March 9th, 2012
05:01 PM ET

Rareview: Going natural in corporate America

By Claudia Morales, CNN

(CNN) - Her black, female, co-workers pressured her to re-consider, but Ivy Grant, an associate partner in a marketing consulting firm decided to make the transition from her processed straight hair, to her naturally textured hair twelve years ago, and has no regrets.

Everyone has this fear that you’re not going to be accepted in the work place with this kind of hair,” Grant said referring to her curly afro.
On the other hand, financial executive Michele Chowtai is only eight months into the transition process, and says she is still not sure if she will go “fully natural.” She fears there is a negative stigma she can’t avoid and wonders, “How am I going to be perceived in the work place after I go completely natural?”

More and more black women are grappling with these decisions. The percentage that say they do not use chemical products to straighten or relax their hair increased to 36% in 2011, up from 26% in 2010, according to a report by Mintel, a market intelligence firm.
The desire for healthy hair and an escape from damaging chemical products are two of the reasons why women are choosing to go natural. After years of torturous treatments, scalp burns and high costs, Grant walked into a salon, cut all her hair off and decided she would never go back to chemical relaxers.

Recent numbers in the sale of chemical relaxer kits also indicate other black women feel the same. Sales dropped by 17% between 2006 and 2011. Natural hair experts say this decline reflects a growing movement within the billion-dollar black hair care industry.

“Natural hair is not a trend, it’s here to stay. You’re going to see more women going natural than ever before,” said professional stylist Tracy Robertson.

But, the reason why stylists, like Robertson, say most of their clients continue to chemically straighten their hair is because they don’t understand their styling options and worry about maintaining what they perceive to be a corporate look.

The lack of knowledge black women had about their hair texture compelled hair care professionals to start natural hair product lines designed to help them make the transition and also show them that there are other styling choices suitable for corporate careers.

“When people say ‘natural hair,’ the first thing they think of is Afro texture, or braids, or locks, when natural hair can also be hair that is smoothed without the damaging heat or chemicals,” explained Robertson, the co-owner of TAG Salon, a company dedicated to educating black women about their hair texture’s versatility.

The author of Textured Tresses: The Ultimate Guide to Maintaining and Styling Natural Hair, Diane Da Costa is known for her step-by-step hair guides, and has encouraged women to go natural in and out of the workplace for over twenty-five years.

“It is an exciting time for women to transition to a natural hair style, and it’s also an exciting time to live through it with all the products that are out there. 15 years ago you had limited choices. Now you have options,” said DaCosta.

Professional stylist and self proclaimed “texture guru” Anthony Dickey also launched “Hair Rules,” a product line offering solutions for all types of hair textures.

“It’s important to offer education to women on their hair texture because a lot of women are just under the impression that their natural hair is only going to have to be worn [kinky or curly],” said Dickey. Wearing a natural hair style can mean maintaining a natural curly pattern, but it can also include straightened hair styles.

When Michelle Chowtai noticed her hair was falling out in patches she knew that she had to find an alternative, but was nervous that if she wore a style with her natural hair pattern, she could be stereotyped as “unkempt” or “uneducated.” After a consultation with Dickey she found a look she says she is comfortable with at work.

“I don’t know if I will be willing to go completely natural, and I think that’s because there are other avenues, other things I can do to get my hair to look the way that it does today and I’m satisfied with this look.”

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Filed under: Black in America • How we look • Rareviews • Women
soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. Natasha Carter

    How sad. Scared to wear as you are. I know we live in a country where our African features are not embraced. I think it's up to us have confidence in our aesthetics, then we make the rest of the world believe.

    July 28, 2013 at 5:06 am | Report abuse |
  2. Kiyar

    You can do several tnhigs to help hair growth. The best is to take some vitamin E or increase vitamin E in your diet. Also scalp massage, getting regular trims, and some people swear by using horse shampoo and conditioner (gives you silky and shiny hair).

    July 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Monica

    Reading this article has saddened me to some degree. It's a shame that in this day and age people, but especially women, are still so caught up in what others will think about what their hair. I too struggle with this worry, but as the days go by and the confidence I have in myself grows, I care less and less.

    When it comes to natural black hair, which I've had for the last 10 years, whites care less about than we think. It's other blacks who take more issue with it because of perceived concern or interest by whites. Let it go folks.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Angel

    Unfortunately black hair is a component of corporate America. There are some jobs that explicitly wont hire you if you wear dreads or braids to work. They are deemed unprofessional. Disney World, Aeropostle, Hollister etc make it clear what hairstyles are acceptable. Some catholic schools and private schools are the same way. I know people who've had to shave off their dreads to attend a high school. I've always been natural. Never a drop of chemical in my hair. By the way there are recent cases where black women have sued bc they have been fired over their hairstyles. Check out the case by the owner of Cornrows&Co. in D.C.

