July 11th, 2012
Beauty, Fashion Discussion, Hair, Work Wardrobe
Beauty Discussion: It Is OK to Wear Natural Hair in Corporate America?
By Claire

Reader Che’lise writes, “I recently got an internship with a Senator and I am very nervous about going into his office having just started my natural hair journey. This means no heat, and definitely no perm. I am concerned about how I may be perceived by my fellow interns and most importantly the Senator’s colleagues. I want the opportunity to advance and grow in this position but all I keep hearing is you’re going to need to straighten your hair to be taken seriously amongst the political heavyweights.”

Hey Che’lise! Congrats on your internship! As a fellow naturalista, I’d say that you can rock whatever style you choose, as long as it looks neat and polished. People will most likely judge you more for your work than your hair, but perhaps my outlook is too optimistic (and remember, I work in the zany fashion industry where you can rock a face tattoo and still get a job). At any rate, I was unsure, so I tapped a few of my corporate friends to get their input!

My homegirl Amber who works as an investment banker shared my sentiments, saying, “I would say that everyone has to strike their own balance between expressing themselves and feeling true to themselves and making sure you go to work and are noticed for what you do and say and your work and not how you look. At the end of the day, just make sure you look polished!”

And my homegirl Carmen, a lawyer, offered, “Styled natural hair is probably fine and frankly the people you work with might not know the difference between permed and natural–to them it’s just styled. But, a 6 inch blown out fro is probably not a good idea.”

I say keep it neat and just go about your day…it’s only a big deal when you make it a big deal. I had natural hair my whole life and worked in corporate America. Besides a jacked perm or illfitting/poorly matched wig or busted weave is more noticeable than a regularly “low key” styled head of natural hair!”


Well there you have it, thoughts from three working women.
But we clearly don’t work in Washington, and are not 100% sure of the politics on Capitol Hill.
What do you think?
In 2012, is it ok for women of color to wear their natural hair in a corporate environment?

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75 Responses to “Beauty Discussion: It Is OK to Wear Natural Hair in Corporate America?”

  1. Dee says:

    “I say keep it neat and just go about your day…it’s only a big deal when you make it a big deal. I had natural hair my whole life and worked in corporate America. Besides a jacked perm or illfitting/poorly matched wig or busted weave is more noticeable than a regularly “low key” styled head of natural hair!”

    ——————-

    I AGREE!!!

    I don’t mean any harm but, some of these caucasians come to work (CORPORATE) EVERYDAY with unkempt hair, shoes, cat hair on their clothes and all types of mess and nothing is said!

    Yet we have to stress ourselves to an ULCER on how we come to working looking…which is 9 times out of 10, better looking than them no matter how our hair is!

  2. LC says:

    I work in the oil and gas industry and now rock a full head of natural hair after transitioning for a year by keeping it straight by flat ironing. Initially it shocked my colleagues, but now they seem disappointed whenever I straighten it. I usually opt for a wash and go that gets bigger as the week progresses or a nice neat bun. I’m a less is more woman anyway. Good luck! ;-)

  3. PriinceCharmming says:

    I currently intern for the Ohio Dept of Development, I work with alot of big figures in the city such as directors and the mayor. I have natural hair and I get lots of compliments and questions from men and women. I agree with Claire when she says people will judge you more off of your work ethic and the cleanliness of your appearance.

  4. Michelle D. says:

    Great article and great question. I work as an Project Manager for a govt agency and I too am a naturalista! I started my natural process since I’ve been with my agency. I agree with the comments stated in the article. As long as you maintain a polished look, people will be less concerned with your hair and focus more on your work and ethics. There will always be people who do not support “the look”, but maintain your confidence and just go with it, it will all work out. You are fab in your own skin and I’m sure you are professional! Handle business and rock your natural! You may be surprised of the number of natural sisters that may be working on the job with you! I was a trend setter when I decided o do the big chop! Best wishes to you!

  5. Mikala says:

    I work in the Capitol Hill area, and sadly enough I don’t see a lot of women with natural hair but the ones who do keep it styled in a few ways but no natural hair styled the way Solange wears hers. DC is conservative when it comes to style but use your best judgement and see how everything with your coworkers your first week and that will help you out.

  6. mi manning says:

    For some reason, Black women’s hair has always been a topic of discussion, whether it has been complimented or ridiculed. We’ve been called “nappy-headed hoes” (thank you Don Imus and Nicki Minaj!) or loved if our hair is long and straight (sometimes curly) like a Cherokee, because we love the fact that we got Indian in us. The fact is, the topic of black hair is just a another appendage of white supremacy and black oppression.

    You should be able to wear your hair in corporate America however you like. You should not feel like you have to perm, dye, or weave your hair to “fit in”. Let’s face it, Corporate America means “white America,” so we have to look less threatening, meaning, look less black and more white.

