Ask The Expert
Short Hair in the Corporate World
In the summer of 2011, I was interning at a news station in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was elated to have landed the internship, and it was part of my years long process to figure out what I wanted to study in graduate school.
Before I started the internship, my mother expressed her concern about my hair. She asked me to grow my hair out because she thought it would hinder my professional opportunities. I told her “no” because I was convinced that my talent and intelligence would outweigh my hairstyle. At the station, there were two young black women who were reporters, and I told them about my mother’s concern. They told me that I could wear my shaved look, that it could actually help me to stand out in my possible career of broadcast journalism.
I told my mom about the conversation, but she still asked me to grow my hair. I could have gotten mad, but I didn’t. I mean, what could I expect? My mother worked in law firms for over thirty years where she was the only one, except for the one time she was “lucky” enough to be one of two. In largely white and male corporate environments, black women can be implicitly and explicitly forced to sacrifice one of our biggest forms of expression for the sake of fitting into cultural and corporate norms.
So, how can we handle moving up the corporate ladder without downgrading our self-expression and self-esteem? Two women, Kine Corder (financial advisor and prosperity coach) and Meshae (social media coordinator at UPS), share their experiences.
Many black women, especially in corporate America, are concerned with how their hair will impact their workplace experience. Have you ever faced backlash for your hairstyle? If so, how did you deal with it?
Kine: I have never faced backlash in the workplace because of my hairstyle because I am proactive. I work in finance now and there is a certain way a financial advisor is perceived. You do not expect to see your financial advisor in khaki pants or jeans. You don’t expect your financial advisor to have on the trendiest stilettos and you don’t expect to see your financial advisor with an afro or with the trendiest hair cut either. First of all, you don’t expect your financial advisor to be a woman so if she is going to compete with the boys she better look the part.
In corporate America, you have enough unforeseen obstacles against you so you should take control of the ones you can control.
Meshae: I’ve always heard rumors about what styles are allowed in my office, but I’ve never personally been approached about my natural hair. When I started working here about 2 years ago, I was transitioning from a short, relaxed pixie cut to my current style — tapered natural coils. I literally “Amber Rose’d” it so my coils could grow in the way I wanted them to. That haircut was no sweat, though. My biggest hesitation was when I decided to color my hair. I waited about 16 months and decided to get only my crown dyed. Finally, I went to get my entire head done, and while I was hesitant, my coworkers and managers loved it.
My only advice about “dealing” with resistance is to be confident.
What advice would you give to a woman who wants to “fit in” with her work environment without totally sacrificing her individuality?
Kine: My advice would be if you want a trendy hair cut, choose one that you can give a conservative look too during the week and wild out on the weekend. (Hopefully, you don’t run into your CEO or one of your judgmental clients.)
Meshae: Always remember, it’s possible to rock your beautiful natural hair without compromising your job or your identity. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. As an individual, you have to decide which “rules” you’re willing to accommodate for the sake of keeping your job. While I work in a somewhat diverse corporate office, there are times that I am the only African-American woman in the room. However, I’ve never felt uncomfortable about the way I look. My hair is an extension of myself, so it’s not something I’m going to hide or style in a way I’m not proud of. As long as my hair is well-maintained, it shouldn’t matter whether I’m rocking an afro or a silk press. You have to discern what “well-maintained” means to and for you. We each have our own uniqueness and we have to treat that uniqueness with care. Instead of fitting in, I want to contribute to my work environment by using my differences as assets because that’s what they are. I personally refuse to work anywhere that I’m unable to be my whole self. I’ll take my hair and my magic elsewhere.
I wouldn’t say my goal is to “fit in” and it shouldn’t be anyone else’s goal.
What are some easy ways corporate women can easily add flair to their hairstyle and stay work appropriate?
Kine: In my opinion, changing your hairstyle often can help you feel stylish. For example, wear it short and sassy one week, cute and curly another week, bone straight another week, and slick back another week. Show your face off and let them see your cheekbones, then go with bangs later. Change it up, and you will feel stylish.
Another way is to add color. I love color, but there are still limitations to color in corporate America. Highlights are a good way to add flair. But be careful because color can compromise the health of your hair. If you are going to add color stay on top of your moisturizing shampoo and conditioner treatments. No co-shampoo with color. You can go light with color, but remember to match your own skin tone. Don’t copy someone’s color because it looks good on them. Be sure that it will look good on you. When your look can cost you money, focus on what counts.
What are your favorite short styles for women in the workplace?
Kine: I am a huge fan of the bob, especially when it is on dark hair. Chinese bob, as we called it in the 90’s when I was a natural hair stylist, is my favorite. I also love the short tapered cut with long swooped bangs. My sister is also a stylist and she was always good at precision cuts that shaped the face, the nape of the neck and could be brushed or combed in different directions. These cuts are usually the most flexible.
Meshae: Over the last several years, I’ve gone back and forth between natural and relaxed styles. Because I absolutely love and adore pixie cuts, I’ve occasionally sacrificed months of natural hair livin’ for a relaxed “Halle Berry” look. Short hair is definitely my thing. So, I obviously love pixie cuts, but I also LIVE for a well-shaped tapered cut. I’ve seen some of my colleagues rock really nice bobs, too – asymmetrical and otherwise. I may be crazy, but I think the confidence and versatility that comes with Black hair lends itself to our confidence and versatility in the workplace. To me, a short hair style says “I’m courageous. I’m here to do my job and whether you like it or not, I’m going to look amazing while I do it.”
Kine, you’re an entrepreneur, and some may feel that entrepreneurs have more freedom to have more “edgy” styles. Do you feel more free to try those styles?
Kine: No. I don’t because I am conservative by nature, and my industry dictates my style limitations. If you look at my Facebook page, you will see my styles are pretty basic. Where you may see me push the envelope a little is with my shoes. My hair, however, is usually pretty conservative even on the weekends. I wear a soft curl or wear it bone straight most of the time.
I like medium length — long hair is considered sexy and finances is not sexy. LOL!
Well, unless I am doing it… Those of you who know me know I bring sexy, humor, and fabulous to finances. I try to lighten it up, but there is only so much control I have over that.
Is there any specific advice you have for women who work for themselves as far as their style?
Kine: The number one advice is own it. Whatever you do, do it with confidence. That being said, don’t be rude. Don’t call attention to yourself for the sake of calling attention. Be subtle. Subtle is underrated. If you are going to call attention to yourself, you better know your stuff. Don’t get attention and then be average. You better be the best. This advice is true whether you own the company or work for someone.
If you work for someone you better know the rules (including the unspoken ones), and if you choose to break them, wait until you have some power. You will never get the power if everyone thinks you are a rebel. Rebels don’t get promoted —they get pushed out. If you want in, be willing to compromise a little.
Sacrifice a little and when you get to the top, set the trend!