If you’re a Black woman in America working in corporate America, I’m sure you have a hair story. I know I do – I actually have a few.
My hair chronicles started many years ago when I was a young television reporter trying to follow the traditional standard of “on-air hair” and they followed me into corporate America. Let me explain, it’s hair that’s long and straight and Black women have worn weaves and wigs to fit in.
I’ll be honest, I wear my hair straight 99% of the time. My hair gets really tangled so I do more damage when I don’t. The few times I’ve worn my natural curly hair to work, earlier in my career my white bosses asked what I “did” to my hair and when was I going to change it back (to straight). One said my hair was too “fluffy” for a crisis meeting in the C-suite, another said I couldn’t be a leader with “ethnic” hair. She couldn’t explain what that meant, but I’m ashamed to admit I listened to the rhetoric and spent countless hours in the hair salon.
However, those monthly visits weren’t possible during the early days of the pandemic. Despite encouraging texts from my hairstylist, it was a disaster. I spent hours trying curly styles that I thought could be acceptable for the new normal of endless video meetings. The time and money I spent trying to assimilate within corporate culture was exhausting.
For those that don’t know, natural hair is described as hair of those from African descent that has not been straightened or altered by chemical products. According to a national study by the Crown Coalition, Black women are 80% more likely to change their natural hair to fit in at the office. I am one of the 80%.
Many of us are still judged or even fired for the way we wear our hair to work. It’s hair discrimination and racial discrimination. Fortunately, the growing online movement #theCROWNact (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) is helping untangle Black hair stereotypes. And empowering us to embrace the curls and let the world know, no matter how we style our hair, it does not impact our ability to be leaders and do our jobs.
I’m proud my company Unum has recently updated its dress code policy: We encourage employees to consider what would make them feel most authentic and comfortable in the workplace. Unum does not discriminate upon the basis of race-based hairstyles.
This week my hair is in twists and it was liberating! Next week maybe braids?
I’ve had people ask me what to do and what to say to help eradicate systemic racism. I encourage leaders to engage different perspectives. Now’s the time to listen, have uncomfortable conversations and give people of color the opportunity to be seen and heard.
My hope is that my 5-year-old multiracial niece, with lots of light brown curls, a pure heart and kind spirit doesn’t worry about her hair when she grows up and studies to be a veterinarian. Instead, she’ll know she’s a pretty Brown girl who knows one day she can change. the. world. That’s what Beyoncé says.