22 Corporate Women Share What Wearing Their Natural Hair to Work Means

Stop saying it's "just hair" when the federal court once ruled it legal for employers to ban dreadlocks. Stop saying it's "just hair" when young girls in middle school are getting suspended for wearing their natural hair. Stop saying it's "just hair" when black women are getting fired from their jobs for the natural styles they choose to wear in their hair, not because of their actions. Stop saying it's "just hair" when the kids in my predominately white swimming class would stare and laugh at me when my afro turned kinky once it hit the water.

Although some may think hair is merely a physical identifier, hair and the black identity mean so much more. There's more to black hair than what simply meets the eye. There's always a story tied to the hair that sprouts from our head; it's a journey full of ups, downs, turns, and roadblocks. Oftentimes, this story is far from a smooth-sailing tale. As we go through life, our hair is met with many changes, which means something different for everyone. It could mean finally transitioning your chemically relaxed or permed hair, which is a treatment to make your curly hair permanently straight, to natural. It could mean strengthening your strands from years of heat damage because you decided to straighten your hair too much. Or it could mean that you've decided to embrace your natural hair and everything that comes with it. 

Changing our hair can mean dealing with the blank stares, mindless questions, and microaggressions in the workplace from non-black peers when you walk in with natural hair and no one else looks like you. This reality is especially heightened when you work in corporate America, a historically white, patriarchal space full of people who often look the same. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that there are only three black CEOs in Fortune 500 companies and zero black women running them. With this lack of diversity, the celebration of black hair, which encompasses countless black hairstyles, in the workplace, and elsewhere, is a complex and challenging narrative.

It's 2018, and the thought of wearing natural hair in buttoned-up corporate America instills a perpetual sense of shame and fear in the minds of many black women. Prayerfully, a time will come when black women are not discriminated against or laced with judgment because of the way we choose to wear our hair. True progress will happen when the realization that black hair, in every single setting, symbolizes resistance, freedom, love, fight, and power comes to fruition. 

Below, 22 brilliant women of color share what it's like wearing natural styles in corporate America. To take in all of their experiences, keep reading.