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I’m Highly Qualified, Looking For Work… And Paranoid That Black Hair Styles Will Disqualify Me

Avatar • Mar 16, 2014

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.

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sarah
sarah
6 years ago

You women who think like this are crazy. My white manager loves when I wear my hair in an afro however, truth be told most NATURAL haired women will take issue with you for thinking you would subject their reputation with that mess. The only people who are going to have a problem with your hair are BLACK people and maybe the southern Baptist racist. No normal, rational person is going to take issues with the natural state of a Black women’s hair, that’s insane and who would want to work with someone that stupid???? So go to interviews with… Read more »

KinsleyOwl
KinsleyOwl
6 years ago
Reply to  sarah

Yes, Black people tend to police and outright harass other Black people when it comes to things like this. But Black people learned these behaviors from White people in the first place. It has been literally beaten into us and, actually, the White people who willingly accept natural hair now can range from those looking to hire indiscriminately to those who are completely ignorant of the history and racial politics behind Black hair and are just fascinated with it. You know, the people who just think it’s ‘cool’ or ‘different/interesting’ and are ‘glad we got over our apparent autogenous hatred of… Read more »

cookeie
cookeie
6 years ago
Reply to  sarah

Hot damn! I couldn’t have said it better myself! One thing I have come across on my journey, is that there are always the texturizer police! Yes we all know who they are! lol I even had one black woman accuse me of “THINKING” I had that“good hair” and yes she was in South Carolina. She continued to point out that I didn’t have “good hair” when I said my hair was natural, she just couldn’t BELIEVE it!!! and wondered why I was wearing my hair “Like THAT?” You know, since I didn’t have “good hair” and all. (Basically, if… Read more »

Mika
Mika
6 years ago
Reply to  cookeie

True, True. Black women care much more about appearance, and much more about other people’s appearance, then people of other races. I think black women cause ALL of black women’s issues. You don’t see white women hounding other women’s who’s hair does not look silky and bouncy like in those shampoo commercials, because they don’t care. Some women feel like they look their best if they follow what the media tells them they are supposed to look like, out of VANITY not out of concern for other people’s opinion, that’s what black women don’t get. Black women act like their… Read more »

ro
ro
6 years ago
Reply to  sarah

I wouldn’t say women who think this way are crazy (lol) but definitely overthink things. I used to be like that. In my experience the only people that have problems or make really rude comments about my hair are BLACK WOMEN. I’ve been living in a predominantly white area of Germany for the last few months and this was when I learned to LOVE my hair the way it is (after almost 3yrs being natural). People don’t have an issure with my hair here AT ALL; getting a job as a student & the only black female in my company… Read more »

Stacie Reeves
Stacie Reeves
6 years ago
Reply to  sarah

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/24/new-company-policy-forces-woman-to-cut-dreadlocks_n_4159369.html

While it may not be happening to you, it is happening to some women. I can link a couple of other instances that have made the news, and one on here where a woman’s natural hair was in issue in the work place. It’s not just paranoia, it does happen. That being said its great that you work in an environment where your natural hair is accepted.

V.
V.
6 years ago
Reply to  Stacie Reeves

Exactly, there are little Black girls who have been kicked out school because they dared to wear their locs and their fros. Of course, school isnt the corporate world, but if they can be denied an education at such a young age, surely the way they perceive themselves will be informed by such a traumatic event. To the OP, it may sound crazy for you since you work in an environment where it’s okay to wear your hair, and I too agree, that is absolutely phenomenal. But sadly, it is not as common as we would like to think. There… Read more »

cacey
cacey
6 years ago

wow im not even worried about that. i’m just trying to LAND a job. i don’t know what to do to find one, but i’ve been shooting out applications to some of every place, with no luck. i don’t have anything bad in my work history or my resume, and i just graduated college this past december. can anyone help me out? (besides mentioning the following: the job boards on the internet (careerbuilder, jobs, indeed, monster, snagajob etc. because i already have profiles with them) and the department of labor (those guys do absolutely nothing). I don’t have much of… Read more »

Dananana
Dananana
6 years ago
Reply to  cacey

Cacey, I’m totally in a similar boat : Have you heard of Idealist? It’s another job board, but it’s geared towards nonprofit work. Best of luck, the struggle is real!

cacey
cacey
6 years ago
Reply to  Dananana

no i hadn’t heard of it. thank you for suggesting it. sometimes i get a little jealous reading of all of these women who are fabulously employed while i’m sitting here going “wow, how’d she get THAT job?!” lol
one day it shall be mine! in the meantime i’ll look Idealist up!

