Black Hairstyles, White Women and Corporate Hair

This article covers Endia Beal’s photography project depicting white women from corporate backgrounds wearing so-called “black hairstyles”. The content of this article is Rogelio’s opinion of the subject with an additional twist discussing the peculiarities of exotic hairstyles in a corporate environment. Enjoy!

Discussing Endia Beal’s photography project & how hairstyles that are exotic and anything but discreet are frowned upon in corporate environments.

I have to say I dig people expressing themselves; matter of fact, Manly Curls is about that. You got curly puffy hair you’re tired of? Then read my hairstyle guide. You want to grow your hair long? Then read my guide on growing hair long. You don’t know how you want your hair to look like? Then read my hair inspiration section. You want to have cool badass hair? Then choose either or both of my bestselling books, The Curly Hair Book and The Men’s Hair Book.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s all about being yourself. At least that’s what I’m trying to convey with this site.

Now… let’s stop the sugarcoating and motivational cliches for a second and get to the point of this article. Yesterday, I came across the project of a photographer named Endia Beal who wanted to experiment with giving so-called black hairstyles to middle-age white women who were corporate executives. Go figure.

White woman with a braids hairstyle for Endia Beal photograph

One of Endia Beal’s photograph depicting a white corporate woman with a hairstyle typically worn by black women

The goal, I believe, was to demonstrate that so-called “black hairstyles” could also be worn by white middle-age women stemming from corporate environments; at least temporarily while in the hair salon. Endia Beal, herself an African American, got the inspiration to photograph white women with exotic hairstyles from the attention her afro would draw among her white colleagues during her 5-week internship at the Center for Photography in Woodstock. Such a hair effect is one I’m also acquainted with, for every time I walk outside I get women popping out from all random places wanting to touch my long curly hair; I kid you not (and despite the fact that I’m one ugly puppy).

Anyway, so what was the point Endia Beal wanted to make with her project by featuring white corporate women wearing so-called black hairstyles? Well, according to her, she wanted to open the dialogue between gender, race and generations about the way we all express each other, especially in corporate environments. I commend Endia Beal for carrying out such an interesting project, and I would like to also provide my opinion on the topic that is at stake here: so-called black hairstyles not being acceptable in corporate environments. Sure, you can style a Chief Executive Officer’s hair in a cornrows hairstyle, but, the moment she leaves the hair salon, she’s going to another hair salon to undo the cornrows.

An old white woman working in a corporate environment and with a braided hairstyle

Another photograph taken by Endia Beal for her project

From the aforementioned social experiment of Endia Beal, it’s quite clear she wanted to express how so-called black hairstyles should not be frowned upon in corporate environments, for even CEOs can wear cornrows or twists as portrayed by her through the published photographs. The fact that Endia Beal concentrated this project exclusively on corporate middle-age white women with non-kinky (i.e. afro textured) hair wearing hairstyles she (Endia Beal) termed “black hairstyles” has certainly “opened” a dialogue about race as this interesting project as hers has, over the last couple of days, spun off into all sorts of race-oriented tangents.

Pandora’s box: hairstyles, hair, race and career

From the impression that I’m getting after reading comments from different bloggers and in online forums, it seems as though Endia Beal’s photography project has also opened a Pandora box’s in terms of how some black women feel they are (negatively) treated in corporate environments: since black women tend to wear so-called “black hairstyles” and not white women, such black women wearing these alluded hairstyles will not be taken serious in a corporate environment. And I know this is is a relatively-common belief among African-American ladies because I have U.S black female friends (and U.K ones too) who tell me how the elaborate hairstyles that ladies of colour like to wear are not deemed serious in the corporate world.

What I have also seen these last couple of days being associated is that it is the fact that black women wear these hairstyles what makes the hairstyles not be seen as serious in the corporate world. I have read repeatedly how “if black hairstyles were typically worn by white women and not by black women, these same hairstyles would then be perfectly acceptable in the corporate environment”. As you can see, this is a somewhat-touchy subject we’re handling, but I feel as though I should provide my opinion as I believe it is not racial discrimination (or hair-type discrimination) that is to blame here (i.e. in the corporate world), but, rather, it is the hairstyles themselves that are to blame, and I have formed such belief based on my experience in the corporate world.

