Workplace Hair Debate: Hair We Go Again
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

Dr. Erica Jones rocks her 'locks with pride and says there are ways to professionally respond to hair scrutiny in the workplace, whether you're natural, relaxed, weaved or otherwise. (Image: Jones)

“Can you wash your hair?”

“How did you get your hair to do that?”

“I don’t know you, but can I touch it?”

Those are only a few questions that 29-year-old Dr. Erica Jones gets about her hair at work. The board-certified family medical practitioner has been sporting her ‘locks for 10 years. She has received plenty of sideways questions and found herself in several awkward situations.

In one instance, during a check-up, Jones says she bent down to listen to a patient’s heart and lungs, only to find the patient reaching up to touch one of her dreads that escaped from her ponytail. Instead of getting turned up, Jones quickly regained her composure and laughed it off.

Dealing with painful hair situations in the workplace isn’t only an issue for natural sistas. Those of us who rock weaves, relaxers and other hairstyles are also up for questioning, too. Whether your straighter-haired counterparts are inquiring about your decision to rock your ‘fro, or they have difficulties understanding the complexities of a sew-in or relaxer, having to always explain how black hair works can make you feel like the spokesperson for all women (or men) of color.

How do you deal?

“When people ask me how my hair grows and how I wash it, I tell them that it grows just like yours and I wash it just like you do,” Jones says. “My hair sparks conversation from people who aren’t used to seeing natural hair and who are genuinely interested. I handle it by being open and light-hearted when approached with questions regarding my hair. If they ask to touch it, sometimes I’ll ask, ‘Why?’ Usually they want to know what it feels like and if it’s real.”

I Am Not My  Hair

Instead of feeding into the drama, Jones lets her smarts, charisma and confidence speak for themselves.

“I know that I’m good. I know my facts and I know that I’m professional so my hair has nothing to do with my job,” Jones explains. “Once you reach a certain educational level, knowledge should outweigh anything that’s on top of your head. I can control how I present myself and my work ethic, but I can’t control what others think.”

Jones advises to be aware of the company culture or the workplace environment that you’re in.

“Regardless of money, I don’t want to be involved in anything where would my hair would be an issue, because I’m not going to be comfortable being myself and that wouldn’t allow me to perform to best of my ability,” Jones says. “Life is too short. Do what you want to do and what you love to do.”

How do you handle off-the-wall questions or situations about your hair at work? #SoundOff and follow Jamie on Twitter @JayNHarrison.

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Janell Hazelwood

Janell Hazelwood is associate managing editor at Black Enterprise, managing content across core areas of Money, Career, Small Business and Technology. She is also a featured blogger with My Two Cents, providing insights on branding, millennial career development, employment trends and leadership. She was previously a content producer and copy editor for Black Enterprise magazine, working across several editorial sections. The Hampton University graduate got her start in the newspaper industry, having worked for companies including The New York Times and Scripps Howard News Service. Her works and insights have appeared on The Huffington Post, MadameNoire, E!Online, Brazen Careerist, CBS News, and Arise TV.


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