Tress Stress – Pt. II (or “Can I Wear this Hair to Work?”)

pro·fes·sion·al

prəˈfeSH(ə)n(ə)l/

adjective

1. 
of, relating to, or connected with a profession.

2. (of a person) engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.

noun

1. 
a person engaged or qualified in a profession.

 

cor·po·rate

ˈkôrp(ə)rət/

adjective

1. 
of or relating to a corporation, especially a large company or group.

noun

1. 
a corporate company or group.

 

As if being a professional isn’t already stressful enough!

Have you ever questioned whether your boss is going to like your new hair(do)? Or whether you should wear your hair like “this” to an interview? Or even pondered how you’re going to explain to your colleagues how your hair magically went from being so short to growing back so fast, all within a matter of days?

For the textured-haired professional, these sorts of considerations are often the norm. As such, hairstyle choices can be a source of great stress when working in a “professional” environment (as if being a professional isn’t already stressful enough!)

 

The corporate interview

While career sites encourage people to wear their hair in the way they feel most comfortable (as long as it’s clean and neat) for an interview, those with textured hair do not enjoy that same luxury.  I learned this lesson for the first time when I was in undergrad, while I was a part of an internship program called Inroads.  At Inroads, we, students of colour, were being groomed for successful careers in the corporate world.  During our Impression Management session, the facilitator spoke to us about our suits, our shoes, the colours that we should wear…and, of course, our hair.

Our facilitator specifically pointed out that the Black interns should avoid wearing braids or cornrows to their interviews. I stood up and asked her what were those of us with natural hair expected to do, since braided styles were often all we wore. She explained to me that we could wear our hair braided, as long as the braids were neat and pulled back. It was her recommendation, however, for us to avoid such hairstyles altogether, lest we forfeit a job opportunity simply because of our hairdo.

I was flabbergasted.

My McGill Law graduation photo. My go-to back then were single extension braids.

My McGill Law graduation photo. My go-to back then were single extension braids.

While I understood the rationale for pulling back your hair back from your face (to allow the interviewer to see you without distractions and to deter you from perhaps playing with your hair out of nervousness), what I did not understand was why, if my hair was clean, braided neatly, and pulled back, it would not be “professional” enough.  Boy, was I naïve to think that my résumé, transcripts, poise, and tidy appearance would be sufficient to land a job!  I thought that what was inside my head was much more important than what was on top of it.  Sadly, this is not the case: your hair matters!

 

 

 

My slicked-back interview bun

My slicked-back interview bun

These days, my day-to-day hairstyles are usually two-strand twists, a twist-out, or an Afro; and, on occasion, I’ll have my own hair cornrowed or braided with extensions.  However, when I go for interviews, my go-to style is usually a slicked-back bun.  I don’t risk the braids, twists, or wearing it out because I don’t want to ruin my chances of landing the job.  There have been times when I have said to myself, “Well, if they [prospective employer] don’t like my hair the way it is, then maybe I shouldn’t work there”.  But then I catch myself.  I figure, “maaaaybe it’s better for me to get the job first, and then ‘feel them out’ to see if they’re gonna be okay with my hair”, rather than have myself counted out of the running from the beginning—just because of my hairstyle choice.

 

At my Call to the Bar (Swearing-In) ceremony

At my Call to the Bar (Swearing-In) ceremony

Side view - Call to the Bar 'do

Side view – Call to the Bar ‘do

Back view - Call to the Bar 'do

Back view – Call to the Bar ‘do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the job

So, once you get the job, what happens next? You’re obviously expected to look “professional” on a day-to-day basis.  The problem is, by default, most “Black” hairstyles are considered to be unprofessional.

Although textured-haired professionals went to the same schools and work just as hard as their straight-haired counterparts, many times our capabilities and our corporate “fit” are questioned on the basis of our hairdos.  Why? Because braids, ‘locks, and other “ethnic” hairdos carry certain negative connotations: they are perceived to be political, threatening, or examples of “unkempt” hair.

And then there’s the double-standard…Unlike straightened hair, natural hair cannot be worn down- it’s worn out! While it is acceptable for a straight-haired woman to wear her hair down in the office, which is  equivalent to me wearing mine in an Afro, there are only certain corporate settings which would accept an Afro as a “professional” hairstyle.

Then, there’s the mystique of the “ever-changing hairdo”.  Black women are by no means the only ones to wear extensions or hairpieces, but somehow, we manage to baffle people every time we decide to change our ‘dos (I’m guessing it’s because of the frequency?)  I have tried to be patient with my responses to queries about the “dynamic” nature of my hair growth, using them as teaching moments; but I would be lying if I said that sometimes I don’t find it annoying, having to explain why my hair was short on Friday and then super-long on Monday!

 

How do you wear your hair to job interviews or to work? Have you ever experienced tress stress in the workplace? 

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4 thoughts on “Tress Stress – Pt. II (or “Can I Wear this Hair to Work?”)

  1. sharon mundle says:

    As most people know I sport dread locks and as a transit supervisor its sad to say most professional treat me with little to no respect. When dealing with our emergency response services am being judge by my appearance. It’s only when I am being spoken too do they realize my intellengence.

    Like

    • ndijaanderson says:

      That must be really frustrating for you, especially in a managerial position like yours! It’s unfair that you are being denied respect simply because you wear locs (especially since they are immaculate). Maybe we need to start including hair as a topic in diversity training modules.

      Like

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