Last week I attended a lovely natural hair event put together for graduate students in different programs (public health, medicine, dentistry, law, etc) at my school. In addition to sharing stories about why we went natural, discussing the delicate line between rocking your hair proudly and judging others who might not be natural, and debating on whether natural hair is here to stay, one of the questions that came up was natural hair and professionalism. Since the majority of us have been in school longer than we’ve worked, and some attendees are finishing up this year, the focus of the conversation was on whether or not to wear your natural hair in it’s textured, unstraightened state for a job interview.
Two stories were shared that I think capture the kinds of questions that come up when deciding how to wear your hair for a job interview. For one woman, whose hair was in a big blowout for the event, her family urged her to straighten her hair before interviewing at a law firm. She disagreed, they argued, words were shared. However, she stuck to her guns and did not straighten, and it turned out that two of the people she met throughout the day were black women, and one of them also had natural hair! Needless to say, her parents had made much ado about nothing. On the other hand, another woman did decide to straighten her hair for an interview. She got the job, but then proceeded to be worried about whether she should wear her hair straight, and for how long could she keep that up while maintaining her sanity (she admitted she was fronting) and hair health. Not up to a month on the new job, she stopped straightening and came into work with her textured hair and got so many compliments! Again, she was worried for no reason. Someone joked that they would wear their hair straight or in a weave at least until their 90 day probationary period had passed, then they’d know they were safe.
Interestingly enough, the decision on how to wear your hair when job hunting isn’t made based on how long you’ve been natural, how long your hair is, or how confident you are with your hair. Before I went natural in college, there was one girl in one of the classes above me who wore her hair in a large afro on a regular basis. In my opinion, she was more or less the poster child for natural hair on my campus; while she wasn’t overly vocal about her hair, she wore it out with such confidence that she served as one of my inspirations for going natural. In retrospect, her hair probably wasn’t actually fro’ed out; she more than likely wore twist outs and the like. Fast forward to the present day, I noticed on Facebook that for the past year or so, she has been wearing straight weaves/wigs. I didn’t ask her why the change, so the rest is just my assumption, but she is in her third year of law school and hoping to find work at a law firm. It’s a possibility that she decided that her fro wouldn’t help in that process, and opted for a straight look — despite the fact that she’s been natural for at least 5 years. Another one of my college acquaintances wanted braids or twists to give her hair a break, but felt like she had to wear it in a “sleek bun” for interviews, as braids/twists would make her subject to hair politics “out in the real world”. Finally, one of my homegirls, who has been working in finance for almost two years, and has probably been wearing small braids for the past 8 or so years of her life, made the decision to wear her short natural hair out at work on a daily basis around six months ago. It has been a transition for her, but at the end of the day, her ability to do great work has not changed at all; her hair is simply an accessory that has changed.
Even though some people argue that hair professionalism varies by industry, I think we do more harm than good by feeling like we cannot work in a corporate environment if our hair isn’t straight. Ultimately, natural hair in the workplace just needs to be normalized; once employers in ALL industries see enough of us wearing our hair, it won’t become a topic of conversation. Now that I’m on the job market myself (in the nonprofit sector), this issue has become more pressing and I actually have to think about it for my life instead of just writing about it. I wasn’t planning on rolling up to an interview with my hair in a big blowout or a huge side-puff, but I’m not sure that I need to pull all my hair back or hide it to feel more confident in my ability to convince an employer that they need me to help them be great. I still need to think some more about what styles exactly I’m going to use, but honestly, I’ll probably worry about my outfit and prepping for interview questions a whole lot more.