, then it’s your weight, then it’s your complexion… it is a slippery slope.
Let your work speak for you in the workplace, not your hair and you will be fine.
ok, um yeah….the straighten ur hair to get a job choice is ridic to say the least!!!! i have known so many naturals who landed a job in this economy while clearly wearing a natural hair style.
What do you think? Can natural hair and professionalism co-exist?
Of course natural hair and professionalism can co-exist, I do it everyday and so do some of my coworkers.
Or should we all expect to conform when we take (or apply for) positions in various companies?
Conforming to the norm is an option that may depend on the industry one works in and one's professional career goals. That's a very personal question.
Should it matter how you wear your hair as long as you present yourself well?
Again, that depends on one's career path and goals. For me, presenting my self well at my job, school, church is important, so my natural hair will be styled accordingly. Now, like my Mami says, there is a time and place for everything, so come Friday and the weekend, my hair will have a whole other personality.
While watching President Obama's State of the Union address last month I spotted at least two of the few black women that were in attendance with natural hairstyles.
Yes I was paying attention to what was said 🙂 But those natural hairstyles stood out to me. Unfortunately I do not remember their names.
Omar Wasow – CEO of Blackplanet.com comes to mind as a male with locs in business. He's since chopped them off, but he was loc'd on his way to success.
Um, all of the black men who are CEO's have afros. Why would you write that they didn't?
If you are commenting that they don't have big giant afros, then that is true, but why don't you look at the Forbes 500 and find how many white CEOs have long hair.
For men, long hair isn't considered professional no matter what race you are, and I don't actually have a problem with that.
Plenty of black women have high profile, competitive jobs and where natural hair. If you don't think so then you probably don't have that kind of job and don't run in circles with people who do.
The author summed it up with all three choices at the end of the article. I still think it is very silly that our hair generates so much discomfort. I also want to say that placing heat on hair consistently is not healthy no matter if conforming is what we think we should do, it's not healthy! I do not work with anyone who is worth me sacrificing my health.
Saying my natural texture and/or natural styles are not professional is like saying I, as a woman of African descent–am not professional. It is a ludicrous idea.
Can natural hair and professionalism co-exist?
-Yes. That is a silly question, IMO. I am the one working not my hair…
Or should we all expect to conform when we take (or apply for) positions in various companies?
-No. Not with the texture of our hair.
Should it matter how you wear your hair as long as you present yourself well?
-No, They key is presenting yourself well. Altering your hair texture to "conform" is not part of that.