What If Your Employer Thinks Black Hair Is ‘Unprofessional’?

News & Views | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 05/09/2014 | 11:45 AM EDT

While the natural hair movement is becoming a sign of the times, Corporate America hasn’t completely caught up

In a perfect world, men and women of color would return to the afro-wearing days of the ‘70s when everyone was Black and proud. Unfortunately, the crippling and White-washed policies of Corporate America don’t always make the workplace a comfortable environment for people with natural or Black hair. In fact, in many cases it’s more like a war zone.

Defending one’s Blackness is crucial for respect and diversity in the boardroom, but many fear it could be at the expense of their reputation in the office, or worse, their job entirely. While people of color - women in particular - are starting to embrace their natural hair more, employers and managers unfortunately fail to see that anti-afro and anti-dreadlock corporate standards are racialized and discriminatory.

So how exactly do you speak up for yourself (and your race) without jeopardizing your career?


For one, you can take the issue to your Human Resources department. Rather than potentially ending up in a heated debate with your boss, the HR office will have provisions for you and allow you to formally bring up the matter, which will also documented. From there, they can take your concerns to headquarters or, if you want to take matters into your own hands, you could get in contact with them yourself. Write a letter, send an email, and be sure to list your responsibilities at work so that you’re reminding them of the value you bring to the company, regardless of what hairstyle you choose to rock.

Another step you could take is contacting the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. While this may exacerbate the issue, it is a great way to protect yourself from being unfairly punished or fired from your job.

What’s important to convey to your employer in the case that you’re having to defend your natural hair is that it’s totally unfair to ask a person of African or Caribbean descent to level to the hair standards of Whites...not to mention there are also legal ramifications.

As The Root writer Jenée Desmond-Harris points out in a piece:

Hair that belongs to people who identify as black also tends to be more delicate, leading many to choose protective styles that, yes, look different from the styles often chosen by those whose hair cuticles are different shapes. That’s to say nothing of historical and cultural preferences and options for personal expression that people should be allowed to have.

No one wants to be seen as a “trouble maker” in the workspace. But if you say nothing, nothing gets done. The issue of hair politics is something that remains a very real contemporary issue. There was once a time when Corporate America didn’t have to comply, or even think about the needs of Black employees. Fortunately for people of color, now they do. If you feel you’re being discriminated against, speak up.

Don’t sit back in silence while prejudice continues to rear its dirty little head in the American workforce.

(Photo: Ernestine Powell/GettyImages)

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