As the topic of natural hair in the workplace continues to grow and be a longstanding conversation for women of color, so does the conversation on what does acceptance look like for those of us who wish to rock our curly textures. Diversity & Inclusion is huge now and we often see this in the lense of race, but what if we brought hair into this equation? This past week I had the chance to sit down with the founder of the blog Corporate & Curly, Nkechi. Nkechi is an HR Manager who has worked for Fortune 5, 50, and 500 companies and in her free time, has built her platform Corporate & Curly to showcase natural hairstyles for the workplace and bomb outfits to keep your corporate wardrobe game on point. Peep our chat below and see her perspective on how we can combat natural hair discrimination in the workplace.
**All opinions included in this article are my own and are not associated with any company or organization**
Can you share your bio? What should we know about you?
My name is Nkechi (In-Kay-Chi). I am a Nigerian-American blogger who loves stepping outside of normal bounds when it comes to all things including fashion and hair. Professionally, I am a dedicated HR manager who has worked for Fortune 5, 50, and 500 companies. I currently am an HR Manager at a job that I completely love which drives and develops me each day.
During my free time, I'm currently building a passion of mine, Corporate Curly. Building a brand of my own has sparked a business-driven aspect of myself that I didn't know existed.
What inspired you to create your platform? Why focus on natural hair in the workplace?
I started Corporate Curly in an effort to provide natural hair and workwear inspiration to working women. I particularly wanted to tap into a group of women who may be hesitant and apprehensive of wearing their natural tresses into the workplace based on negative perceptions around natural hair. Since I experienced that same apprehension of embracing my own hair into the office, I wanted to help and inspire my followers on styles that I wear inside of the workplace.
I guess you could say that I was inspired by the fact that I didn't see very much conversation around wearing natural hair to work. Conversationally, I would hear of people jokingly mention to not wear natural hair in an interview. Or even when you score the job, many people would still advise not to wear one's natural hair on a daily basis. But as I became more comfortable in the corporate space, I began to do what made me feel comfortable with my hair and I wanted to share that online. So that drove me to begin to create content to spark conversation and inspiration around natural hair at work, particularly on Instagram. Furthermore, I began to become more inspired by women who would seek out advice and tips. And I became even more inspired by women who would try out my hair or workwear styles. Instagram has truly been an avenue for me to build and connect with women around the world simply on embracing their natural hair in the workplace.
How do you feel about the Crown Coalition? The stats are astounding but totally believable. Is it truly illegal for a company to navigate how someone wears their hair?
There is an absolute need for the Crown Coalition. If you have not heard, the Crown Coalition is supporting Senate Bill 188 which "helps ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by specifying in government code that the protected class of race also includes traits historically associated with race identification, such as hair texture and hairstyles."
While the statistics are gut-wrenching, they are not surprising. And while I understand this shift in the perception of natural hair won't happen overnight... Laws such as this one will ensure protection and will help change the narrative. My aim is also to help in shifting the conversation and perception of what hairstyles are perceived as being professional at work.
With natural hair acceptance still being so so in the workplace, What are some ways that women can respond when put into these situations where their hair is a topic of discussion?
Reasonable grooming standards are necessary for the workplace regardless of if your hair is straight, wavy, coily, curly, etc. And by no means is this an easy situation to be in if your natural hair is compromised, questioned, or ridiculed at work. However, I believe that it is best for women to stay true to what makes them feel their best in regards to their hair. When put in situations that may compromise one's ability to wear their natural hair in the office, I think it's important to stand firm in who you are. Educate those who may put you in an uncomfortable scenario on how a lack of acceptance of natural hair can cause unfairness and exclusion to some. In extreme cases, you may even need to raise attention and confide in someone that you trust or a trusted manager to resolve this situation.
Has there ever been a time when you felt like you were being called out for your hair in a professional setting?
In the past, while in professional settings, I have never particularly been called out directly for my hair. However, I have received remarks in the form of questions and comments that border uncomfortable to inappropriate commentary. In these situations, it would be so easy to "pop-off" so to say... However, as I've matured I always result in an attempt to EDUCATE the person who is making the comment on how that can be taken offensively.
Fortunately, no one has ever told me that I can't wear my hair to work or that it's inappropriate. But what I will say is that if you're put into this kind of situation, feel empowered to ask the question WHY, and respectfully challenge if someone tells you that your hair is not professional, appropriate, or good enough in a professional setting.
On the flip side of this conversation, there is a huge shift happening in corporate culture to be more diverse & inclusive? How can we make this conversation include hair also?
I am absolutely in love when I see organizations adopt a genuine desire to be more inclusive and diverse. I think we can make the push for our diversity and inclusion efforts to include conversations on hair in cultural awareness training and even ensuring that your organization's dress code policies are inclusive to all hair types. And honestly, when I've worn my natural hair to work, I've simply gotten questions. And you know what, that's a way to spark conversation. Even though it can be frustrating, and I don't like when the focus is on my hair at work, this is a way to educate those who may ask by having genuine discourse.
I think you should wear your hair how you want. If you've felt apprehension in the past, JUST DO IT! One way that strides can be made is if we, one by one, shift the bounds on what's been deemed professionally acceptable.
Ok fun stuff :)
The top hairstyles that you love to rock in the office?
I actually really love low-maintenance styling. I'm all about what will help me get my day started quickly, and still look groomed and professional on day 3 or 4 of the workweek. I especially love a natural updo or a slick back bun, these styles are perfect because I can wear them for multiple days with minimal touch-up.
Do you have any product holy grails? Styling tips?
Two styling tips I can share include: one, ensuring your hair is at it's healthiest with ingredients in products that really moisturize your strands. Two, also make sure to keep up with maintenance trims to ensure healthy ends.
Favorite account to follow on Instagram for #hairspo?
My favorite account to go to for hair inspiration is the @Black_Hair_Tutorials on Instagram. I love that there are so many videos that help with styling tips and inspiration.
Do you have a go-to song on your wash day playlist? What makes you feel like a hair boss?
So Bey does it again, with BROWN SKIN GIRLS. This song has been my absolute go-to since it was released. This song's message makes me feel confident and is literally an anthem and motivational push if I'm feeling a "bad hair day" coming along. I'll play it while getting dressed, and it just truly resonates with my soul to make me feel confident to rock my curls and who I truly am every single day.
Thank you so much Nkechi for chatting with me! Yall, give her a follow at @Corporate_Curly