Natural hair and upward mobility in your job - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Natural hair and upward mobility in your job

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

University of Memphis Assistant Professor of Sociology Zandria Robinson says employers are more accepting of natural hair, compared to a decade ago. But some women do face challenges. 

Robinson says the higher you're trying to move up the corporate ladder, the more scrutiny you'll face. The professor says it's likely not your natural hair which could affect your job, but the style of it. She cautions some bigger styles can be too distracting.

Ultimately, Robinson says rocking natural hair won't hold back your career but she explains factors which could hurt you.

"Since the early 90s, natural hair has been less politicized in this strict black nationalist Angela Davis kind of sense," she said. "It's more about personal expression, so as hair becomes more about personal expression employers have significantly more relaxed."

I asked, "What hair styles, if at all, hinder a woman? Is it that it's too big, too distracting?"

"It's the bigness, I think," Robinson said. "It's absolutely how big is your hair, but even then I think we can't just think about the hair, have to think about the woman as a whole, so other barriers to upward mobility, like skin color or weight or the way one articulates herself - those are barriers to upward mobility, might intersect with hair to create somebody that's a complete distraction, a total package of distraction, if you're tall, light skinned and beautiful you might be able to wear a sort of big hair or bigger hair than someone who was dark skinned or heavier."

Robinson recommends you take cues from other women in your field. But what about if you're in the public eye?

FOX13 News asked Unified School Board member Tomeka Hart, who chopped off her perm 11 years ago.  She says she was tired of being a slave to her hair. Hart says she wouldn't swim for fear of messing up her do, but says the chemical products used to straighten her hair started to make it thin. 

Now, Hart's natural style receives many compliments. The attorney says her personal choice didn't affect her ability to land a job out of college but, when she ran for Congress, Hart says her low cut hairstyle cost her votes. 

"I had a long conversation with a woman who stopped me and just said if she could get me to grow my hair back," she said. "I kept pressuring her like, 'how does that personally affect you?  How does my choice of hairstyle personally affect you?' She admitted she didn't know, she said she just had a problem with my hair. Apparently lost some votes because of my hair."

Despite her experience with some voters, Hart recommends those who are on the fence about natural hair, to do what they feel is best.  However, she says to keep your look professional.

"I would say go for it, do it as any other style you would do, keep it clean, still got to clip your ends, still have to keep your hair clean," Hart said. "I would say go for it, just be professional with whatever style, it is the best thing I've ever done, I can't imagine not being natural at this point."

African Americans spend millions of dollars on hair care each year.  Many women who switch to natural hair, admit they're saving thousands by trimming hair appointments. But the natural trend is digging into some pocketbooks, too.

There are more natural hair products emerging to create particular styles. So while many women save big bucks by switching to natural, others may be trading one expense for another.

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