Cree Ballah, an employee in Zara’s Toronto, Canada store, was mortified when her manager had her change her neat large box braided bun style into a style that they deemed as “clean and professional”.
In an Interview with Toronto’s CBC News, Ballah stated
“They took me outside of the store and they said, ‘We’re not trying to offend you, but we’re going for a clean and professional look with Zara, and the hairstyle you have now is not the look for Zara”
Ballah’s managers even went as far as to have her style her hair to their liking in front of customers and other Zara employees. She was humiliated to say the least.
“It was very humiliating…it was unprofessional.”
Fortunately, Ballah didn’t let this incident go unnoticed. She filed an official complaint with Zara’s human resource department regarding the discrimination and may file an additional complaint with Ontario’s Human Rights Commission. Ballah, who is bi-racial, believes that what took place is a direct reflexion of how the company feels about her ethnicity:
“My hair type is out of my control and I try to control it to the best of my ability, which wasn’t up to standard for Zara.”
Although Ballah met with Zara’s officials, she wasn’t satisfied with the end result. In a statement, Zara said that they don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind and that they “engaged directly with the employee on this matter and respect(s) the privacy of those discussions.” They claim to be a diverse company with no formal policy regarding hair styles. They only ask the hair styles look “professional”. This statement came after Ballah pointed out that there is an employee at the Toronto store with blue hair. There is also an employee with half of her head shaved, yet those employees were not told to change their appearance.
The situation with Cree Ballah brings us back to Elle’s piece posted last week, regarding what appears in Google’s search engine results when “professional hairstyles” and “unprofessional hairstyles” are googled.
The question remains — What exactly qualifies as a “professional” hair style for black women? Furthermore, why are we still defending how we style our natural hair in the work place? It seems that the moment we style our hair in any way that isn’t popular among white women, it’s considered unprofessional.
Elle made a valid point in her post, “It is a subtle instance of privilege; other women can go to work without worry, black women have to be ready to defend their natural hair in the workplace at a moment’s notice.” Words that truly came full circle this week.
What are your thoughts?