It was just another hot sweaty day in the NYC subway system. If you live in the city or spend any time in the city, you know exactly what I mean. That hot-sticky-sauna-oven of a platform, that just so happens to be crowded at all hours of the day. I wait and wait until the next train arrives. And like every day of the work week, I try not to be crushed by the stampede that is behind me. I make my way onto the crowded subway car with the half working A.C. (grateful it’s working at all) and try to find the blank space on the wall where I can stare and not make eye contact.

Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to people. But when it comes to the subway, I don’t want any problems. And frankly, random eye contact gets awkward and weird real quick. And yet, while falling victim to eye contact avoidance, I overhear two women talking about their day at work. If I catch myself eavesdropping I usually pop in some music but today, this conversation really hit close to home. They were discussing hair.

Hair. The Workplace. Ethnic Hair in the Workplace.

Let’s just say that in their conversations, it was very clear that this woman’s hair was used against her. Apparently another colleague blatantly made it clear that her hair was not accepted.

I’m in awe as to how ethnic hair continues to still pose as an issue in the workplace in this day and age. It just leaves me with so many questions:

  1. Why is curly hair or braided hair in lieu of straight hair an issue in corporate America?
  2. What makes curly hair or braided hair unprofessional in the workplace?
  3. When did hair even become a discussion?

The Workplace is For Collaboration

In a perfect world, the workforce is supposed to be a place where we come to collaborate and keep businesses running. So at what point does our hair deem to be a threat to that progress. In any role, it’s about being in a think tank and how we all bring something unique to the table. By bringing in hair and not showing acceptance begs the question of how much we are valued in the workforce for our differences and unique thought processes.

Natural Hair is Natural

We need a change in these corporations, starting from top management downward, to remove the stigma that natural hair is unprofessional. Natural hair is natural – it is what we are born with and frankly we aren’t all built the same. Let’s take the time to consider this and make some changes:

  1. Let’s stop categorizing ethnic hair as unprofessional (it may not be discrimination by US labor laws but it still is discrimination – and you will lose top employees in such a culture).
  2. Let’s educate our workforce about acceptance and diversity. It’s okay for everyone to be different.

It’s time for some transformations. But in the meantime, to the women on the train, crying about being embarrassed at work because their hair is different. You’re beautiful. Your hair is beautiful. Don’t let an outdated mindset make you feel inferior. You didn’t bring your unique skills and knowledge to the workplace to be (and look) like everyone else.

It’s time we focus on work at work and less about physical attributes that do not take away from the work day.


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