A friend of mine applied to work at a design company. After reading up on their inclusive values, she decided that she was going to wear her natural tresses to the interview.
‘I’m tired of feeling the need to slick back or straighten my hair. I’m going to go as myself.’
I thought, good for her! But was hounded by memories of when I was job hunting for months and was too scared to wear box braids. On the back, right, left and centre of my mind was the thought that my hair would be a barrier to a new job.
Over the years, my judgement has been clouded by stories of black women being told after their interviews that if they were to further progress, they would need to get rid of their braids. As discriminatory as this was, these hirers were being honest. And it doesn’t just stop with braids. There are countless hirers, who upon seeing a candidate’s dreads or afro, will smile sweetly in their face before crossing them off the list.
After these stories emerged, there were people on social media asking what’s the big deal? How is your ability to work a job being judged on your braids, dreads or afro, not a big deal? But if you show up with straightened hair or a silky weave, you’re at least a step over the hair hurdle. And that’s not to say that straightening your hair or wearing weaves, if you choose to, is bad (’cause girl I love a good weave). It’s the view that women of colour have to conform to something unnatural, that is.
So, where do these views stem from?
Let’s be honest, a lot of these recruiters and hiring managers aren’t black. And if you’re applying for a ‘Professional Services’ or ‘Client-facing’ role, the company’s grooming requirements may adhere to European standards. These European standards that ‘the straighter the better’ have trickled down from the days of colonisation and dwell amongst us today.
My friend’s big curly hair that grows outwards – red flag. My long jumbo box braids – red flag.
According to these standards, our hairstyles are wild, uniformed and unprofessional. But our natural hair isn’t straight nor does it grow downwards. And our dreads and braids are central to our identities as well as a neat way of retaining length.
A while back I used to work at a Finance company. I remember the compliments I received when I came in with a fresh weave. I also remember the sour looks I got when I walked in with braids. ‘You changed your hair?’ My manager asked. ‘…It’s creeping me out.’ I laughed it off and made light of the situation but when I look back I think how dare I and how dare she.
Now working in the recruitment sector, it’s a relief to know that many companies embrace diversity and want to drive women of colour in employment. However, stories like this uncover the underlying discrimination that still exists in the hiring process. And concerning my manager, comments like that stick with me and make me wonder: if my hair had been in braids for the interview would I still have gotten the job?
By Anna Christian