    March 22, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nappi_Swagger

    Okay, so I got all charged up and officially changed my LinkedIn profile picture to reflect my nappi swagger. If I loose all my clients, can I blog for you CNN?!?!?

    March 16, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ohsnap

    I was twisting my hair as I watched the video, happy to have healthy hair.

    March 13, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Eli

    Good article. I have naturally curly hair (not black) and I won't heat or straighten it either. At some time and place in the past people got the idea that only stick straight (preferably blonde) hair is acceptable in a corporate environment....BS! As long as it's well maintained and clean why can't we all go natural?? It doesn't make me any less smart or professional.

    March 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |

    The place to pass
    On curves
    You know
    Is only at
    A beauty show

    March 13, 2012 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. ennaid

    I think acting confident carries the style. I'm gray and okay in a 50s duck tail hair style. I don't care what anyone thinks about it. Two friends have actually stopped coloring their hair. So be brave, and do what suits you. Your confidence will cary the style.

    March 13, 2012 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
  10. rmbrown9190

    i am a white woman and let me tell you, black women i envy your natural hair! i've always wanted to have the gorgeous curly hair you naturally have. i know a few women who've been natural for quite a while and i personally believe that, along with the extra confidence, just makes them that much more beautiful. bravo for embracing your true beauty ladies! and kudos to realizing HEALTH is more important than this fake cookie cutter perception of beauty! i hope more women embrace their true beauty and continue to stay natural.

    March 13, 2012 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  11. memine

    This is an interesting piece on a subject that on the surface seems superficial and paranoid. The more I think about it though the dilemma these women are facing is actually real. Worrying about a hairstyle sounds silly...black women have afros, no problem...case closed. But delve deeper and everyone who works in Corporate America has at some point wondered how much they should let co-workers and employers know about themselves. I don't think the first woman is revealing anything particularly shocking about herself by going natural. As a guy, I like the natural look.

    March 13, 2012 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. Sandee

    I worked in Corporate America and at one point had my hair briaded. When I took them out and had permed hair, all the white men commented on how pretty my hair was. Now, I work for myself and have it twisted, have tons of scarves and my hair is so healthy – two years and counting. I will NEVER perm my hair again – too much time and money.

    March 12, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Synapse

      How embarrassing for you- AND the human race

      March 12, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • ohsnap

      Take your meds, troll.

      March 13, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tami

    I, of course, can only speak for myself, but as a caucasian woman, I would never think twice about whether or not my African American coworkers decided use products or not. Personally, I think afros and locks can be absolutely fabulous. I wish women didn't feel obliged to put nasty chemicals in their hair to live up to some ideal that their bosses supposedly have. Wishing everyone happy hair!

    March 12, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nah

      This is the internet. No reasonable comments allowed.

      You jerk.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rinsewind

      I completely agree. I think all sorts of natural styles look stunning on black women. They should wear it in whatever style suits them. I wish I could get my stringy caucasian hair to look like that!

      March 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Nichole

    I was natural for about five years, went back to a relaxer, and am now natural for a little over a year. I work in the financial industry and I have never had a problem with anyone other than African American men and my mother. 99% of the people I interact with (work, church, community) either like it a lot or don't really care either way. My husband likes the smell and texture. I love that it's easier and less expensive to maintain. In fact, most people would probably say that natural hair makes a woman look more professional and confident than relaxers or weaves.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Quinnette

    I worked in corporate America and I remember a couple of years ago, a Puerto Rican colleague, came in with her naturally curly ringlet hair and her boss said "WOW!! How ethnic we are today." When I went to locs, I was surprised at how little BLACK PEOPLE knew of them. I have never been someone who loved getting my hair done and braids took the cake with sitting there for 10 hours. I felt I could not be spiritually free because I was a slave to my hair. I am a crunchy bohemian and I will never go back.

    March 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  16. LT

    I recently transitioned into 100% natural. I have been relaxer free for 10 months now. It is so much healthier for my hair. I can't look at my hair and ask will this make Corporate America happy. It's about what make me happy personally. Corporate America is really not about hair. It's about making money and having the manpower to do so.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Adena

    I got my last relaxer in November 2009 and did the "Big Chop" almost a year later. I had a few job interviews after I wore my hair in its natural state and remember feeling nervous about how to style it because I didn't want it to look too "ethnic." Now I realize that it's just hair and any nervousness I feel about wearing it a certain way comes from within. I don't blame corporate America.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Bald n Savvy