Love
Love
6 years ago
Reply to  cacey

Temp agencies register with as many as possible. I have a great job but I still get calls from all the temp agencies I registered with in the past frequently. I live in Atlanta though. Where are you located?

cacey
cacey
6 years ago
Reply to  Love

I’m in valdosta. There’s not a lot of temp agencies down this way, not as compared with Atlanta. Down here the agencies tend to specialize in manual labor type jobs, like construction, as i was told when i went to several. If i could find a job in Atlanta i’d go back in half a heartbeat!

Maisha
Maisha
6 years ago
Reply to  cacey

good luck in your search!

cacey
cacey
6 years ago
Reply to  Maisha

thank you! 😀

JenniD
JenniD
6 years ago
Reply to  cacey

Please look at your local craigslist.org page. They often have some decent leads. Also look into some temp agencies just to get some cash flowing and some experience underway in your profession of choice. I too am a recluse and introverted somewhat but I volunteer in things that interest me to gather a network. Plus volunteering can lead to work if they like you and you keep on the up and up in the company. I got my job that way.

cacey
cacey
6 years ago
Reply to  JenniD

I’ve thought about volunteering, but the only issue there is daycare. I have a toddler, and right now i stay home with him 🙁 if i volunteered regularly i’d have to be able to bring my son with me, or luck up on a consistent babysitter since my husband works and is a full time student as well. i certainly wouldn’t mind volunteering though otherwise, and i did volunteer teaching classes at the library in my last semester of college but stopped due to the childcare situation. I appreciate your suggestions!

JenniD
JenniD
6 years ago
Reply to  cacey

Sometimes they have volunteer work that you can do from home. The Organization that I volunteer for has some jobs/ positions that you can do at home on a laptop like data entry or help spruce up their web design if your tech savvy. Also you there are volunteer positions that will work with your schedule. Say maybe only a few hours here and there when you can and not on a regular schedule. Check out volunteermatch.org to see what they have.

Likumbi
Likumbi
6 years ago
Reply to  cacey

Try LinkedIn. I know you said you don’t have much of a network but give it a shot and try find former professors classmates, heck even church members. LinkedIn is great because it lets you look at what organizations the people you know are connected to and whehter they are hiring. Good luck!

Latte
Latte
6 years ago

Been natural since ’99. Taught high school, been through grad school interviews, internship interviews, dissertation defense, postdoctoral fellowship interviews– all with natural hair. Except for my dissertation defense when I wore a bun, I wore my hair out in its lovely natural state for all of the above. I hate hair typing, but my hair is a coarse 4aish. People love my hair and so do I. I will never hide or apologize for the hair that grows out of my head.

(Sorry for choppiness. I’m on my phone. )

cacey
cacey
6 years ago
Reply to  Latte

I will never hide or apologize for the hair that grows out of my head.”
THIS

Jaz
Jaz
6 years ago

My law firm is not “progressive” but I easily wear twists and curly fros as an attorney. I was hired on with twists in my hair. I will go to court tomorrow — with my natural, tight curls.

You cannot hide your blackness. The interviewers who care will discriminate will do it anyway once they see your skin.

Iva
Iva
6 years ago
Reply to  Jaz

“You cannot hide your blackness.” This, this, this and THIS. You can weave it, relax it, braid it, wear it natural but if people want to discriminate against your blackness it does not matter how you wear your hair. My one rule for the workplace is “keep it neat”. The only negative comments or looks I’ve gotten about my hair in the workplace have been from other minority women. Nothing but compliments from everyone else. And someone upstream commented that the root of this texture policing came from white people and I totally agree that it did, but at this point some… Read more »

candy
candy
6 years ago
Reply to  Iva

LOLOL I love Adele Dazeem! hahahaha

Mika
Mika
6 years ago
Reply to  Iva

***My one rule for the workplace is “keep it neat”. What does “keep it neat” supposed to mean when it comes to natural hair? I always fix my hair neat in the morning but people seem to think that my TEXTURE is messy. When people refer to natural hair as wild, they seem to be saying it’s genetically wild and needs to be primped and polished out of it’s natural form, not that it hasn’t been taken care of and groomed. If by “keep it neat” you mean make it smooth and silky then that’s not the natural form of our… Read more »

