Natural Hair In The Workplace: Let’s Keep Challenging The Euro-centric Idea Of Beauty
Black women with natural hair are unprofessional.
Well, at least that’s what you could believe if you submitted a Google search for “unprofessional hairstyles”. The images produced by the search are almost all of black woman with natural hair. As well as Google hitting the headlines earlier this year, the BBC also published an article about a black woman who was asked not to wear her natural hair to work and was encouraged to wear weave.
In the US, there are many more articles that share examples of black women being told that their natural hair is not professional. Last year, I myself was told by a colleague, who I’d worked with for 6 years, that she did not recognise me with my hair “so wild”. My hair was styled in a braid out. Not that I should even have to qualify that.
We should not have to spend hundreds of pounds a year for the pleasure of having our scalps burned with chemicals just to fit a corporate image
Black women have been wearing their hair in different styles since the beginning of time so the issue is not whether or not black women should wear weave. The issue is that we should not be expected to wear weave, wigs or straighten our hair. There should not be an expectation for our hair to look the same as white women, because it’s not the same. We should not have to spend hundreds of pounds a year for the pleasure of having our scalps burned with chemicals just to fit a corporate image. And we should not be expected to sit for hours upon hours getting our hair braided or weave sewn in, just to keep our jobs!
In fact, how we wear our hair should not even be a topic of discussion.
I began transitioning from relaxed to natural hair seven years ago when I left the corporate world and became self-employed. Now that I am wearing my hair natural, I do wonder what I’d do if I had to go for a traditional interview. How would I wear my hair? And if I chose to rock my afro puff and didn’t get the job, would I ever know if it was because my natural hair was deemed unprofessional? But, why do we even have to ask ourselves these questions?
OUR HAIR GROWS OUT OF OUR HEAD THIS WAY!
And, if natural hair is seen as untidy, at best, what message does this send to us as black women?What is this doing to our self-esteem? How does this affect our identity and our ability to express ourselves freely and authentically?
When your livelihood is at stake, it can feel easier to hide your natural hair away under weave or in a bun, to stay on the right side of the boss. Or, ignore a negative comment from a colleague, rather than to challenge them.
On Kim Kardashian cornrows are edgy and enhance her public image. Yet, on a black woman they’re unprofessional and can jeopardise her job and career prospects. It’s not right, and it’s not OK.
We are not our hair, but our hair is ours to style as we choose. And it does not affect or impede our ability to do our jobs.
In a recent article in The Voice newspaper, an employment lawyer stated:
“Unless an employer can show that there is a justifiable reason for the ‘wear a weave’ to work dress code, the requirement for employees to comply could be held to be indirect race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.”
We have to continue to challenge this Euro-centric ideal of beauty and call out discrimination as and when we experience it. We are not our hair, but our hair is ours to style as we choose. And it does not affect or impede our ability to do our jobs.
What has been your hair experience in the workplace?
Leanne Lindsey is a freelance blogger for hire specialising in self-improvement, wellbeing and lifestyle topics. She is also a life coach who loves inspiring and motivating women to live happy, healthy lives they love. Visit her website to learn more about her available blogging services and to grab her free guide with tips on how to be happy.