The Naturally Professional series on CurlyNikki.com Afrobella.com 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:
Marisa

Age: 32

Title: Reliability Engineer– I work at an electric and natural gas utility company in Michigan. It is a conservative company.

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

I am in my 28-month of being natural. In August 2009, our family decided that we would make a conscious effort to better our health. We began reducing the amount of chemicals we used and ingested. We eat an organic and whole food diet. So I figured, I might as well include my hair.

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

No. I have not faced any undue scrutiny or adversity in my career because of wearing my hair natural. I think it has benefited me in that it has reduced the amount of times I am confused with the other black women in my office.

That being said, I have received a range of comments, questions, and reactions from a diverse group of people, including:

Blank stares

Side eye

“What’s up with your hair? How did you do that to you hair?”

“Did you stick your finger in a light socket?”

“Are you doing to your hair what Chris Rock is talking about in his new movie?”

“I was watching Oprah with the wife, and they were talking about natural hair. Is your hair natural?”

“I hope I do not offend you but…I really like your hair. “

“Girl you need to comb your hair!!!!”

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

Yes, overall there is an issue with acceptance in the corporate workforce. There have been times when I was preparing for a meeting and thought, “ Should I wear the twists?” However, things seem to be changing. I think people do not really care what we look like as long as we are producing quality results. I am an African American woman, so, generally, I do think there is a perception that we all look the same even if we do not.

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?

For me the no-no’s are hairstyles that are too big and not neat. I will not wear bantu knots or regular corn rolls to work. I had my share of apprehensions about styles. When I was in the TWA stage, I wasn’t sure about wearing twists. Also, I was apprehensive in the “almost a big ass afro” stage. As I became more comfortable and confident, the apprehension with wearing various natural hairstyles lessened. I have made presentations to senior management wearing twists, twist outs, bantu knot outs, and afros.


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

I answer all questions, even the uninformed and insulting ones. I figure I am saving another person from having to answer the questions in the future. I know some people have the opinion, “I am here to work, so do not ask me about my hair”. Or “I don’t ask about your hair, so don’t ask about mine”. That’s fine and all but education is the best way to root out the misconceptions about natural hair.

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?

First of all, don’t get defensive, even with the jackasses. Most people make comments because they are uninformed. We work in diverse environments and all employees must adapt, even those confronted with issues to which they have no frame of reference. That being said Regardless if you are in twists, locks, braids, braid-outs, twists outs, keep it neat and make sure you stay within the confines of your company’s corporate policies.


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 tips to success you can offer?

Develop Organizationally Savvy skills. I recommend reading the book “Survival of the Savvy”. It addresses the taboo topic of corporate politics and gives practical tips on how to handle differences with employees of different styles, rather than always reacting to your differences emotionally. Also, I highly recommend attending one of the workshops given by JTW Affiliates on the topic of Organizational Savvy. You will be enlightened on secrets of the “inner circle”.

Understand your coworkers and yourself. Know yourself from an objective viewpoint, and understand the “people styles” of those with whom you interact. Develop communication skills such that you are able to convey any point you have to anyone in the company, regardless of title.

Finally, ask for what you want. Sometimes we think some folks have an edge over us based on relationships with others at work. While that is often times true, that should not preclude you from speaking up when you desire a better assignment or project or even an opportunity for more training.