Today was the first day I wore my ponytail puff to work. It was an important milestone, because up until this point, there had been some hesitation to appear too…strong, if you will, in the eyes of the court. As a Black woman, as a woman period, there is often an invisible line that we toe when it comes to working in Corporate America. I know that many will say, “Just be who you are,” “None of that stuff matters,” “People don’t care as long as you are qualified,” and other sentiments along these lines. That would be great- if it were true. In the real world, however, my colleagues and I have had many experiences where this is not the case.
Whether it is being penalized for not having a “resume” name rather than an “ethnic” one, being stereotyped as loud and angry because of our hair, being looked upon as a risk because there may be the possibility we have a husband and/or kids, or feeling the unspoken pressure to wear pantyhose in 100 degree weather, there are a plethora of thoughts that go through the minds of many women in today’s workforce. While it’s nice to think these things are small, it is delusional.
We are kidding ourselves if we do not think that people are making snap judgments the minute we walk through the door. I am all for waving the, “You’re not the boss of me flag,” however, I am also a fan of feeding my family and paying my student loans. I, therefore, know when to pick my battles. I know how to be me, but be me in a way that fits into my professional settings. As an attorney, my biggest point of inner contention in this area has been my hair. How to rock these beautiful coils while getting as many cases as possible and staying authentic?
Believe it or not, hair and how to wear it for work is a hot topic among Black women who have decided not to straighten theirs. We sing about how, “I am not my hair,” and how people need to “accept me the way that I am.” I fully agree. People do need to accept us the way that we are, however, we can look at our own community and see that is not always the reality. We cannot ignore people’s inability to fully embrace us when it comes to our careers. I am not condoning turning into another person to please others. I also am by no means suggesting that we should lie down and rollover when we are clearly discriminated against because of our outward appearance. I am encouraging you to find your sweet spot. This is the place where you can express yourself, and the beauty of our hair, and continue to be successful in your endeavors.
We should stop fooling ourselves into thinking that being apart of Corporate America does not come with sacrifices. Having to sometimes mold pieces of ourselves to fit into its culture is one of the most common ones we make. If inoffensive compromise is not something you are willing to do, you are better off working in the arts or being a business owner. Although, even as an entrepreneur, your “boss” is now your customer and you have to know your audience and what was previously stated still applies.
Today, I wore my curls as a symbol of who I am and my strength. I wore my pearls as a symbol of my femininity and softness. I covered my arms and wore those dreadful pantyhose because it was a court of law, and I respect my surroundings.
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