Iva
Iva
6 years ago
Reply to  Mika

By neat, I just mean neat. If I have a style where I’m pinning back my hair, I make sure it’s all pinned back and the pins don’t look raggedy, if it’s in twists, I make sure my twists don’t look fuzzy or linty. If it’s a twist out, I make sure the hair is going in the direction I want it to go in. My texture is coily, kinky, beautiful. I don’t find it to be messy but there are times when it looks more polished and less polished. So maybe I would rock a five-day old twist out when… Read more »

Mika
Mika
6 years ago
Reply to  Iva

Fair enough; I just feel like nearly all people are too concerned about their own appearance out of vanity to need to be told that, including myself, ha! I can understand your first paragraph though; I don’t wear twist outs because I don’t like how they work on my hair but certainly after 5 days a twist out would turn into a fro out, no? Nothing wrong with that, imo. I don’t know I honestly don’t have hair that will keep a twist out. I do often braid my hair at night and take it out in the morning, however… Read more »

Como?
Como?
6 years ago
Reply to  Iva

I agree, Mika, that people have this perception that kinky hair is de facto “wild” and “funky” Even with my hair in a bun I attract an unwanted degree of attention at my predominantly white company. My hair is quite long (tailbone length) and dense, so creating this elusive neat, ballerina-esque bun sported by straighter haired women is pretty much impossible (unless I’d like to rip my edges from my scalp…). So no matter how “tame,” “neat” or sophisticated I consider my hair to be, there is always this insinuation that my hair is “funky” or “unusual” (this exact word… Read more »

Sophie
Sophie
6 years ago
Reply to  Jaz

Yes Jaz, I totally agree! I always think this. It’s unlikely that hair will put someone over the edge for getting uncomfortable with my blackness. If they don’t like your backness they wouldn’t like it hair straight or curly. When people say they “had to” wear their hair a certain way to get the job they often don’t have anything to compare to. When you get the job, how do you know you wouldn’t have gotten it anyway if you’d done your hair differently? Same for if you don’t get the job… you can’t actually live through both scenarios. If… Read more »

Como?
Como?
6 years ago
Reply to  Jaz

Yes, but can we acknowledge that even to those looking to discriminate there are degrees of “blackness” and that certain looks (particularly those that differ most markedly from our current racialized standards of acceptability, professionalism, beauty, etc.) are going to be more obvious to the would-be “racist” than an iteration of blackness that does not depart quite as much from the standard? I disagree that it’s an all or nothing proposition. There is a “mainstream” black appearance to which whites have become accustomed; This is why natural hair so often piques their curiosity.

Naturally Lovely
Naturally Lovely
6 years ago

i wouldn’t worry about that. For every person that hates your hair. There are even more that love it and doesn’t see any problem with it.

k
k
6 years ago

i think a key difference i havent seen mentioned yet is looking for a job vs already being employed. Once you are in there for the purpose of hair youre in there. The company is not going to fire you blatantly for wearing your hair how it grows out of your scalp. As long as its presentable you will mostly likely be fine. HOWEVER.. when you are applying for jobs, these people dont know you. There is not track record of how great you are in this position. They are looking at you and thousands of other applicants. Ill narrow… Read more »

cookeie
cookeie
6 years ago
Reply to  k

Braids are gorgeous! The problem with braids in corporate America, is that they can be perceived as being too casual. Whenever I have traveled to the Islands, I notice white people will sit there and actually get their hair braided by the natives on the Island. Usually it’s in the Bahamas where white people like to get their hair braided,and braided hair means they are on vacation.I realized this after traveling when I saw white women walking around all braided up. They perceive their braided hair as a fun vacation idea.Braids are not something they would wear at work. Most white… Read more »

So pleased
So pleased
6 years ago
Reply to  cookeie

Interesting. I got a job in corporate America in the late 80s wearing braids. I actually told the white interviewer that I wear my hair natural, in braids, and asked if they would have a problem with that. Totally caught him off guard and all he could say was, “no”. Came back later for a second interview by that head manager who was black. He brought it up this time saying he would not have a problem with it, himself, but that it could affect my climb in the company. Then he said, he’d respect my choices. Found out later… Read more »