A white woman from a corporate background wearing a braids hairstyle

“Exotic hairstyles” are not seen as serious in a corporate environment, whether you are black, white or green

Let me put things into context, especially for those of you who are new to my site or who haven’t read my books: black women are known for wearing hairstyles that are head-turning and are, at least to me, beautiful. I have a thing for natural curly hair without heavy manipulation; I’m talking of natural afros, teenie-weenie afros and twists. As for myself and my thickest-in-the-world curly hair, I have had an afro, a teenie-weenie afro, my curls grown to my waist and I have also worn my hair in a High and Tight Recon. Not to mention my trials with braiding my hair, bleaching my hair, using a hair relaxer, a hair straightener, using minoxidil and Toppik for the LOLz (despite I’m not balding) and many more hair experiments of mine just for the sake of learning about hair. Ergo, I’m a male with big curly hair who has seen, talked about and experienced the stigma that big hair has in the corporate world.

From my experience, it is true that elaborate cornrows, twists, locks, puffy afros and other so-called “black hairstyles” are not regarded as serious in the corporate world; and I really don’t want to continue using the term “black hairstyles” to refer to hairstyles that are usually worn by black women because using the colour of the skin to nominate hairstyles further aggravates and tergiversates the issue of racial division and discrimination, at least in my opinion (and I even hate using the name of a colour to describe people). Ergo, from here onwards, I will refer to “black hairstyles” as exotic hairstyles (simply because the hairstyles we’re focusing on here are rare).

Back to the topic. This is the kind of picture that one could easily paint from reading the aforementioned online discussions:

  • You are a black woman and have a puffy afro? I’m sorry, you’re not going up the corporate ladder.
  • You are a biracial male and you got some twists to have your curls hang down instead of puff out? I’m sorry, you will continue being an office clerk for as long as you’re here.

But, I dare ask, is it the colour of one’s skin that’s limiting one’s corporate progression, or is it something else?

Well, I firmly believe it’s not the colour of skin that’s impeding one’s career progression; rather, the culprit is the hairstyle! I’m reading blogs where people are talking how, because black women (or men) wear elaborate exotic hairstyles, the color of their skin plus their chosen exotic hairstyle will not allow them to be taken seriously in the corporate world. Really? Couldn’t the actual reason be instead that these exotic hairstyles make the owners of these hairstyles look like they have built statues atop their heads?

I have worked in the corporate world enough to be able to form an educated opinion. And I can tell you that not ONCE have I seen in the low-middle to higher ranks of the corporate environment anyone with an elaborate puffy, twisted, locked, whatever-you-want-to-call-it hairstyle. Not once! And I have lived in 5 countries and met plenty of black people in the corporate world, from Ethiopia to Nigeria to South Africa to the United States. Never, in the corporate world, have I personally seen anyone who was an employee with an elaborate hairstyle like the ones portrayed in Endia Beal’s photographs, although I certainly don’t claim that there are no humans whatsoever in this planet who happen to sport exotic hairstyles and who are being employed in corporations worldwide. On the other hand, the vast majority of black females in corporate roles that I’ve met or seen (especially the ones in managerial roles) wore their hair relaxed (i.e. chemically straightened) and thus in flat, discreet hairstyles or wore their hair in TWAs (i.e. Teenie-Weenie Afros or very short non-manipulated hair).

But why are exotic hairstyles frowned upon in corporate environments?

Because communication is key in business.

Read the above sentence again because the answer to this Pandora’s box can be perfectly summarised in the above sentence.

When you are negotiating a 5-million-dollar deal, you cannot have a puffy afro while explaining the deal to the buyer. Why? Because your afro distracts from the conversational setting and communication flow. Plain and simple.

If you are talking about opening a new water-processing factory in Kuwait worth 5-million bucks, the guys whom you’re supposed to sell the deal to will all be wondering about how your hair is so elaborately crafted; how you get your hair so puffy; how your afro is almost the size of your head; how on earth can you go to bed with all that hair and how your hair resembles the hair of this dude they saw on TV the other day.

