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Ethnic Hair

"Ethnic" Hairstyles in the Workplace

Q: My question is about "ethnic" hairstyles in the workplace. Would a person interviewing be scrutinized because they were wearing a hairstyle that was different from the norm? For instance, as an African-American female interviewing for an executive assistant position in corporate America, could I wear dreadlocks or braids? Or, how would corporate America feel about me if I came to an interview with my head covered because of religious practices?

A: Wherever I go in today's workplace, I go in style, and you can too. Never forget that putting on clothes and dealing with your hair is an opportunity to tell people who you are and what they can do for you. My dog Dickie and I believe this so strongly that we used Color Me Beautiful technology and workplace personality testing to design a line of fashions personalized according to people's Myers-Briggs types. I wear the I-F-A-B line while Dickie favors our W-O-O-F styles.

Inside the theater of everyone's brain, psychology is like a one-actor play about how to present ourselves to our adoring world. We play multiple roles: the Me I See, the Me Others See, the Me I Want Others to See, and the Real Me. The challenge in fashioning an outward persona is to let the Real Me be the star.

At the same time, however, the Real Me must find a way to live in harmony with the Khaki Other, the conformist in the business casual office, the rulemaker and his heir. Fashion and personal grooming function like language in the workplace: they are tools for inclusion in culture. Your hair frames your face and gives all who see it a clue to your personal plan for fabulousness, starting at the top.

You will never know for sure what role your appearance will play in any of your professional successes and failures. But if you believe your prospective employer will take issue with the Me Others See, then whether or not it's true, you owe it to yourself to plan carefully how you will enact the Me I Want Others to See. Otherwise you will find it tempting to blame any professional disappointments on your hair, whether they are related to your appearance or not.

If, on the other hand, you confidently believe that the Real Me and the Me I Want Others to See both have dreadlocks, then your challenge is merely to convince the interviewer that, as somebody who will be so close to a key executive, you hold the highest personal standards, meticulous attention to detail, and self-respect.