I remember my first day in the Corporate American work place. I had graduated with Honors a month prior with a degree in Accounting and had accepted a position as a First-Year Associate at a “Big” Accounting firm. I recall the feeling of nervous excitement as I walked through the shiny sliding doors, eager to start my new life. The day before, I had micro-braided my hair. Having just moved to a new city, I opted for a low-maintenance hair style until I figured things out.
The HR coordinator met me in the lobby to welcome me and begin the New Hire Orientation. She was blonde, petite and dressed impeccably in a grey skirt suit. Her black heels clacked as she strode confidently across the room towards me. As she approached, she introduced herself, firmly shaking my hand, subtly eyeing me up and down. And then, there it was…the dreaded double take. She looked twice at my hair and said, “I like your hair. It’s so…interesting.”
As I mumbled my thanks, I recall thinking that I had never seen my hair as different before. I wondered if ‘interesting’ was a euphemism for something less…pleasant. Would I be considered “less-capable” or “less professional”? Would I fit into this ultra-conservative work environment being the only Black woman on my team? I pondered some of these questions within my first few weeks as I met my other team mates.
This was only the beginning of my hair journey in the Corporate space. Throughout my career, as I have moved departments, offices, jobs, I have had a plethora of adjectives used to describe my hair- whimsical, cool, unique, fickle, ‘out-there’. I would often wonder if they ascribed these same descriptions to me as a person and not just my hair. Someone, a middle-aged, White male colleague once said to me, “It’s like a Chia pet. It can grow from nothing to several inches in like 2 weeks!!”
The biggest change was when I transitioned from relaxed, straightened hair to my natural, more kinky texture. Although I knew it was the right move for me personally and health-wise, my biggest concern, believe it or not, was how my work colleagues would view me. After my ‘big-chop’, it was as if I was no longer the same person. Some thought it was cool and wanted to touch it, while others just stared as if I had been deceiving them all along with my ‘fake’ hair. I have even had the discussion with other Black female colleagues about whether or not my short twist-out was considered “professional” and appropriate for our work culture.
I consider overcoming my hair struggles in the corporate world as a badge of honor. I could very easily have continued to wear my weave at work just to fit in. I could have continued to apply perms to my hair just to avoid the stares and questions. However today, I choose to embrace my hair in and out of work. I choose to maintain confidence even through the stares. I know deep down that I have become a better professional woman for it!