Fresh out of college, I was hired by a company that needed to “diversify” their employee roster (read: hire some black people NOW!). I wasn’t mad because I was fully qualified and passed several screenings tests and interviews to get the job. Being one of two black women in an office of maybe 50 people, I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. I wasn’t from the town and I was one of the youngest people in a department of mostly caucasian men; I was a living breathing alien. They did welcome me with open arms and worked to make me feel as comfortable as possible, but one day it was made clear to me that they were not looking at me.
After about a month or two of being there, my friend that got hired along with me went to a different department to handle some business and one of the women asked her, “Who was the new girl that just started?” Confused, she inquired about this new person and they said it was another young black girl. I thought to myself, “the building is not that big where could she be hiding?” After a bit more probing, they said she has long, curly braids and that was the extent of the description. They got the immediate side eye because I had just changed my hair style to long, curly braids, and just like that, after “looking” at me for an entire month or two, I was unrecognizable.
I was not offended at all, in fact I thought it was funny. Back then when I was young and free and had exorbitant amounts of me time, I would change my hairstyle as many times as a teenager changes their Facebook profile pic. Curly, straight, long, short, highlighted, braided — whatever mood I was in at the moment, I did it, and in my eyes I could pull anything off and had no problem trying. But in that moment I realized, while I did not think my hair defined me, it was obvious that it actually was what defined me. They were not looking at me, they were looking at my hair. And before you start to think that I must have been coming to work with helicopters made out of Brazilian silky attached to my bun, I was not getting that crazy; it was all professional and work appropriate. No one ever made any remarks to me about my hair, or at least I don’t remember, but I am sure they talked about it at home or thought about it. Which leads me to my questions: Has anyone ever made any assumptions about you based on your hairstyle? Has an employer ever asked you to change your hairstyle? Has a friend ever suggested that you change your hairstyle to get ahead? Do you have any preconceived notions and assumptions when it comes to hair? When you see certain hairstyles, do you formulate opinions on that person’s lifestyle? Would you change your hair if it was suggested that it would get you to the next level?
Here are the answers from the Women of BEB:
Monica Michelle: I wouldn’t change my hairstyle for any employer. I say that with conviction now having recently changed from relaxed to natural. When I did my big chop to begin my natural hair journey, my job or what they would think wasn’t even a thought in my mind initially. It was my choice and I knew it wouldn’t make me a lesser employee. Albeit, when I did get to work everyone was completely shocked. Mostly quiet about it though. The few black people who worked at my job gave me reassuring nods while all others simply said “Oh new hairstyle, huh?” To which I gave a stern… SURE DID! Almost daring them to say anything about it. Would it have prevented me from senior level career pathing, I don’t know nor did I think about it. And so far, no employer has asked me to change my hairstyle.
Allison Younger: My general feeling about hair is that it’s somewhat like clothing when it comes to business folk: you will likely be judged; similar to the way a woman is judged if her skirt is too short or too tight. The question then becomes, “How much do you care?” When I first went natural and was interviewing, I would put my hair in a bun or wear it straight. Now that I am on a different level professionally (and mentally), I don’t really care. My hair is what it is and if someone doesn’t like it, they can kick rocks. I am who I am and I make no apologies or alterations. Fortunately, I’ve never been asked to change my hair for an employer, but if I was, I would then ask why. In my mind, there’s no real way of answering that question without avoiding a lawsuit. Hence, I would never change it for my job or anyone else for that matter.
Kia Marshall: I’m usually conservative with my hair so I don’t think I’ve ever been judged for it at work. Several years ago I was asked by an older woman of another race/culture if she could touch my hair, when I wore it natural (curly). Or I’ve gotten asked how I get my hair like that. But not so much anymore. People at work will just tell me they like my hairstyle if I change it up.
Ayeisha Seawright Moses: Going into Corporate America, it was stated by recruiters, counselors, professors etc. that braids or locs may not be received well on an interview. But once you got the job, it was “ok” to wear those styles. When I started my natural transition, I wore braids for a whole year and my coworkers would ask me, “how long did it take?” “is that all your hair?” What was funny or sad depending on how you want to look at it, after a several months of having my locs, one person thought I still had braids and asked me how do I take them out! I would not change my hair for an employer. Take me AS I AM!
Fatimah: Hair still matter in many industries however I believe that locs and braids are accepted more now than they use to be. I agree hair can be looked at like clothing when it comes to the work place. Anytime you are dealing with the good old boys club you are your hair and what you wear.
Anonymous: I work in a creative industry and I think it matters wayyy less than if I were to work in a corporate environment. My hair is a great representation of who I am and it changes quite often. It’s smart, bold, flirty, demure, it’s ME. I’ve worn it relaxed with long layers: when I want to conform and make my granny happy, and I’ve worn it short and choppy: when I’m feeling bad-assed and want to make myself happy. It has been a little bit of everything along the way, both natural and relaxed: long and short. My hair usually reflects my mood. I believe employers judge and I think it’s the individual’s responsibility to know their audience. Ultimately, when my hair looks good, I feel great! #freetobeyouandme
Neesha Wilson: Sorry for the late response I was in a training for most of the day. I work with New York State Education Department and I have not been asked by my employer to change my hairstyle. Since it is an industry that focuses on serving those with disabilities it really is not an issue at my workplace. I don’t believe this would ever be brought up in the type of work that I do as a Counselor. I generally wear my hair straight during the winter months and wear it curly during the summer. I notice that people tend to compliment me on my hair more often whenever I wear it curly. I do agree with the ladies that wear their hair natural, you should never have to change the way you wear your hair for a job. As long as it is presentable and well groomed it should not make a difference.
Ky is the author of the Happy Fridays series and as well as the BEB Director of Photography
Photo Credit: Kyeisha Kelly