Lessons about Natural Hair in Business
In the natural hair community, there is often the question of, how do I wear my hair in an office setting? How do I wear my hair to an interview? Am I able to climb the business ladder with natural hair? And the response that I find myself internally answering is are you kidding me? Yes, many of our culture before us including myself, have slathered the creamy substance on our strands to relax the curly texture. This was to fit into the perception that society placed upon us that relaxed hair was required to advance in your career. Natural hair in business is not like saying please and thank you. It is not a manner of behavior that you are taught to fit into a place and time, it is a part of our identity should you not alter it. There are several lessons I’ve learned while watching the rerun of Living Single, Season 2 episode 13 where Kyle was in turmoil about possibly losing his job because of his growing natural hair in the business setting. Kyle came to realize and expressed, our natural hair is a part of who we are and should not be seen as a deterrent for our success.
With a somewhat interesting first and last name, I was not initially identified as being a “black girl”. The business school I attended, sent our resumes out to companies with our personal data removed. The first layer of bias was removed, so the hiring manager could only see my qualifications and not assume who I was based on the city and street my address showed on a resume. I could only imagine what my interviews beyond my qualifications would have been like at the time, had I came in with a mini natural afro or with the beginning buds of locs, if I was called in for an interview at all. Lucky for me (sarcastically speaking), I already know what that experience would have been just from the response I received when I came in after I big chopped. Some loved it, some did not. However, at that stage of my career, you could not openly discriminate against me because of my appearance. I neatly presented myself, articulated in the same manner and even advanced my education to reach the next step on the ladder. My hair was not and should not be a topic of conversation when it was my knowledge and qualifications that allowed for a positive or negative review of my tasks and the expectation for me to complete those tasks. Ultimately, it was not anyone of any power to remove me from my position that offered negativity about my appearance, but colleagues on the same level. Kyles’ director, another African American male with a short natural cut, put the idea that he would not be able to advance, and worse, be let go because of his hair. It is unfortunate that in the 1990’s, today and I’m sure in future years, there will be brothers and sisters that will feel a particular animosity when you separate yourself and acclimate to something different than what they are familiar with. The idea that you are able to still move in stride and advance in the business career despite your natural hair or how you carry yourself. I would guess the same as when you leave the environment you grew up in and come back to visit family, just to be greeted with fake smiles and disapproval of making something out of yourself. The nerve of you!
I recently encountered a young gentleman, similar to the position Kyle was in. Unfortunately without hesitation, one day he had locs, the next day he did not. The pressure to look like every other male in the environment influenced his decision to remove his identity and blend in. To look like all the other young males in the business. I do not mention because I can only assume that he was interviewed and hired with this look. With his young demeanor, he was easily influenced to change his look to not only fit in, but with the illusion that he would be the next great professional because he cut off his hair? He was pressured into fitting into a mentor’s ideology, someone else not of his culture, and in my opinion slightly bias to the change of the business appearances. I often question, what does your hair have to once again, do with how you articulate yourself? If your qualifications match with the review of your tasks?
I learned that we as a people, are not as strong minded as we’d like to believe. If so, why change who you are and how you look when it comes to our natural hair in a business setting? As our culture evolves and the next new thing is in place, I’ll hope that accepting our natural hair was not just a fashion statement but a way of life that is carried into a boardroom. If we’ve also learned anything from Gabby Douglas, we have a job to do, as long as we are being and looking professional, putting our best foot forward while accomplishing that goal, our hair should not be of concern.
What lessons have you learned in business since being natural?