Despite a growing awareness of the prejudices behind seeing natural hair and natural hairstyles as inherently unkempt and unprofessional, there is still a widely held belief that in order to succeed in the corporate world one must have hair that presents as straight. There is this idea that your hair must be kept in certain styles that are not explicitly African or Black in order to be deemed appropriately dressed for the office.
Recently, a veteran news anchor told a curly-haired intern that she needed to have her straightened in order to succeed. There are schools where little kids with natural hair are not allowed to wear certain natural hairstyles because they are not in accordance with the dress code. When people hear these tales they often talk about how we all have to adhere to community dress codes and I do not disagree with that statement. Sometimes they bring up arguments about how people also can’t dye their hair bright colours in many workplaces.
My problem is not with the existence of dress codes; it is with the ideas behind these dress codes and the messages that these dress codes propagate about natural hair and the hairstyles that are often done in order to maintain and manage the particular texture of kinky curly hair. There is a huge difference between telling someone not to dye their hair bright pink and orange for an office job and telling them that the natural texture of their hair is a problem.
It is the difference between telling someone not to express themselves in a certain way versus telling someone that there is something wrong with their natural features and that they need to change in order to be closer to what would make you feel comfortable.
The growing popularity of natural hair in everyday life and in the media is helping to change the narrative surrounding natural hair in the workplace but in the meantime how does a naturalista deal with navigating natural hair in the workplace? Well, if you don’t know your workplace guidelines regarding hair, seek them out. Then, if a fellow employee or superior confronts you about the appropriateness of your hair you can know what your rights are going into the conversation and respond accordingly.
Also, if you find out that some of your workplaces dress codes and regulations do come off as discriminatory then you can consider broaching the topic with HR in order to create a better working environment that truly seeks to encourage diversity. Finally, if you’re unsure about what the standards are in your industry with regards to hair I recommend seeking advice from other naturalistas in similar industries as expectations can vary greatly from industry to industry.
So let me know what you think? What do you think of the way natural hair is perceived in the workplace? What do you consider to be professional in terms of hair and hairstyles? Let me know what you think in the comments below.