Mika
Mika
6 years ago
Reply to  cookeie

What the heck is bedroom tousled messy hair on white people? I always just see them wearing their hair straight or wavy in the club, at work, etc. sometimes I think you people just make things up to make a point and Black women are internalizing and perpetuating this nonsense. Older women sometimes cut their hair short but all the younger women I work with have long hair. But I think you hit the nail on the head about braids looking casual. I would wear them to work but not to an interview. It’s illegal for employers to discriminate against someone’s… Read more »

Anitra
Anitra
6 years ago

I suppose it depends on what kind of job your going for. If it’s accepting of the “African American in the workplace” mentality, you may not have that issue. I know over personally been told that my natural hair wasn’t “professional looking” and I was actually persuaded into breaking my former natural streak and get a perm. After that perm atey hair out, however, I vowed never to do thaf again. The defense I got after I told my supervisors my dilemma was “natural hair offends white people”. You may not have my series of issues though, I’m in the… Read more »

Anitra
Anitra
6 years ago

By the way, I forgot to mention that my supervisors were black lol figure that one out. When they left and I finally wore my hair out, the white people loved it more than I did. I should have been more specific with my last post. White people in the workplace are not the ones you should worry about. It’s a damn shame.

Skyler
Skyler
6 years ago

Does anyone else notice how society is portraying african american women in the media? Almost every woman casted in commercials has curly or afro textured hair. And i do believe that what most see in the media and on television ( hair, body type etc) is how society forms what is ideal. Some African american women may have apprehension towards wearing their natural hair in the workforce not only because of our past but bc of the struggle in acquiring a regimen or process that fits our specific needs. I think by changes in the media we can hope that… Read more »

Naijastar
Naijastar
6 years ago
Reply to  Skyler

I think this is a form of acceptance of natural hair, yes. But I think “ideal” is relative to the medium. The ideal woman in a commercial for dish soap would not necessarily be the ideal woman to play the leading lady in a block buster film, or the ideal lady to be on the cover a men’s magazine. I would argue that these “ideals” are still different women at the moment. Advertisers in commercial have specific objectives when it comes to demographics, sensory responses on the part of viewers and those are necessarily not the same as the objectives… Read more »

Skyler
Skyler
6 years ago
Reply to  Naijastar

Hey Naijastar 🙂 I definitely get where you are coming from in separating commercial media to that of hollywood life and male appeal and would most certainly agree, but I cannot help but see change even in those areas as well. Look at Lupita recently featured on BGLH, Tracee Ellis Ross, Solange, Whoopi Goldberg, Viola Davis, Thandie Newton (and those are just to name a few). I would have to say that even in Blockbuster films we still have many women to look upon when defining the diversity of our natural beauty and regaining hope for a brighter and more… Read more »

Brittany. L
6 years ago

This is completely wrong Natural hair is really evolving trust me. I have gotten many jobs with my natural hair, though I had one friend who legit was not selected for a position due to her hair and this position was in politics.So I don’t know my field is Fashion they love natural hair.

Check Out http://www.curlskinksfashion.com Today A lot of great stuff is over there

robbi
6 years ago

I purposely interviewed with Accenture with my natural hair out in twistouts and braidouts. I went through 3 rounds of interviews and got the job! I wanted to prove a point to my dad that you can have natural hair that doesn’t have to be straightened 24/7. So ignore people like this and make sure your twistout/braidout/whatever looks bomb.

robbi
braveturquoise.com

Tracy
6 years ago

I’m in the same boat myself. I’m a little concerned with how potential bosses will handle my natural hair. But i refuse to cover it up with a weave. My natural hair is a part of who i am. And just like they are interviewing me to see if i can handle their office, I’m interviewing them to see if THEY can handle my hair.

nappy headed black girl

I think we’ve all been in this situation. When I was loose I’d just wear twists and a headband. Now that I’m a dread I just throw it in a ponytail. Anything to make it look “tame.”

If I cared more I’d take the time to do curls or a bun, but I don’t so…eh.

Tiffani Foster
Tiffani Foster
6 years ago

After being a stay at home mommy for three years, I decided to go back to work. This was last December, but during my stint as a full time mommy, I went natural.

It didn’t make a difference. I interviewed with a company and got my job based on my qualifications, not my hair. I’m not saying discrimination does exist when it comes to this, but if someone doesn’t want to hire me based on my hairstyle, then I don’t want to work there.

