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Ask the White Guy: Do Blacks Need to Relax Their Natural Hair to Get Promoted?

Does this reader need to relax her natural hair to get ahead in the workplace? Read what the White Guy says.

Question:


I am a Black woman from continental Africa who chooses to have natural Black hair, not relaxed or chemically altered in any way. I wear my natural hair not as some political statement but because it is the hair that God gave me and intended me to have, just as it was intended for some Caucasians to have blue eyes or blond hair.

I have heard about women and men of African descent being overlooked for promotions or outright being fired because they choose to wear their natural hair, braids, twists, mini Afros, locs and so forth. I understand that you do not represent all white people nor do you speak for the whole white race, but I wanted to know if whites in general feel disdain for natural Black hair in corporate America, or is it just an overblown issue?

Also, I have heard that the more "African" you look–dark-skinned, coarse hair (think Wesley Snipes, Whoopi Goldberg)–the more ignored and overlooked you will be in the workplace … and the more light-skinned or "whiter" you appear (think Halle Berry or Beyoncé) you appear, the easier it is to get promotions. Is this really all true? Are there "preferred" Blacks in corporate America? Isn't diversity supposed to be inclusive of everyone–natural hair, blue eyes, fine hair, etc.?

Also, why does wearing natural hair, braids, locs, twists or any "Black" hair style that accommodates and is more healthy for our hair structure have to always be perceived as something negative, or worse, "political"? Why does the coarse hair on my head need to relaxed or chemically altered to be "presentable" in the workplace? Please be honest.

Answer:

There's no doubt in my mind that Black people have been overlooked for promotions because of natural hair or darker skin color. Psychological tests show that people most trust people who look like them. Since white men run most corporations in this country, straightened hair and/or lighter skin is going to be an advantage (disturbing, but let's keep it real).

However, allowing a bias like this to go unchecked is detrimental to business, as hair texture has no connection to talent or ability. An inability to manage past immaterial things like this makes a company less competitive.

This is where diversity management returns on investment. Companies that manage past bias and hire, mentor and promote equitably have better talent. They are also better prepared for the future as our country becomes more diverse. Our DiversityInc Top 50 data proves that representation is tied to recruitment and retention.

This isn't a theory; it's a reality for companies that earn a spot on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. DiversityInc Top 50 companies have up to twice as much representation of Black, Latino and Asian people in management than the overall management work force in the United States.

Equity equals quality. That means a corporate culture that is so out of touch with reality as to not have good diversity management is not a good place for anyone to work–not just Black people.

If you think your company "isn't ready for natural hair," then you should check out our career center right now.

However, please consider this carefully: President Obama won a decisive majority of white people's votes and diversity was a key factor in determining the 2012 election, so if you think your company really isn't "ready for that," it may be that your perception is out of date.

I think America is ready for the Black women (and men, but this is mostly a woman's issue) in our lives to be more natural with their hair–and I'm looking forward to it.

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.

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