    Here’s a crazy suggestion… blacks should start their own corporations, that way, the topic of appropriate hairstyles would NEVER be an issue (except hair coloring…unless you have your own business as well)!

  7. NikkiB says:

    Oh this is simple. NO.

  8. endESQ says:

    YES. YEs. and YES. I am an attorney who is in court everyday. I also conduct meetings with clients, opposing counsel and various other professionals on a daily basis. I have met other professional Black women who wear their natural hair and they always look polished and professional (sometimes moreso than those of us who use chemical relaxers on our hair, self included). I say, if you want to wear your natural hair, then do it. It’s your hair – who gon’ check you, boo?

  9. Keisha says:

    I think as long as your hair is neat you will be just fine but that’s with any hairstyle you have, you want your appearance to be presentable in any work enviornment. European Americans wear their hair in its natural state so is shouldn’t be a revolution movement because we want to wear our hair in its natural state. As someone else said above I don’t think they even know the difference :/

    Lol the cat hair comment is so funny but true…

  10. Gemini says:

    @Claire

    This is off topic. But I would like to know what bag is that model holding in the 3rd pick to the left w/ the snake skin. It is gorg!

  11. Gemini says:

    @Claire

    Never mind. I found it! It’s a Sara Battaglia bag.

  12. If she is in DC she will not have a problem. There are a lot of natural hair women walking around. A LOT. Snatch it back and KIM

  13. mak says:

    of course it’s okay!!! i’m working in corporate with blonde locks. it’s all good.

  14. Jazzy says:

    I am in the military and of course our hair regulations are very strict. Any way you can wear your hair in uniform would be good in corporate America. Before my hair was long enough for a low bun, I would slick the front down with hair gel and add a very skinny headband. It would push my fro to the back nd make it look smaller but was still very cute, within regulations, and professional. Don’t worry!! You will learn how you can and can’t style your hair with time. Congrats btw on your internship.

  15. hehe says:

    Idk why it grinds my gear when I hear the word neat in relation to natural hair. Like there’s something inherently unkempt about natural hair. Anyway I think you’ll be fine. I know many women in corporate America with natural hair and soon I’ll be one of them. Hey Ursula Burns is the CEO of Xerox and she has natural hair.

  16. Sticky-n-Sweet says:

    If I can rock it in the repressed military, corporate America will deal.

  17. Quiane says:

    It’s funny that we have to think about can we wear the hair that naturally grows out of our scalp. So to make a long story short, just like straight hair people wear the hair that naturally grows out of their scalp, we should be able to wear the hair that naturally grows out of our scalp, enough said!

  18. FiFi says:

    I say YES! I worked for the Washington D.C. government for a few years and was natural. I made sure my appearance was polished…everything from what I was wearing to how I styled my fro. As a matter of fact the press secretary for my agency was a fro sister as well. She rocked a full size fro and kept it cute, girly and fun. I honestly think people embraced it a little more because we stood out.

  19. cali says:

    Who cares! Do what make you happy and keep it moving. These post are getting a little ridiculous.. We keep perpetuating these silly debates. weaves/natural, light/dark, white/black… I can go on and on.
    WE should be encouraging each other and promoting a positive life style regardless of our personal image.

  20. lola says:

    The natural scene in DC is massive. I think she should be fine. As Claire’s friend said, as long as your hair is neat, you won’t have a problem. I mean that is a rule that applies to all types of hair, not just naturals. Perms and wigs and sew ins and weaves are looking more busted these days than naturals.

    However, there is more bias against dreads and cornrows in corporate America especially for black males.

  21. lola says:

    @Cali
    girl, imma need you to have several seats. Did you even bother to read the post before going off on a tirade? girl, bye!

  22. Nisaboo says:

    @Cali…I feel where you are coming from. However, this is one the best articles I have read regarding this issue. It’s just that the real issue is no other race needs to have this discussion. And that is an issue we should be discussing.

  23. Jai says:

    Absolutely yes! I’m natural, and work in HR in Dallas… the natural scene isn’t that big yet, and the corporate world is still super conservative here. That being said, a nice looking twist-out, low bun, well kept twists, etc, are a THOUSAND times better than a busted weave, wig, or terribly maintained permed hair. It’s all about presenting yourself in a professional and polished manner.

  24. Empress says:

    I’m seeing too many bald headed chicks say, they’re going natural….Bitch please..LOL….*waits for back lash*…

  25. Empress says:

    Natural hair and “poectic justice braids”….I blame Solange Knowles!..LOL

  26. yusufswifee says:

    I work in Washington and frequently go to the Hill for work as well. This is one of the easier places to wear a natural hair style. Just keep it neat and you will be fine. Congrats on the internship…get ready to work long hard hours that will reward you for the rest of your career. I have had every style under the book and currently have a fade that I keep tight at the barber.

