By Taylor Smiley and Doriel Gale-Corley
Hair styles worn by African American men and women around the world have led to prejudices in the professional workplace throughout history.
Men and women alike have experienced the receiving end of losing out on opportunities, facing professional reprimand, and even losing their job because of their appearance.
Today we see a shift in acceptance where women have embraced the texture and look of their natural hair styles without feeling forced to straighten, pull back their hair, or other adjustments to their natural locks to feel accepted in the workplace.
With society’s views beginning to adjust, we’re beginning to see more action toward change in government as well.
According to an article posted by BBC in 2016, one woman in London experienced firsthand the blatant comments and outright prejudice she received for a particular hairstyle she sported at work. Her hairstyle, not her work ethic, were criticized for the time and place she had chosen to wear it. Her real name was not used throughout the article. She is known as Leila.
Leila said, “I am West African, and I work at a consultancy firm in London. I am always being made to feel that my natural hair gives the impression that I am unprofessional.”
Unfortunately for Leila, this type of commentary was normalized in society as an appropriate way to hold African American men and women accountable to succumb to society’s standards in shifting their appearance to a more accepting one — with the use of hair straighteners and wigs, for example.
She said, “A few years ago I had my hair styled in cornrows and I was asked quite blatantly by my boss how long it would be before my hair was back to ‘normal.”
Fast forward to other women of today that feel more comfortable and confident in wearing their natural hair in professional work places. In July, California became the first state to outlaw racial discrimination based on hairstyle.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that legally protects people in workplaces and K-12 public schools from discrimination based on their natural hair.
The new law takes effect Jan. 1 and outlaws the enforcement of grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color. This includes bans on certain styles, such as Afros, braids, twists, cornrows and dreadlocks. By definition natural hair is grown from the roots of someone’s head without the use of harsh chemicals.
Lena Pringle is an anchor in Jacksonville for WJXT, and she’s been natural since 2018. Pringle recently attended the National Association of Black Journalist conference, in Miami, Florida. There she discovered a group of women with different natural hairstyles.
“It’s interesting because when i decided to go natural it was solely based of like how I wanted to live my life,” said Pringle, “I’m very happy to be apart of a group of people that are breaking barriers and changing the status quo, and literally demanding that people take these curls.”
Ericka Durant, a fashion blogger, has had natural hair for over 14 years. She has been on the receiving end of criticism in the workforce, before standing up for what she believed in… herself.
“As a young black girl your told, you know growing up not to wear your hair curly, not to wear your natural hair, it’s unprofessional, you have to wear it straight. Well we were conditioned to wear our hair a certain way not realizing that for one it’s not really healthy for your body, and for two it’s programming us to think what is considered to be beautiful,” Durant said.
With changes being made toward diversity and inclusion in the workforce today, men and women can begin to feel more confident in expressing themselves without adhering to a restrictive policy or discriminatory standard.