How do I know this? Because I have been exactly in the same situations, settings and environments. I too have big hair and I too have seen and experienced what having a hairstyle that emphasized my big hair can do to my career in a corporate environment. I have seen it plenty of times and certainly experienced it at high levels of the corporate ladder; how am I going to take you serious and give you my $5 millions if all I’ve done in your presentation is wonder about your afro? Don’t get me wrong, this ain’t just related to the exotic hairstyles typically worn by black ladies; a white guy with a ponytail or cornrows won’t be taken seriously either.

Vladimir Radmanovic with his hair in a braids hairstyle

He is white, and I doubt anyone would see him as, say, Senior Financial Advisor at Morgan Stanley

Endia Beal’s interesting project isn’t the first time that I have seen the topic of discrimination based on hairstyles or hair type and, by default, on the colour of one’s skin resurfacing online. However, I have yet to read anyone mentioning the very-simple-yet-massively-important fact that I have experienced plentifully in the corporate world, and that fact is that, to make deals with people and to negotiate transactions on behalf of a corporation, you must have, at all times, communicated trust and seriousness, which you will NOT do if you have a hairstyle that the buyer has only seen in movies or rap-music MTV clips.

Short hairstyles in the corporate world

You see, in the corporate world, you are not the owner of the company; you are an employee working to benefit the company you work for (and thus you get a steady pay every month); consequently, in the corporate world, you must obey the rules and be aware of the implicit rules that revolve around the corporate world.

In the corporate world, I’d say that 50% of the men who are on the top corporate ladder (i.e. the sharks) are bald. And, of the other 50%, half of them are on their way to baldness with a IV Norwood Stage. So, here you come with your new curly-kinky twists, rocking the office, the women drooling all over you, wanting to touch your curls and telling you how your curls are so luscious (true personal story).

You think the bald men who are moving millions of dollars every day are going to take a dude showing off his twists-styled mane serious?

Of course not.

An old bald man smoking a cigar.

You think this guy gives a damn about how fly you look with those new braids of yours?

Having exotic hairstyles in the corporate world demonstrates that you don’t follow rules; ergo, you don’t follow the implicit rule imposing that hair in men must be short in the corporate world. The people above you are the ones giving orders; you do not and cannot impose anything: so either cut your hair to a decent length, or leave the company; it really is that simple. And the same goes for women: if the rest of the female crowd in your company has to put up with having their hair in discreet hairstyles so as to not disrupt the oh-so-important communication process, do you think you’re going to be the one exception inside an organization that could easily do without you and find someone who does exactly what you do but with a discreet hairstyle?

Following on from the above and for those wondering, in the corporate world, men’s hair should be discreet, should not exceed 4 inches in length and should not reach below the eyebrows or touch the shirt’s collar (UBS… wink, wink). For women (and, of course, regardless of skin colour), the hairstyle must be discreet and without much volume (sometimes you will be given a volume-length mark, which can also apply to men) and the hair should also never be loose if it is at a length that touches the shoulders, so twists, puffy afros, locks and the likes are out of the equation in a corporate environment, simply because such exotic hairstyles are massive interrupters in the communication flow.

Barack Obama with a corporate business haircut

Well, this guy is biracial, has a neat and classy hairstyle, and I’ve heard his gotten somewhat far in his career or something

By having short hair (or a discreet hairstyle in the case of women), you demonstrate to your superiors and to your peers alike that you follow the rules, thus you will be accepted in the corporate world; this goes for men, women, white men, black women, Asian women, Artic-Pole men and all races and ethnicities of this planet called Earth. The corporate world has rules, and, if you want to go up in the corporate ladder, you must follow the implicit rules and code of conduct. There is no colour of skin involved in the corporate world, and there’s no hair-type discrimination either like I’m starting to get tired of reading.

This is how it truly works in the corporate world:

  • If you are a black male with afro-textured hair and with a short business haircut, you’re in.
  • If you are a white male with cornrows, you are not in.
  • If you are a black woman with your curly kinky hair in a discreet hairstyle, you’re in.
  • If you’re a white woman with dreadlocks, you’re not in.