    You will love being a transitioning sista in the DMV

  27. TheAntifash says:

    Hi Jai! I’m in Dallas too and I’ve noticed a lot more natural women in the city than ever before. I work in the fashion industry, so I have freedom to do what I want with my hair, but I could NEVER show up with anything fake/knockoff lol.

  28. LaTasha says:

    I am a naturalista as well and I believe we should be able to wear our hair the way we want. I am still baffled that we still think we need white approval to do anything. Someone said maybe we should start our own corporations and I agree. WE need to quit being so scared to be great because the majority(who has low self esteem by the way) wants us adjust to ease their insecurity. STOP!!! Wear your hair the way you want.

  29. lafemmeafrique says:

    I work in consulting and had to transition to natural hair when I was preggo. From our interns right up to principals/partners – not an issue

  30. TheFav1 says:

    Wow! love this topic but never gave this any thought on how to wear hair in corporate America. I mean, I’ve seen locks on people at the banks that were high ups but never did it cross my mind at my job. I work at a University and the diversity here is global! I wear my hair loosely unbraided look and i do get questions like ohhh how you do that or is that all your hair, but I could careless because I do my job very well.

  31. Siyam says:

    I say it is fine to wear natural hair in corporate America. I used to get a lot of questions about my hair at my job because I would change it frequently, from sew-in weaves to twists. I wasn’t as comfortable then as I am now about what my hair looks like. The bottom line is it isn’t about natural hair inherently being considered unkempt, it’s about maintaining a professional look and that’s easily done with natural hair.

  32. Maris says:

    While I understand some people’s reactions (why should I modify the hair that naturally grows out of my scalp), it is foolish to think that our caucasian sisters DON’T modify their hair to fit in a corporate environment. I work in corporate, and my cubby-mate gets up at 6:00 every morning to blowdry & straighten her naturally curly hair. I have no idea what her curl pattern is. There is a balance between being true to yourself and fitting into a corporate standard, and the difference is styling. There are many braided styles, pulled back styles & twisted-back styles that work perfectly. I would not reccommend wearing it out in full-afro mode. I have been natural for over 10 yrs and alternate between twisted styles (that I pull into a bun for work) and twist/braid outs (that I wear partially pulled back for work. You don’t have to wear your hair straightened to fit in, but you should work with your hair to make the STYLE fit more uniformly with your peers.

  33. runnergal says:

    Hair and the corporate workplace — something I’ve been struggling with for almost 12 years. I’ve been natural since 2000 and it wasn’t until 2011 when I truly embraced my natural curly state in the workplace — I am SO PROUD of how I look (and feel) now and truly believe that those around me are more comfortable and accepting of me because I am more accepting of me. Before 2011, I would straighten my hair every other day. Now that I’ve adopted an aggressive active lifestyle, straight hair is not as conducive and much more time consuming! All the better. Right now, I’m wearing it completely out (4-5 inches) and I will tie it up often now that it’s getting longer. I agree with the previous comments, make sure your hair and attire are polished and it won’t draw more attention than the quality of work you put in.

  34. Bre Bre says:

    I AGREE WITH MI MANNING 100%…. LET US START OUR OWN CORPORATIONS AND THEN WE WOULDN’T HAVE TO ASK THESE QUESTIONS. but anywho… i work for the Fed Gov in DC and i am natural… I wear my Solangesque bush everyday and get no stares. In fact I have to curse out white people daily for wanting to touch it!

  35. mamareese says:

    I work at a very large corporation’s corporate office and I have a big ol’ fro. There is not very many of “us” here so I kept it straight ethnic all day….ethier my natural is all big or I’m rocking some ethnic earrings or bangles…..No one seems intimidated they just accept me for who I am. I walk beside all types of manager and such and no one even gives my appearance any flack. And I hear folks say all the time I love your hair or I love this or that and it’s always related to my blackness. Even thinking about dreads now…..but I live in the south where this is more common to see. But then again when I lived up north it never was an issue. It’s all in how you rep yourself…..keep it classy.

  36. Shelly says:

    I say yes, as long as it is polished, and rocked with confidence =)

    @Maris, *STANDS UP AND CLAPS*. Thank you for your comment. Everyone, not just African-Americans, need to modify their look/style for corporate America. I graduated from a predominantly White university, and let me tell you, sometimes, the Caucasian girls spent more time maintaining their hair than the Black girls. It’s not about ethnicity, but about your hair pattern, and how to make it look more put together in a professional/corporate type environment.

    At the end of the day, as long as it looks nice, and your work is being done, do what you are happy with!

  37. Mia says:

    why is this always a topic ?!?!? New topic please !!Yes you can wear your hair however you want it ! Why you ask ?!?! Because its your hair !!

