By Jo Adeyemo
My longest ever job search recently came to an end after I was offered a position at an online magazine. One of the things I had to seriously consider was how my hair might affect my chances should a potential employer call me in for an interview. I have natural hair and save for a few times in my life I never wear weaves. Generally speaking, sleek straight hair is considered more professional than kinky natural hair so there was always a possibility that an interviewer will judge a natural unfairly because of my hair.
And I’m not the only one who feels that way. A friend with locs (dreadlocks) told me that she used to wear a weave over her hair to increase her chances of getting hired. A few days or even weeks, always to the shock of her co-workers, she’d arrive at work with her shoulder length locs in their full glory. Another friend told me her sister would wear a wig over her natural hair when she attended interviews because she felt otherwise her chances of getting hired were almost non-existent. She’d learnt from experience that she was more likely to get a job when her natural hair was covered up.
Even in a black majority country afros, locs, braids, twists, twist outs, bantu knots and cornrows aren’t typically considered part of the corporate look. I’ve been told that the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) has banned their reporters and newsreaders from wearing locs, though I can’t confirm whether this is true. It’s ZNBC’s prerogative of course but it’s amazing to think the best person for the job could miss out simply because they have the wrong hairstyle.
I’m glad to say I got offered a job after attending an interview wearing my newly done baby locs. But then again I was interviewed by a Scandinavian woman and I do sometimes wonder what the outcome would’ve been if my interviewer was a black Zambian. This is not to say that I think most Zambian employers would refuse to hire a person based on their hair alone but biases exists. A woman wearing a weave or wig will never have to worry about the hair on her head reducing her chances of getting hired. A black Zambian woman in a Peruvian weave all the way down her back won’t feel compelled to take out her weave lest she be perceived to be as fake as the hair on her head. But step into an interview with a fro or locs and you’ll just have to accept the fact that you may be written off as unprofessional, untidy, a rebel making a political statement or a druggie before you’ve said a single word.
People should do what they want with their hair and that includes chemical straightening and wearing weaves or wigs. And those of us who chose to keep hair in its natural state shouldn’t be discriminated against, but the fact is, we are. Hair shouldn’t be political but unfortunately, it is.
*Jo is a Lusaka based writer. She blogs infrequently at Badafricana.blogspot.com