Is There A Place For Natural Hair In The Workplace?


With the rise of the “Natural Hair Movement,” more and more women of color are ditching the relaxers and chemicals and embracing their natural roots, twists, curls, and coils. Hairstyles that we all grew up with, such as the classic box braids, cornrows, and the “fro,” have all resurfaced and made their way into mainstream media, celebrity culture, and the fashion world. Earlier this year, R&B singer Beyoncé famously rocked blonde cornrows on the cover of her hit album entitled “Lemonade.”

Somewhere down the line, it seemed as if we came to the realization that harsh chemicals and extreme tension hairstyles led to breakage, balding, or even worse. We learned the art of “protective hairstyling” and that we could rock the hair that we were born with with pride and confidence. Now anyone who’s been on or preparing to embark on a “natural hair journey” knows that it is no easy venture.

Deprogramming ourselves from the thought that straight hair is better, easier to maintain, and more beautiful is a mindset that is hard to unravel. It may take months or sometimes even years to undo the damage to one’s hair, which in some cases means totally starting from scratch, which inevitably means “the big chop.” But after a few months of hit and miss hairstyles and awkward lengths, something wonderful begins to happen and you look in the mirror and see your wonderful coils and strands and utter “I look good!”

For many individuals, hair is considered a person’s identity. When we look at the journey of hair acceptance within the black community, we have fought long and hard to diminish the stereotypes of “good hair” vs. “bad hair”. Numerous celebrities within the black community have contributed to the hair acceptance journey. In 2006, neo-soul artist India Arie released the song “I Am Not My Hair,” which later became an anthem to women of color to feel beautiful in their natural hair and skin.

But with this new revolution in black hair care, where do these styles fit in the workplace? Is it still deemed “unprofessional” to rock a “fro” at work? Unfortunately, in the year 2016, the simple fact is that this is sad but true.

In 2007, ABC News created a firestorm when they reported offensive comments made by then Glamour Magazine Editor Ashley Baker. According to the story, news broke when Baker spoke to a group of lawyers regarding the “dos and don’ts of corporate fashion.” Everything seemed normal until Baker presented a slideshow that featured an African American woman sporting a “fro” with the below caption reading “Just say no to the fro.” As expected, outrage occurred after the presentation, eventually leading to Baker’s resignation. The magazine later went onto to host a “Women, Race, & Beauty” panel that explored the “culture of beauty” and explored the topic of ethnic hairstyles in the workplace.

This of course raises the question, what does my hair have to do with how I perform my job?

“It’s all about how you style your hair. It’s how our hair grows from our scalp, so how can someone call it ‘unprofessional?'”Shakiya Gardner, Hampton University Graduate and Founder/CEO, Hair by Kiyagee

Over the past few years, reports of men and women of color getting denied certain jobs because of refusal to change their hairstyles has steadily continued to increase. Shockingly, many people in the business world feel that wearing their hair in its ‘natural state’ makes people feel uncomfortable and uneasy and feel that some styles are not appropriate for Corporate America. Unfortunately, there have been reports of employers of all races, including those of color, who have in not so many words, suggested that their employees “remove” their braids or extensions. There have even been reports of individuals within our own community that feel that certain hairstyles can be distracting or unprofessional. It seems that we still have a long way to go, not only with hair acceptance within our own community but also in the corporate world as well.

We’d love to hear from you! Do you feel like there is a place for natural hairstyles in the workplace? What experiences have you dealt with regarding your natural hairstyles in the workplace?


Photo Credit: Blogger Nikisha Riley
Shannan Burrell

Campus Contributor

Shannan Dione Burrell was born in Heidelberg, Germany. Growing up, she thrived in the areas of performing arts, participating in dance, theater, and music. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, in 2010 and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Film and Video at American University, Washington D.C., where she is scheduled to graduate May of 2017. Shannan has always had a passion for volunteering and helping others within her community. She has been an active member of her church Emmanuel AME Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Throughout her years at Emmanuel, she has participated in numerous ministries including the Praise Dance Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, Youth Ministry, and Women’s Ministry. Shannan grew up a member of the Girl Scouts of America organization. Her 12 years as a Girl Scout prepared her to become an effective volunteer within the community and a role model for young women. Shannan is currently volunteering with the Best Kids mentoring program in Washington, D.C., which specializes in mentoring inner city youth and foster children. Shannan also has a passion and vison for storytelling through media. She has over 10 years of experience within the media field, which includes numerous internships with companies including Arena Stage Theater in Washington D.C., The Ft. Belvoir Eagle Newspaper in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, Clear Channel Communications in Rockville, Maryland and Gannett/USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Her many years of experience have prompted her to write, direct, and produce over 15 original productions for her church and community. Shannan’s mentors and role models are that of her family, church family, and fellow aspiring African American women in the media field such as Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey, who have worked at paving the way for minority storytellers within the entertainment industry. Shannan hopes one day to open up a production company for minorities, which will inspire, motivate, and empower them to follow their passions through the arts. Shannan’s favorite scripture is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” She credits this verse for inspiring her to overcome all obstacles within her life and to work hard to succeed and excel at being a good role model for young women within her church and community.

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Walker's Legacy is a growing global women in business collective founded to establish networks of empowerment and access for women of color in business.