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Lose the Locks for a Promotion?

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion:
I am a mid-30s manager who is African American, openly gay and wears long natural hair (locks). Thus far in my 10-year career, I have been blessed with career success through promotions, awards, visibility assignments, mentoring and networking opportunities, and allowed to take risks. I know some of your readers will immediately have certain stereotypes about me but NO, I am tall, I hire and mentor other minorities and women, my partner is also African American, and I speak properly without sounding like Carlton Banks from the “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

What is my problem, you ask? Recently, I have been invited to an interview for a position in senior management. While I am most grateful for the opportunity, frankly, I am uncertain about going forward with the interview. Some of my mentors and friends say that I will have to cut my hair and act more “corporate” to fit in with the inner circle because success at the senior level is different from the mid-level. I value what this opportunity means but do not want to sacrifice who I am.

Signed,
Should I keep it real in the middle or move on up?

Answer:
If they wanted Urkel, they would have found Urkel.

You were asked to interview. The people who asked you already know about your natural hair, your confidence in being out and your mentorship of your coworkers. Assuming you’re not keeping your look preserved in amber and assuming you’ll evolve appropriately, I would take the invitation to interview as both a positive reflection of your company–and yourself.

Don’t cut the locks, be yourself and “break a leg.” Although the advice you’re getting may be heartfelt, it reminds me of all the baby-boomer people who didn’t think Sen. Obama had a chance. They were wrong.

One thing I would suggest for you: You didn’t specifically mention mentoring white people. If you aren’t doing that, please start. We need to cross the mentoring race lines bi-directionally.

Please let me know what happens.

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