Is Natural Hair a Blessing or a Curse In The Workplace? Interviews with 3 high-flying naturals (Part I)
To begin our new series on natural hair and the workplace, I had the pleasure of interviewing certified life and business coach, trainer and motivational speaker, Nicole A. Dunbar!
Nicole is smart, successful and a fellow natural so it was an absolute honour to have her take part in this interview series. She’s been featured in various media outlets and publications including CNN and has over thirteen years of experience in the corporate world.
My Curls: What inspired you to go natural?
Nicole: My inspiration came in two stages – Awareness, and then opportunity:
In college, I had a relaxer, and despite the weekly 4-6 hour ritual I was a slave to in order to maintain my ‘do’, I loved my bouncing hair. But I also had a very close friend who was completely natural, and had the most beautiful, LONG, kinky, curly hair that she would wear in soft twists, braids, and puffs. She was the first young woman that I’d ever met that had beautiful, healthy, attractive, natural hair, and I found myself (for the first time ever) wondering what my natural curls looked like.
After graduating from Cornell University, I was recruited for a job in Marketing in the global headquarters of a Luxury Chocolatier headquartered in New York City. When I moved to New York, I was immediately struck with the high percentage of women of African descent with natural hair! The styles ranged from conservative puffs and up-do’s perfect for the office, to pretty two-strand twists for every day. And for weekend/evenings, Sexy Twist-outs, and Free form Afro’s…I was overwhelmed with all the possibilities! Literally 1 out of every 3 black women I saw on the streets of Manhattan were wearing their natural hair.
Meanwhile, because it took me quite a while to find a stylist that I felt comfortable with, I had *a lot* of breakage to my once long and bouncy relaxer. To even out the breakage, and try something new, I opted for a short pixie cut, which I wore for about 1 month; it was cute, but the heat and chemical maintenance required to keep it up was more than when my hair was long. Finally, after a disastrous and brutally painful relaxer with my new stylist, I decided to try to grow my natural hair out. Because my relaxed hair was so very short, I figured this was my opportunity. I was tired of admiring everyone else’s natural hair…I wanted to see my own! Plus, I knew I wouldn’t have the courage to cut my hair off if I grew out my relaxer again.
Those first few weeks were like a discovery. I didn’t know that the new growth that everyone called ugly names like “naps”, ‘bee bees’, and ‘kitchen’, was actually tiny little curls, coils and kinks.
I fell in love with my natural hair, the texture (all four curl patterns that are present in my hair!), the color, the thickness, and something I never knew was missing…the strength my hair possessed, when left in its natural state. That was in October 1999, and I’ve never looked back!
My Curls: During your career in the corporate/professional world, did you ever feel as if your hair or appearance impacted how people perceived you?
Nicole: This was *never* an issue for me. In fact, when I finally chopped off the remaining relaxer about 5 months after living in New York City, several of my female colleagues in the Marketing department where I worked commended me on my decision to go for my funky & trendy cut.
My Curls: A lot of people believe that having natural hair isn’t professional, beautiful or attractive. How do you feel about these assumptions? Do you agree/ disagree and why?
Nicole: I’ve seen far too many examples of naturally beautiful hair to ever agree with this blanket statement. And frankly, I’ve personally heard far too many compliments to do anything but pity those that believe that to be true. Whenever I hear this blatantly negative reply, I instinctively know that the person either:
– has never truly seen a properly groomed natural hairstyle,
– has never truly met a woman (or man) of African descent that is unapologetically comfortable in their own skin and natural hair, AND/OR
– has bought into a singular definition of beauty
In a few extreme cases, I’ve observed that people of African descent with this negative mindset may actually hate themselves, and it is that self-hatred that causes them to be blinded to the fact that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and even curl patterns.
My Curls: How did your friends and family react to you going natural?
Nicole: My friends, colleagues, and most of my family LOVED it, or didn’t care either way! My mother, however, *hated it*at first. She couldn’t understand why I would cut off all my ‘long hair’, to have such a short ‘do. Let’s just say those early years required a lot of patience! But things are different today. She is accepting of my hairstyle, and I often hear her say that she wishes she had my hair.
My Curls: Who reacted most positively to your natural hair? (eg family, friends, colleagues, clients)
Nicole: Interestingly enough, I heard the most directly positive feedback from my non-black female colleagues and supervisor in my corporate job. Next were my friends, and even perfect strangers that would stop me on the street to compliment my hair. Then my Family.
My Curls: What’s your current occupation and has being natural affected it in any way?
Nicole: After several years in Corporate America, and then in management roles in non profit organizations, I’ve launched my own Business, www.CongruencyInc.com , where I offer Life and Business Coaching, Training, and Business Resources to business owners and professionals across the globe. I can honestly say that having my hair in its natural state *has not been* an issue or a topic of discussion for me professionally…EVER. I’ve been featured on CNN.com, and am currently being considered for a spot on a nationally syndicated media outlet with my natural hair.
Also, in the past, I’ve been hired, promoted, and negotiated salary increases time and again with my hair in its natural state.
We all know that narrow minded viewpoints still exist, but personally, I know that I would never be happy working for companies that thought that way to begin with. Perhaps I’m a bit arrogant in thinking this way, but if someone doesn’t want to work with me, or engage my company’s services as a result of the texture of my hair, then they don’t deserve to reap the benefits of my expertise. My skills and abilities are such that I believe that my ideal clients are drawn to work with ME, not my hair. If my hair stops them from moving forward, they are simply not my client.
My Curls: Finally, what advice would you give to people who are thinking of going natural but are afraid that it might affect their careers?
– Become excellent at your WORK. Neither the most beautiful relaxed hair, nor the loveliest natural twist-out will compensate for sloppy work in the long run.
– If you sense that a company you work for truly won’t accept your professionally styled, properly groomed natural hair in the year *2012*, seriously consider whether you actually want to work in that type of environment. Then get your resume/CV together.
– Get clear about whether the issue is with your company, or with *you* and what *YOU* believe to be attractive. Your reluctance to go natural may have nothing to do with your boss’s opinion, and everything to do with your beliefs.
– Get clear about WHAT YOU WANT holistically, not just professionally. Look at all aspects of your life, and determine how you want to show up in it. Then pursue the path that is aligned to that truth.
– Never forget: At the end of the day, it’s just hair. It’s not a political statement. It’s not outrage. It’s just hair.
Thank you so much for your wonderful interview Nicole. I’m sure naturals and aspiring transitioners will have learnt a lot. What I took from your answers were that being comfortable with yourself is key and that the key to excelling in any profession is excellence.