by Quia of My Jet Set Style
There used to be a time when I changed my hair every time I got paid. I’ve rocked a short curly natural, weaves, wigs, a precision razor cut, and have dabbled in every variation of brown in the hair dye spectrum. My hair has been short, long, real, and fake and I wore it all with pride. I even wore blond box braids in the 90s when that sort of thing was in… you know… with the black lip liner and gold lipstick, HA! I kept my friends and coworkers guessing for years and then something happened: I went corporate.
I would occasionally sport a weave in the winter (because it’s warm) but soon I even stopped doing that. I had a standing six-week relaxer and cut appointment with my stylist and my Malinda Williams-esque haircut became my uniform. When I was laid off in 2010 I dyed my hair light brown, but as soon as that color grew out (and was snipped off) I was back to my dark brown hue with zero variation. I never really paid attention to it until recently when I decided I wanted to get braids to make life easier while taking swim lessons. I quickly found an affordable braiding salon near home, read the reviews, looked at the photos and made an appointment—and suddenly started having anxiety.
It’s Q1, recruiting season, and whereas I don’t have any job interviews lined up right now, I was suddenly apprehensive about having an “ethnic hairstyle” in front of people who would be scrutinizing everything about me, not only my professional qualifications. I felt silly. I mean, my first and last name start with the letter “Q.” The proper pronunciation of my name is “Kia Charisma.” I’m not fooling anyone about the fact that I’m non-white. Besides, a quick Google search will remove any mystery of what I look like. Still, I always felt like my dark brown, short hair was safer than braids, locs, or a natural that didn’t have loose curls.
My rational side chided me for my thinking. I know plenty of black women who have straight-laced corporate jobs and “ethnic” hair. What the heck is wrong with me? And then I spoke to a few friends about my feelings, one of whom made her career in human resources. To paraphrase what she said: Heck yeah braids are too black when you’re interviewing! It’s jacked up but that’s just how it is.
But it’s 2014, I thought. Why should that matter if I’m qualified? I could hear the smile in her voice as we joked around about the matter, and whether or not you agree with her opinion, what she said is exactly the thinking that molded me into hair complacency. I am adventurous in my wardrobe, even while interviewing. Don’t expect me to show up dressed in all black, with a white shirt. But I guess the difference in that is, I can change that in an instant. Hair is a more semi-permanent situation (see what I did there?) and I don’t want the interviewers to only identify me by my hair. And now that I think of it, this whole internal struggle of mine makes the token black woman in the “workplace diversity” photos even more absurd to me. She always has a twist-out, or some other natural hairstyle. I’m shading you, corporate diversity stock photo lady. I know you wouldn’t make it past the recruiter with your hair like that unless you were interviewing someplace progressive.
My dilemma followed me into my dreams, and I woke up the following day to chicken out on my mid-back, Senegalese twists. I settled on tree braids. Best of both worlds, I suppose.
Ladies, have you been in this situation? How do you handle job interviews?
Quia is a writer and consultant who blogs at myjetsetstyle.com.