That's what it can be like to have curly or kinky hair in corporate America. Embracing your curls in the workplace may have its challenges. But experts say it’s the way you handle those challenges that determines how your curls are accepted on the job.
3. CRANK UP THE CURL CONFIDENCE
Once you’ve found the right curly look, stylists say the first person you need to convince that it looks great is yourself.
“If you put yourself in an environment where you’re going to be scrutinized before you’re sure you’re even happy with your curly hair, it can be crushing,” Branch explains. “It’s important to be confident, to smile. If someone says, ‘Oh, your hair looks kind of weird today,’ then it takes a lot of strength, but you have to keep it positive. Confident responses neutralize those remarks when you walk into your office. Say something like, ‘I decided to wear my hair in its naturally curly state today, and I love it!’”
Stylists say curl confidence comes from knowing and feeling that you look great and you like what you see.
“You have to have the confidence that your curly hair is beautiful and it doesn’t matter what anybody says,” adds DaCosta. “If someone makes a comment in whichever way, you answer it in a delightful way — unless they say something racist. Then you would bring that to the attention of human resources.”
4. BUILD BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS
If you’ve experimented with new styles and now you love your curls, yet you're still experiencing a negative response, should you ask someone in your office why they’re not embracing your new do?
“It’s a very pointed question that takes a lot of courage, so it depends on the relationship you have with the person you are asking,” Branch says. “Because our hair is tied to our level of confidence, that question is better asked of someone you have formed a relationship with. It also depends on you and what you can handle. So, you have to evaluate who you are asking and then be ready for whatever the response may be.”
“It also goes back to the relationships that you are building within the work environment,” adds Di Salvo. “Are you able to have a fruitful and light conversation with your boss? You’re accountable for the relationship that you are building and your ability to feel comfortable enough to have that open dialogue without feeling defensive.”
5. CHALLENGE THE “CHANGE” FACTOR
Once you’ve done everything you can to manage your curly hair, and you’re receiving positive reinforcement from family and friends, then you just have to prepare for what DiSalvo calls the “change factor.”
“When you walk into a workplace where you’ve worn it straight and now you’re wearing it curly, that’s just a transition that you have to walk through and feel confident that it’s not you, it’s the other person,” Di Salvo says.
“We have to be the ones to show Corporate America that it’s okay to wear our hair curly, but also conservative,” adds DaCosta. “Anytime you do something different, people always have something to say. They may make a comment because they’ve never seen it before and they’re curious. If you’re not defensive when people ask about your curly hair — and you educate them on what it is — then they have a better understanding. Only if they say something very derogatory should you be offended.”
And if the comments aren’t outright derogatory, but your bosses still state their preference for the straight look they’re so used to seeing, Branch suggests preparing a positive curly comeback.
“You can say something like, ‘Thank you, I’m glad to see you recognize that, but luckily because my hair is curly I have such a range of options,’ and then just leave it at that,” she says. “It doesn’t put you into direct confrontation with your boss, but at the same time you’re not walking away feeling wounded. It’s a balancing act.”
And curl-centric stylists say the scales are now tipping in favor of the curly—even in a conservative corporate environment.
“The more images we see on television of women who are embracing their curls, the more it has spilled over into the workplace,” Branch says. “The advent of curly hair stylists has made a difference, too. Now you have the expertise and products to make your curly hair really look good, so going into the office is not such a compromise anymore. It’s like, ‘Yeah, my curly hair looks great!’”