The question of whether or not one should interview while wearing natural hair is a serious one. After all, if your future boss is a nappy-hair hater with posters on the wall extolling the virtues of straightening one’s kinky roots then walking in with an Angela Davis Afro for your call back could be detrimental—to say the least.
However, the issue is never as black and white as that now is it?
Heck, in this economy it can be difficult to get basic information on how the employer feels about part time v. full time v. flex time—let alone whether or not the firm harbors biases against certain types of hair or skin colors.
Personally I’ve been pretty lucky. Regardless of what jobs I interviewed for or the cities I lived in during the years since I’ve been natural, to my knowledge, I have yet to have an employer take issue with my natural hairstyles. Now colleagues and co-workers, however, were another story. But those stories are for another post.
As I stated in my book:
In my personal experiences as a nappy-headed Black girl in the working world: Black hair was as big or as little of a deal as I made of it… In the beginning, I believed that the working world—both the White and the Black one—was just waiting for me to “nap up” so they could fire me or find some other way to reject my nappiness. But from early on, I decided I was actually ok with that. My thinking was if I got fired or didn’t get a position because of my hair, then this was God’s way of getting me out of an environment that was hostile to me and an impediment to the fulfillment of my purpose…
Like all people of faith, I believed that if I stayed true to who I am and what I believed, then God would have my back—especially with nappy hair. So, I’ve never been one to compromise on my right to commit the “crime” of being a Black woman and wearing ethnically Black hair to work.
But not everyone can say that. Let’s be honest—many of us are at drastically different points in our natural hair journeys. Though I’m fairly confident with my nappiness now, that wasn’t always the case. So what is a newly natural to do one year after her Big Chop when she graduates and has to interview for jobs? How do you balance the desire to get on the salary track with your desire to wear your hair the way it grows out of your head?
The interwebs abound with stories of Black women who were persecuted for wearing ethnically Black (aka “natural”) hair to work. As I noted in my article “Nappy Professional Negros Need Not Apply,” I’ve attended panels and forums where the idea of natural hair at work was frowned upon—even by other women of color. BlackGirlLongHair.com posted a story earlier this year entitled “True Life: My Boss Criticized My Natural Hair in Public.” Every graduation season, chat rooms and Facebook groups dedicated to natural hair seem to overflow with questions about whether or not one should interview with a natural style or a straight wig.
Well meaning friends and family members can also complicate the issue when they either critique or praise one’s natural hair choices.
Admittedly, there are many companies and institutions that frown on locks and other natural hairstyles. But, one of the main reasons they can take that stance is because our community also tends to collectively discriminate against our own hair and sanctions that erroneous belief system.
There are many Black people who validate those beliefs when they reject Black natural hair as being inherently unnatural. In my opinion, many of those employers would not necessarily have the expectation that “combed” or “neat” Black hair looks the same as “straight hair”—if our own internal collective norm did not also carry and reinforce that expectation. Decisions like the one made by Black institutions like Hampton University reinforce the notion that wearing our hair the way God designed it is inherently unnatural and extreme. This further complicates our ability to be Black while wearing Black hair in the workplace.
Truthfully there are no easy answers to this question. Depending on your industry, geographic location and career goals you may have to put some serious thought into whether or not interviewing with natural hair is the right decision for you. But as you weigh your decision, there are some things you need to consider.
1. Know the Risks and Prepare Accordingly: if your workspace is integrated you may have situations where natural hair may become an issue. You can’t avoid ignorant and sometimes racist co-workers completely and wearing natural hair gives those folks one more thing to try to put down.
But guess what? If you work in an all-Black environment you better know that you will have some ignorant, anti-nappy co-workers whose skin looks like yours. (Personally—when I have had issues with natural hair at work it often involved Black people…but again…that’s for another post.) Being able to explain natural hair to other people—both White and Black—is something you will need to know how to do if you plan on going to work while being Black and wearing ethnically Black hair.
2. What Does the Rule Book Say? Knowledge is power and you need to arm yourself by doing your homework ahead of time. You need to be intimately familiar with the rules and regulations that may be in your handbook or employee guidelines that discuss hairstyles as you make your natural hair choices. Admittedly this is more difficult at the interview stage but you’d be surprised what you can find out about a company by doing your research ahead of time.
3. Is this your Ride or Die moment? If this is not the job for you to take your “nappy-headed Black girl stand,” then so be it. If you don’t feel strong enough yet to walk into work with a head full of natural hair then that’s ok. If you are still hair “questioning” and not quite ready, be patient and embrace your process. Continue to empower and educate yourself so that you build up your self-esteem and work place confidence to the point that wearing your hair the way it grows out of your head is no longer an issue.
4. Support The Trailblazers. Some of us have worked in places where perhaps we weren’t brave enough to wear our hair in natural styles—but some of our sisters-in-nappiness were. If this is the case, then do what you can to support those ladies. If their hair comes up in conversation, try to highlight all of the positive aspects that you can. Don’t allow co-workers to denigrate other naturals for the “crime” of being natural. By supporting your sisters, you help create more room for re-defining what is the “norm” in the workplace.
I’m going to be exploring natural hair in the workplace regularly in these pages so I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Sound off in the comments! Do you wear natural or straight styles for your interviews? If you straighten your hair for the interview, what was your “coming out” moment like (i.e. how did your job respond if/when you did decide to wear natural hair to work)? How do you navigate the workplace as a natural head? And if you are someone who wears natural hair to work, consider submitting for the Professional Naturals Project. We’d love to feature your picture and interview in the next few weeks!