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

1 in the Uk I have worn my hair in mini-twists to an interview and it definitely did not stop me getting the job. Only other black people obsess with your hair I tend to let my qualifications and CV do the talking .

Suzan, UK
Suzan, UK
6 years ago
Reply to  Anon

I’ve also been successful at interview with my hair in twists however, after this, it was a constant battle with colleagues both black and white as they were not accepting of my choice to wear my hair natural. Much too their disgust, I never gave into them.……

lablooplah
lablooplah
6 years ago

easier to do in America than in black countries, sadly enough. My friend just texturized her 3a curls (her hair is just straight now) cuz she’s scared she wont be able to get a job in Jamaica, where she’s from. Sigh. I’m kenyan and if I plan to work in Kenya i’m planning on working with natural hair on my head. Natural hair lifestyle is so much easier and cheaper for me. I know how to deal and what to do with my hair. I think we just need to stand up instead of timidly hiding or changing our hair… Read more »

JenniD
JenniD
6 years ago

My motto for this situation is always tone it down but STAY NATURAL. For me that doesn’t mean a flat iron, weave or wig. It means my hair will be in some neat style using my own natural hair, but subuded in a way that it is out of my face and out of focus for an interview. Usually pinned up twist updo, loose hair stretched up do, one braid going back and tucked with a pinned side “bang” etc. I don’t hide my kinks. It is what it is. I want to be interviewed not my hair. I refuse… Read more »

Mika
Mika
6 years ago
Reply to  JenniD

Please speak for yourself when you say “tone it down”. I’ll wear my hair how ever it grows and behaves; I have no desire to load on the products to have toned down hair only to appease other people. I don’t like my hair that big out in public touching the people next to me but that type of request pisses me off because if I wanted to wear my hair tighter I would, I wear my hair how I like it who are you to say anything about it? My hair is not up for debate or discussion.

Tameka
Tameka
6 years ago

When I moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South three years ago, I was very concerned that my natural hair would be an issue because, generally speaking, the Deep South has a very complicated history in terms of race. I’d just gotten a pixie cut, so the night before, I just smoothed it down with a curly pudding so that it still had lots of texture, but was flat. Well the next morning, my hair decided to poof. It was too short to bun or put into a ponytail so I had two options — I could be… Read more »

cinn says...
cinn says...
6 years ago

Interesting article.… I actually just cut off my dreadlocks that I had going to mid-thigh (yes ladies… it was high time!) and now I am sporting what I call my “Grace Jones” flat top (I am still humming “Slave to the Rhythm” in the morning when I pat my do into the shape… I LOVE IT). And I plan on looking at some opportunities this Spring. With that, I am not concerned at all. It is 2014, and if someone is going to judge me and put me in a box, they can suck it. I am stylish, unique, confident,… Read more »

Jumoke
6 years ago

I think the key factor that everyone is missing is HISTORY. There is a reason why the author feels this way and many other Black women (and men) experience the same uneasiness. We have to remember that racism stills exists and much of it has been internalized. As one commenter mentioned- we learned this thinking from the White people esp the ones who are in power. For example- braids. Braids have been under attacked in the workplace since the 80s and were revered to as “extreme” and “unprofessional” by many employers. Black women were constantly sent home or suspended from their… Read more »

soulshadow55
soulshadow55
6 years ago

I’ve been wearing my hair natural since the early 1980’s. I used to run every day and I took college classes at night, so my hair was the last thing on my mind. I worn it in cornrows for years until I tried two strand twists and “wash & goes.” I’m in the legal field (a paralegal) and I’ve only had one recruiter to make a snide comment. During a preliminary interview she asked me if I would remove my cornrows for interviews with law firms. I told her no that I would not remove my cornrows and if she… Read more »

RozB
6 years ago
Reply to  soulshadow55

I agree! You make some good points!

RozB
6 years ago

I was in the military for 20 years and always had either relaxed hair or braid extensions. One year after retirement, I did the big chop and wore my hair in an afro puff the majority of the time. Since then, I have gone on many job interviews wearing the puff, and I have to say I always got a job offer. Why? My hair was neat and clean, my appearance professional, my resume tight, and I knew my business. I am not naive to think it doesn’t matter in other professions, but I think part of the problem is… Read more »

Jackie
Jackie
6 years ago

Every Television commercial with a black person … they’re sporting Natural Hair. Typing this in 2014.

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