Whether you are a man or a woman, your hair must never distract the communication process in the corporate world as you’ll otherwise lose trust and respect. Ergo and by consequence of you wearing an exotic hairstyle, you won’t be taken serious in a corporate environment, and such ultimate consequence (not being taken serious due to chosen hairstyle and, by proxy, race) is what is being regurgitated ad nauseum these days without weeding out and pinpointing cause-and-effect scenarios. It’s not the colour of your skin or whether you’re an XX or an XY; it’s the actual hairstyle, people!

As such, in the corporate world, only those who have followed the rules, be them implicit or explicit, will be taken serious; if you come to a business meeting with cornrows, you’re demonstrating, right there and then, that you are either not aware of the implicit rules dominating the environment you’re moving in or that you are a ruler breaker and have no consideration for others, and that doesn’t work in the corporate world; I guarantee you that.

Like I’ve said, I have some good-enough experience in the corporate world that has allowed me to see what I’m bringing forth in this article. Like I describe in my book, The Curly Hair Book, I have also worn long hair in the corporate world, but I’ve had to be very careful with how I went about it and I still faced some corporate issues, which have showed me in situ what and how are the corporate rules. Some day, I’ll write a guide on how to wear long hair in the workplace, but this article has already surpassed 3,000 words, so it’s enough for today; though I have put below a picture with the actual long hairstyle I’d wear in a corporate environment, and there are other tricks I do to remove the emphasis on the long hair (the picture below can be found in my how to grow long curly hair article).

A man with long curly hair ready for the corporate world.

Want to have a cool and exotic hairstyle? Then be a business owner

Must I say that I have seen men with long hair in the corporate world, but these men were either the guys at the very top of the corporate hierarchy (who could, of course, skip the rules) or they were business owners, thus they could make any decisions or rules they wanted and be liable for not being able to negotiate and close deals due to their chosen hairstyle (for what’s worth, this is a very-real and palpable risk). I have also met black female entrepreneurs who had some superb exotic hairstyles, but then, they were business owners too.

In the corporate world, you either obey the rules or you’re out. Your hair must never interrupt the communication process, but nor should your shoes or your business suit. The reward for following this fairly-strict code of conduct? Lots of money and respect in your industry. And, whether you like it or not, money is the gasoline that fuels the engine (i.e. people) that moves this world, so the people at the top make the rules, as fair (or not) as that may sound.

If you want to wear some awesome cornrows, then there are other careers and industries where wearing such exotic hairstyles are perfectly acceptable; but not in the corporate world, and for perfectly-understandable reasons too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of exotic hairstyles and I strongly support the embracing of your natural hair and your self-being (hey, I wrote a 230+ long book on the topic), but, depending where you choose to develop yourself career-wise, you will have to make some sacrifices, and, in the corporate world, it’s the hair plus your personal image, which should always be discreet, neat, clean and homogenized; there’s no room for experimenting.

I’d like to end this article by inviting you, my fellow reader, to discuss about this (covered) mildly-controversial topic by commenting below. Likewise, any bloggers or writers who are interested in this topic, feel free to comment and discuss too. I promote the discussion of benign controversial topics so that the word spreads and we humans can get to understand each other without having to hate or label each other. It’s the very least I could do with this blog, and I’m archiving this article in my Tales of a Curly Haired Man section because it truly deserves to be there.

All the best, ladies and gentlemen.


P.S: here are the links to my two books on Amazon, The Curly Hair Book and The Men’s Hair Book. Worth the read if you enjoy Manly Curls as well as my occasional ramblings! And don’t forget to subscribe to Manly Curls to keep yourself updated on my latest posts and do also follow Manly Curls on Facebook (we’re over 2100 already!).

P.S.S: do also click this link to see Barack Obama with an afro hairstyle in his younger years, only here at Manly Curls!

Image credit: Endia Beal

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Rogelio is the go-to guy when it comes to men's hair. Having embraced his natural curly hair for over a decade while living in 5 countries, Rogelio has learnt a thing or two along the way. Rogelio is the author of the two bestselling men's books "The Curly Hair Book" and "The Men's Hair Book", and his motto when it comes to hair is, "Gentlemen, having a good head of hair should not cost us our testosterone".