  38. I agree with everyone. I work for a large corporation in Germany, no one cares how I wear my hair. I am natural here, in a place where most women are not. I’m sure it’s fine in America as well.

  39. Yes you can rock your hair natural. Nothing else to be said about that.

  40. kesh says:

    Interesting how you din’t post a picture of someone with natural hair in that field. Anywhom there is nothing wrong with having natural hair in that feild the only thing i would say is have some confidence and let it exude but not in a very arrogant way. Plus your hair does not determine your work ethic. so stop worrying about yourself and worry about keeping the job.

  41. totalkimbo82 says:

    I needed this article and all of the comments. I’ve been debating over whether I should go natural. I just interviewed for a Sales Exec position with a radio station in Cleveland, but don’t know if I got the job yet. I was worried that this would be the wrong time to start my natural journey, but I am so tired of relaxing my hair (not to mention the heat we’ve had this summer drying out my hair). This article and everyone’s comments helped me realize that my skills are not measured by hair style (sounds cliché and sappy but true).

  42. NYC Chick says:

    I’m an HR executive at one of the largest corporations in US. Yes, natural hair is totally OK. I think you just need to ensure it isn’t too big or wild. I have very long, natural hair. I don’t wear it all out bc I look like chaka khan but I wear it half up/half down, ponytail or bun, with conservative hairclips or head bands (depending on how it is behaving). Trust me, they are not thinking about our hair half as much as we think they are.

    Now where I think black women are judged sometimes is in the weight and clothes department. Corporate execs are generally very fit and understated in their clothing. It pains me, but I dress VERY conservatively while at work. Also, corporate types tend to see fitness/being in shape as an indicator of being “polished” and discliplined. I’ve been around the table discussing promotions and have heard black women (white ones too) be described as lacking in executive presence due to wearing loud/ill-fitting clothes…or clothes that are too tight/flashy.

    I try to redirect the conversation to individuals’ qualifications and capabilities, but that’s fighting an uphill battle when the individual doesn’t “look the part”

  43. wallflower says:

    Great discussion. I’d only like to add that I have been told (by someone who was not my direct supervisor, but high ranking in the company) that my little twisties were “less harsh than an afro”…. Do with that information what you may.

    I kind of ingnored it *cue India Airie’s “I am not my hair”* LOL

  44. renee says:

    Ah! I do not think coming to work with natural hair is fit for a professional setting. It is true that whites do not know the difference between permed or natural hair. I work in the corporate world and one of my coworkers is going natural. Me being black, i easily spot her out that think that her hairstyle is unkept and messy. She currently is wear a huge fro and doesn’t do anything to switch it up.

  45. kiki says:

    In my exprience “white” corporate America love our natural hair more then we do. I have been natural for 3 years sisterlocked 2 years. I get more compliments from whites then i do blacks. I think they think they the fact that im true to myself. which I think makes me look like stronger person.

  46. kiki says:

    typo wow “i think they like the fact that im true to myself”

  47. I work in DC, i wear a twist out everday to work in addition to braids, weave, and sometimes a tightly coiled up wash and go. I’ve had one person who wasn’t even a supervisor make a comment about my hair, and you know what it was his personal opionon, my boss laid him the hell out for it. He let him know that it was very umprofessional to even imply that my hair in it’s natural state is an issue.

    I’m actually shocked that this is even a question, there is NO reason to be ashamed of the hair you were born with. If it’s an issue then this becomes a descrimination issue. I don’t think that any other race would be having this conversation. IF you hair is clean, neat and presentable weather it’s natural or permed then there should never be an issue. When people stop equating natural hair as so sort of “power” rebelious movement then we can get the idea of having to ask these sort of questions. This is what we were born with, and if an office place has an problem with it, then they better prepare to give up the dough for even bringing this up.

    Now I have to agree with NYC Chick, Crazy, fun style might be frowed upon, if you are dying your hair green, and shaving off sides, and rocking noise rings in corporate america then okay maybe you should rethink it. Because of course it’s a destraction, just like face tattoo’s or exposing too much of your body in certain items of clothing.

  48. fly won says:

    agree with cali. I just knew this wasn’t a serious question.

  49. lolodoll11 says:

    I’m in mgmt and work in a corporate environment with C Suite executives everyday. My hair is similar to Solange’s in the first pic. Not an issue for me. In fact I receive compliments from both my black and white counterparts. Only black folk would make such a big fuss over hair. It’s not that serious.

  50. Yawn says:

    I truly look forward to the day when we DO NOT have this question at all. Is it okay to be dark-skinned in corporate America? Is it okay to have large buttocks in corporate America? The more we ask “them” about what we should look like, the more we will continue to struggle with loving ourselves as God made us. I really hate this question!!

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