How Embracing Your Curls In The Workplace Can Make You Shine



May 5 2014, Published 5:59 a.m. ET

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It’s time to say goodbye to the stigmas around natural hair and its alleged “unprofessionalism,” in the workplace.

The natural hair trend is “more than just a hashtag,” as Kerisha Harris says in her article for Fusion.

And the numbers show it! Harris’ report also cites the metrics behind the natural hair movement. According to Mintel, only 21% of black people are purchasing products’ with chemical relaxers.

Sales of chemical relaxers are continuing to decrease, in fact, chemical relaxers took a 26% decline in sales in 2008 and another 15% decline in 2011. Even so, the black hair care industry remains a booming business, as people start to lean towards more curl-friendly products.

As more and more black women begin to explore curly hairstyles, the issue of natural hair in the workplace continues to arise. There are several horror stories about racism and discrimination, telling us why we shouldn’t risk wearing our natural hair in the workplace, but it is important to challenge these ideas.

Here are three concepts that can steer away critics’ fears:

Revealing a New Side to Your Confidence

Here’s the truth- we are heavily judged by the way that we communicate, dress, and carry ourselves. However, we can look at this fact from a positive perspective! Wearing your natural hair in the workplace can show that you are comfortable with your image and your uniqueness- that you are confident in who you are as an individual. This can be beneficial to your career, as you model an authenticity that is not only present in your personal life, but also your work life.

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Me Before & After The Cut

Before I made the decision to go natural, my long, straight hair was one of my most prized traits about myself; it was what set me apart from other black girls, and without it, all of my beauty would disappear alongside it. Now, not only do I feel more true to my curly hair, but I have also redefined my definition of beauty. Embracing my natural hair has only been one part in my journey to finding my voice, but it has also been one of many life experiences that has catapulted me towards a path less taken.

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Making Diversity a Reality

In his column, “Ask the White Guy,” for DiversityInc, Luke Visconti writes, “Psychological tests show that people most trust people who look like them. Since white men run most corporations in this country, straightened hair and/or lighter skin is going to be an advantage.” Even so, as more companies realize the benefits of diversifying, this concept can begin to change.

Huffington Post points to the study, “Risk and Reward,” conducted by The League of Black Women Global Research Institute in 2011. The article reports, “…professional black women made up only one percent of U.S. corporate officers, despite the fact that 75 percent of corporate executives believed that having minorities in senior level positions enables innovation…” While diversity rates are not yet there, we can hone in on the potential of this fact. The desire for diversity is real; it is just a matter of making it happen.

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Luke Visconti goes on to say that companies who break the pattern of biased hiring and promote a more diverse workplace have more talented teams. He strongly states, “…a corporate culture that is so out of touch with reality as to not have good diversity management is not a good place for anyone to work–not just Black people.”

Carving a Path for Others

Those who have already embraced their curls can serve as inspiration for other women who are interested experimenting with their natural hair. I had the pleasure of speaking to a graduate of Harvard University, Dr. Victoria A. Love, who found the inspiration to embrace the hairstyle of her choice during her college years:

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“Making the decision to wear dreadlocks didn’t happen until I left Southern California. I went to the east coast, did a summer internship at Brown University, and wound up going to MIT for a seminar. There, I ran across some African American graduate students who had really long dreadlocks and were attending MIT. When I saw that, I realized that there were a lot of scholarly people- educated people- who really embrace this style. In a sense, it freed me to make that choice.”

Lori Jones, a 2013 graduate of Allegheny College, also discussed her natural hair journey and the power of seeing inspirational examples:

“My strongest connection to natural hair is through the internet, like the natural hair communities online, so to see it live is always amazing to me. Even though we know from online that there are black women out there with natural hair, it is an entirely different thing to see it in person.”

Just like Lori said, we know that more and more women are embracing their natural hair, but there is something powerful about seeing it.

Whether women choose to wear their hair straight or curly, long or short, and so on, it should be a decision that they are able to make without fear that it will impact their career. For those who do live with this fear- taking a risk and saying, “This is who I am, and this is what my hair looks like,” can definitely bring about positive change. As more women embrace their curls, having natural hair will not only show black women’s professionalism, but it will also highlight their confidence in themselves.

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