by Kari McGlinnen, President
There is a belief in the corporate business world that naturally curly hair is somehow less professional than straight hair. I had never considered before that the curl ban was an official company policy, I assumed that it was one of those things in the unwritten dress code. You know the code: khakis with a light blue button down shirt for the fellas, pencil skirts and white shirts for the women. A corporate dress code serves an important purpose – it makes it easy to fit in.
Whether no curls is an actual policy, practice, or perception, the problem seems obvious to me. But clearly it’s not so obvious to the rest of the workforce, since jillions of women wash, blow, pull and iron their naturally curly hair every workday.
This topic has been discussed before. Meredith Lepore for The Grindstone surmises, “It seems that curly hair, to some people, automatically represents a lack of seriousness. It goes against the slick-backed power suit look women are supposed to aspire to in the corporate world. Perhaps it is because curls are so unabashedly feminine.” (Lepore)
Dr. Karen Hall, a physical therapist who appeared on the TODAY Show in an experiment to test how she would be perceived after straightening her hair for work instead of her natural curls, had this to report, “I have been called ‘Doctor’ more today than I have since I started here. All of a sudden, the straight hair made me official. One physician told me that he likes my hair straight and that it makes me look more professional, more serious and older. What?? What is that supposed to mean? Am I not professional or serious with curly hair?” (Hall)
My question is this: Are curls a part of a person’s personality? What else are we suppressing when we straighten our curls? Requiring women to straighten their curls is asking them to hide a natural part of them. Something they were born with, like their freckles or their height.
Repressing curls is very similar to other things we find in the workplace, like asking our team members to:
- Be loud and passionate about what you do (but not too loud or passionate)
- Be creative and innovative (but not too creative and innovative)
- Be a thought leader (but don’t call too much attention to yourself)
How can we expect to get the full potential from our employees if we ask them to hold back parts of their full selves? Nobody says “give me 65% today, okay?” No, I want 100% with full curls enthusiasm and drive.
Things are changing. The younger workforce is ushering in beards, tattoos and the occasional nose ring even at relatively conservative companies. But it may be easier to accept personal self-expression from a younger colleague than it is for the “older folks” to unlearn the lessons we were taught. If you have been taught that curls represent unprofessionalism, how able/willing are you to unlearn this? More importantly, if you are a manager, how do you feel about your younger colleagues with curly hair? Are you subconsciously discriminating? Not assigning the tough assignment to the curly kid?
Instead of focusing on looking professional (still important, brush your teeth please), just be professional. What does that mean? I’ll start the list but please help by adding to it in the comments…
Be on time
Be inspiring by being the authentic curly headed you.
Lepore, Meredith (Jul. 31, 2012), Does Having Curly Hair Hurt Your Career?
Hall, Dr. Karen (Jan. 20, 2015), What’s in a hairstyle? Women test reactions to straight vs. curly ‘dos