Is My Hair Unprofessional?: Black Women's Hair in the Workplace
I finally got the email.The one I had been waiting for weeks for. I remember being filled with both nerves and excitement all at once. I actually got the interview! This was a huge deal, I was potentially going to be interning at a well known British fashion brand, something that I had dreamt about since I was a child.
Soon after getting that email, like most of us, I started to plan for that day even though it was a few weeks away. I asked myself the first three questions I always do before an interview: what do I need to prepare? What do I wear? What will I do with my hair? Oh crap, my hair. Suddenly, I was filled with dread. I had already planned to get braids, I had the appointment scheduled and I was looking forward to it, I love having braids in. Yet, I was annoyed as I knew I had to cancel the appointment because I couldn’t turn up to the interview with braids. I just couldn’t because if I’m honest I thought it would look ‘unprofessional’ or at the very least be perceived at such. So, I got a sew-in instead.
This happened a few years ago and I wish I could say views on braids and natural hair have evolved majorly, but this perception or even depiction of black women’s hair and styles is not something that has been abolished in the distant past. It’s a recurring reality for many black women. When going to an interview, starting a new job or even going to a big meeting the styling of our hair becomes an important factor that needs to be considered. All because of the stigma attached to black women’s hair, which is often labelled as ‘unprofessional’, ‘unkept’ and ‘ghetto.’ Which is ignorant and untrue.
About a month ago, DailyMail published an article which discussed in essence, how when black women don’t straighten their hair, employers deem them to be less professional. The key points stated by the article were that an afro limited job prospects and opportunities for black women, curly hair and braids were seen as less suitable for the workplace whereas, white women with curly hair were viewed as more professional. A similar article was published by the HuffingPost UK last year, the BBC and Teen Vogue published an article in 2017 on the same topic. You have articles dating back to 2012 from publications such as Business Insider and Vice. Showing how long we’ve been having this conversation and how little things have actually changed.
I really want to make this declaration: there is absolutely no correlation between hair and professionalism, the two are not inextricably linked. To think otherwise is genuinely nonsensical. Black hairstyles are not unprofessional and this view stems from deep-rooted biases, some conscious and other unconscious, which glorify western traits such as hair and portray them as the standard of beauty. You shouldn’t be judged by your hair but your work ethic or at the very least your actual CV.
If you feel like you have been judged or discriminated against due to your hair type, texture or your choice in hair style please file a complaint because you are well in your rights to do so. This is actually illegal and is classified as discrimination. Furthermore, if you’re black and you personally find it difficult to view your hair as beautiful or see it as unprofessional, I want to encourage you. You are beautiful, your hair is beautiful and no one should make you feel otherwise. Your beauty, value and intelligence transcends the texture of your hair and hairstyles. Don’t belittle yourself based on societal ignorance.