DO EMPLOYERS REALLY HATE NATURAL HAIR?
“I WEAR RELAXED HAIR TO LOOK MAINSTREAM, TO APPEASE MY EMPLOYER, TO MAKE HIM FEEL LESS THREATENED, MORE COMFORTABLE, TO TAKE MY HAIR OUT OF HIS PROMOTION EQUATION”.
What about “This is who I am.” “This is my authentic self.” “Why can’t I, instead of my boss, decide what kind of hairstyle is acceptable for work”? Sound familiar? You probably have spoken some version of these statements to express disapproval with workplace policies opposing certain natural hairstyles. Like many Black women, you cite certain school dismissals and corporate firings as proof some employers intentionally establish workplace appearance policies to oppose certain natural hairstyles: seven year old Tiana Parker’s temporary dismissal from her Tulsa Oklahoma school for wearing dreadlocks1; Ashley Davis’ firing from her St. Peter Missouri loan company for refusing to cut off her dreadlocks2; Rhonda Lee’s dismissal after responding to a negative social media comment about her close-cropped natural hairstyle3. Can employers justify their workplace appearance policies restricting natural hairstyling?
You consider their decisions not justifiable since many employers create teams failing to develop workplace dress codes accounting for ethnicity, gender, lifestyle, and culture differences or to reflect the important role hairstyling plays in those differences. These situations frustrate you because a wrong hairstyle decision can stifle your progress when working in very conservative environments. They also frighten you because an unpopular hairstyle choice can prompt potential clients to not seriously consider doing business with you or your employer: possible income losses for your employer resulting in a possible job loss for you.
Your frustrations and fears come from two realities. Your reality is wearing natural hairstyles in a workplace uncomfortable with that behavior. Your employer’s reality is staying profitable and maintaining workplace harmony and productivity while employees like you, both valuable and productive, wear hairstyles threatening those workplace conditions. In the long run, these two realities cannot co-exist. Left unresolved, your employer will suffer workplace inefficiencies, higher operating costs, and lower profit margins. You will experience higher job dissatisfaction, poorer job performance, fewer enjoyable colleague relationships, and greater job insecurity. Someone must reconcile these realities for you and your employer to harmoniously and profitably exist. Since natural hairstyling more directly involves, affects, and pertains to your lifestyle and career, you should take the lead in this reconciliation. You make the first move by exercising the following three steps. They will reconcile the two realities, eliminate some of your workplace frustrations and fears, and at least make your employer more receptive to changing workplace appearance policies.
First, share some of the blame for workplace appearance policies existing today. Your employer is solely responsible but not solely blameworthy for establishing sectarian workplace dress codes. You and other Black women “have skin” in this matter. Partly fault yourself for your employer’s negative reaction to you appearing at work wearing some of the worse examples of natural hairstyling. You decide to wear the artiest, flamboyant braids, extremely disheveled Afros, and severely unstructured dreadlocks fully aware that behavior will challenge, even violate employer appearance policies and upset workplace harmony. The resulting disharmony and impending dress code violations force your employer to take immediate action against you. To restore harmony and enforce dress codes, your employer focuses on your appearance instead of your job performance, resulting in discipline against you ranging from poorer performance reviews, denied promotions, sudden transfers or firings, to creating workplace dress codes banning all employees in the future from wearing natural hairstyles.
You stand partly to blame for these treatments. By you not wearing natural hair in its most gorgeous styles, your employer does not gain any knowledge about or experience with natural hair’s great beauty. That lack of knowledge keeps your employer subconsciously ignorant about natural hair’s great beauty potential. In the long run, your employer will continue creating and enforcing workplace dress codes based on that unaware ignorance and inexperience. In the immediate, your employer will not consider your freedom to wear natural hairstyles a justifiable business reason for changing workplace dress codes.
If you wear natural hair in its best workplace styles--conservative braids instead of flamboyant ones, well-groomed Afros instead of disheveled ones, structured hairlocks(namely, Sisterlocks™) instead of unstructured dreadlocks, and a bald head instead of scalp itching, sweat-generating wigs--your employer will experience and eventually appreciate its beauty. Observing your natural hair at its best, your employer will acknowledge its beauty and not hesitate to develop or revise workplace dress policies supportive of your natural hairstyling.
Second, stop expecting employers to support all natural hairstyles. They will not support natural hairstyles threatening workplace harmony and productivity. Flamboyant, disheveled, and unstructured natural hairstyles threaten those conditions. They disrupt fellow employee attention spans and thought processes, prompt colleagues to give you disapproving stares, and embolden them to express discomfort with your presence. These situations interrupt work flow and bring negative attention to you and your immediate supervisors. Your employer will not support natural hairstyles causing these reactions. Conservative, well-groomed, structured, and bald hairstyles will not cause negative reactions. They make you attractive and appear friendly, approachable, and fit for group work. Flamboyant, disheveled, and unstructured natural hairstyles do not.
Third, only wear your natural hair in styles best harmonizing with your facial features, professional business attire, and employer images. Flamboyant, unstructured, and disheveled natural hairstyles do not. These hairstyles misrepresent the true beauty of your natural hair, collide with your work apparel, and conflict with images and reputations your employer greatly spends time and money to develop, market, and protect. Only don conservative braids(common parallel rows and plaits created without human or synthetic hair extensions), well-groomed Afros(from the various faded haircuts and very-short, all-one-length Caesar hairstyles, to the one-inch-long tapered, rounded ones), Sisterlocks™(exquisite hairlocks created without styling products), and a bald head(completely-shaven skull). Yes, a bald head! No hairstyle outshines a bald head’s ability to accentuate a Black women’s physical beauty. Bald heads, along with conservative braids, well-groomed Afros, and Sisterlocks™, gorgeously adorn Black women and add flair, beauty, diversity, and appeal to your employer’s advertisements. No reasonable employer will establish dress codes restricting hairstyles adding that type of value to their advertisements.
1. The Great Hair Dilemma, Essence Magazine, Helena Andrews, January 2014, pages 48-49.
2. The Great Hair Dilemma, Essence Magazine, Helena Andrews, January 2014, pages 48-49.
3. The Great Hair Dilemma, Essence Magazine, Helena Andrews, January 2014, pages 48-49.