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5 comments for “Black Hairstyles, White Women and Corporate Hair

  1. Beth
    October 30, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Luv your opinion Rogelio :)
    Would like to know what do you think of women /or men/ who are fired after they are hired with the same hairstyle? know a couple of cases of this actually happening, including a close family member..

    • Rogelio
      November 5, 2013 at 12:06 am

      Thank you all for the compliments and great feedback!

      Beth, in that case (as you mention), then it’s different. If one had the same exotic hairstyle when he/she was hired and is then fired due to his hairstyle and not wanting to cut his hair or change the hairstyle, then I believe the company/employer/HR department is to blame and be held accountable for. When it comes to people’s jobs, you cannot be playing with one’s employment because you (employer) changes his/her mind as to what is allowed in the office. The rules need to be laid out right from the very start, which is why I always advice men (and women) to ALWAYS ask about allowed hairstyles and hair lengths when they are employed (and preferably have the actual styling rules in writing just in case).

      Hope that helps and feel free to let me know how it goes.


  2. Malik
    October 30, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Finally!!! someone who gets it! I’m so tired of reading the same whining of people getting fired because of dreadlocks and other exotic hairstyles like you call them (I dont agree either with the black label). Its the hairstyle, the bizarre shapes some people go into putting their hair that gets them in trouble in the corporate world, no racial discrimination for Christs sake. No hair discrimination either.

    You know I like to see myself as a liberal, treat others like you would like to be treated etc but if you’re going to step up into a strict territory, you have to put up with the rules of the game and not demand yours. Tired of reading of women who spend half their paycheck on useless hair products, wasting their life away to be “natural” and then complain they are not treated serious because of the “hair”, yeah right…Hair should really be no priority when you’re moving around corporate environments yet I’m testimony -I’m black male and working in insurance industry, if this means anything in this context- of how many black women just OBSESS over their hair to unhealthy levels.

    So glad to get to read someone who can actually think for himself.

    Take care bro

  3. Suzanne
    October 26, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    i’m a long time fan of Manly Curls Rogelio and as a bi-racial female I agree with you 110%. I just did a summer internship in a big corporation here in the States, in the financial industry as I’m majoring in financial studies. One of the things I did is speak with the HR director about specific rules for dressing and styling myself according to specific rules of the company – I know the basic rules btw but I know like you mention in this article how there are some rules not mentioned widely.

    The HR director mentioned “hairstyle”, and I quote “your hair must never touch the shoulders and should be tied back with no hair loose other than front bangs”. I remember that phrase, dont know how loL Being bi-racial I have very curly hair like yours and depending on the day it touches or doesnt touch the hair, you know like the coil factor you explain in your book.
    I ended up tying my hair back and also buying some bobby pins and asking my lil sister how to use them lol because my curls would not tie back in one tail but would spring back etc the whole curly hair drama. I managed to make it work out and I notice all the girls in the office including black girls and white girls with curly hair would all wear their hair tied back tight like mine was. Every last friday of the month we would be allowed to dress more casually as we would end the work day at 2pm and it was then I saw the girls at work really let their hair out and also braid their hair and gosh their curly hair was so big – but so is mine :-P

    On monday though it was back to tied back hair lol

    Anyway just letting u know my story. I love your blog and sort of have a crush with your hair since I saw a picture of your hair….:-) not being creepy but you just have freaking gorgeous hair!!! lol

    Whatever you do, pls never stop writing :-)

  4. DJ
    October 23, 2013 at 12:53 am

    Now thats one great read Rogelio!
    Have to agree with ya, im a black barber and i have lsot count of the number of local college guys coming to me for their couple of haircuts before they start looking for big company jobs, they dont take it too well when i tell them the locks, twists, curls, twa/afros, braids, hi tops and all the hairstyles that were good to go in college have to now go.They will actually thank me a few months after they get the job when they get to realize how their college hairstyles were truly innappropriate for the corporate environment.
    I could only imagine it would be the same for the ladies too.
    Great site you have here, first time visitor myself here but have heard of ur site before so gonna take a look around — my hair is exactly like yours when its long too lol

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