Review: Black Women, Their Hair and the Workplace

It’s become popular again for women of color to sport their naturally kinky or curly looks. This shift in women owning their natural looks has sparked a conversation on what is considered professional for Black women and their hair in the work environment.

Is an afro considered professional? For generations hairstyles generally worn by African Americans like locs or braids have been considered unprofessional by the conservative workplace. Many candidates for a job have been either forced to change their style or not be considered for the job all.

This Wednesday the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies convened work professionals as well as employers to dialogue about the reality of professionalism and hair in the workplace. The dialogue included perceptions of black women’s hair and how it may or may not impact their image or work.

“The harsh reality is that as long as you are working for someone else you’re in their culture… nobody cares.” Panelist James M. Bailey, CEO for the Atlanta Market of global non-profit Operation HOPE, had no problem taking on the role of antagonist as he gave his advice on natural hair and the young professional developing their own image and brand.

“Pay attention to the cues and the exact culture you’re going to be operating in.” VP of Human Resources for the Metro Atlanta Chamber, Pam Beckerman said.  If you are working or interviewing to work in a conservative work environment your style of dress should match the environment.

The panelist gave good insight on what employers are looking for. Bailey for example pointed out that he would receive around 900 resumes to one job posting. The last thing an employer wants to do is scan through hundreds of resumes. A good referral could be all you need to land a job. “It’s about relationships and how you leverage them. You’ve got to get beyond your resume.” Bailey said.

Clark Atlanta Director of Leadership and Professional Development, Donnita Raglin pointed out that many graduates feel they are ready for corporate America, but when they enter the job market “it’s a washout” Raglin said. “You have to start early with the internships and co-ops that’s where the (job) exposure comes.”

The conversation started to become a talk on corporate etiquette. However, Natasha Daniels, Legislative Analyst, PR professional and actual wearer of natural hair brought the discussion back to what is considered a professional style of headdress for a black woman with natural hair.

“It’s important to look well-kept and polished…hair should be pulled back of your face. Not Wild! Makeup and accessories should be minimal.” Daniels advised.

Sounds simple enough, but other naturals felt certain social stigma or negative connotation of having kinky hair was being avoided in the dialogue.

“I feel like the issue of black hair is being skirted around a little bit. We are talking about being polished and interview skills but no one’s addressing that natural black hair has been viewed as unpolished on its own weather its cared for or not.” Georgia State student Nakisha McNeal commented.

The panelist pointed out that straightening natural hair or wearing your locs pinned back and out of your face is intended to help a job candidate fit in to a conservative work environment, and the importance of conforming to what is the norm when entering a “system”.

There was a small sigh from disheartened naturals hoping to hear that yes, you can wear your hair wild and free or in a giant ‘fro and corporate America has to accept it because your black, but that’s false.

However, it is possible to achieve a neat and prim look with any kind of natural hairstyle. Professionalism and natural hair is possible.