    I simply loved this article. When I left corporate America about 5 years ago I not only chopped it off, I shaved it off and went completely bald . . . yes, bald as in down to the scalp. I subsequently had to return to corporate and I initially panicked because I was returning to a white male dominated industry and I told myself that they wouldn't be comfortable working with me. Well I quickly got over myself because I needed a job. I realized that we black women care more about this stuff than corporate America does. Once you're comfortable with yourself, present well, exude confidence and do what you do well in your chosen field, no one cares about your hair. Remember, corporate cares about the bottom line and once you can
    improve the bottom line, no one cares about your hair.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Sy2502

    Thanks a lot CNN for perpetuating the stereotype of corporate America being white and racist.
    If you actually talk to those corporate Americans, you may be surprised to find out most care a lot more about professional skills and work ethics than hair.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rie

      I don't think CNN is saying corporate america is racist, I think they're saying it's obsessed with shallow appearances. Which is, for the most part, true. They like people to blend in, not make waves, and not express much individuality. Yes, if you make them money, they'll stop caring, but getting to the point where you can individually make them money and prove your worth takes some doing.

      March 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • NJ1021

      Corporate America will discriminate based on the name on your resume, so yes this can be a big deal. I hope we get to the America that you want us to, but in the meantime please consider the possibility that these things happen outside of your experiences.

      March 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shell

      People who hire have preconceived notions about people. You can give them a great resume, have great recommendations from others but if they see someone with similar skills, they might not want to take a chance with you. They might not want to go for the unknown. If a Black woman wears the corporate uniform of relaxed hair, she is conforming and corporations like people who follow; who don't buck trends. I've worked for a few major corporations and I have talked to a few people in upper management who were natural. One person gave details of her journey and it was very difficult for her to get where she was and it had to do with her natural hair. She was the only woman of color who had a natural and was upper management. When she left for another Fortune 500 company, there wasn't another woman of color with a natural in any of the ranks.

      Many women are kept from getting their foot in the door because of their hair. Don't blame CNN for this, blame the Corporations.

      March 25, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Rins

    I really don't understand why anyone would have a problem with natural black hair (though i'm assuming since there is fear about going natural people do have a problem with it which is disheartening). I think the women in the video looks great!

    March 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  21. erica

    Do whatever makes you happy! We (insert ethnicity here), don't seem to ever be satisfied. As a previous platinum blonde (at birth), I've been every hair color, length, and texture under the sun. And should I ever need chemotherapy and my hair falls out – that's an opportunity to have fun with a wig. As long as we are happy with ourselves, and we're good people... just enjoy it!

    March 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Flora

    Lately, I've been considering letting my hair go natural. Not in the forseeable future at the moment, though – life's a bit too hectic right now to attempt anything that big with my appearance. But somewhere down the line I would like to give it a go.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Jim in PA

    Oh thank god. Society has got women so screwed up that they spend their lives trying to be whatever they aren't. Black women straightening their hair, asian women with curling irons, white wavy haired women with flattening irons..... enough! And that doesn't even get into black women lightening their skin and white women getting obsessive tans. Be yourself and toss those worthless fashion mags in the trash.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Joy P Love

    I'm a woman working in the health care industry and I feel great about having natural heal. My African American coworkers were very supportive but one European woman made nasty comments. No matter what kind of hair you have, transitioning is not easy but once you're there, you'll never go back. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

    March 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Loc'd for life

    I have been natural 2 years 9mths. with 9mths of being loc'd. I was so tired of altering the texture of my hair. i wore a curly afro for most of the 2yrs. Sometimes wearing 2 strand twist. Natural progression for me to grow dreadlocks. Now i no longer alter my hairs texture with combing either, just wash and go. We as black women are the only ones who have a problem with our own hair texture. i work in corporate world, no one has ever said anything negative about my big chop, afro nor my dreadlocks i have now.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Black Man

    I am on my lunch break and began reading the article only to stop a 3rd of the way, i simply can not stand to read exactly how bad and low the opinion black females of have themselves. Yes i know it stems from the history of slavery but if you can not find some kind of value in yourself how can you expect others to. Black American Women are the most self hating women on the planet. Take out hair and put the color of my skin, or the fact that i am fat, or to gay, or to small, you would ask the person to love them self. Try to read the article through the eyes of a Black Male and know that Black Females do that for white society's approval and not his own.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  27. ES

    I didn't even realize most black women strighten their hair. Why? Trust me, nobody at work cares what your hair looks like but you. What you do with your hair is your choice, and nobody elses.
    I am white with flat hair, absolutely flat. I would love to have curly hair. I think we always want to have what we can't.

    March 12, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim in PA

      Bingo. There is a billion dollar industry that thrives on making you unhappy with who you are. Ignore these parasites and you will be much happier.

      March 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  28. bethkat

    I am white, but I remember having girl friends in high school who would complain about burns on their scalps or their hair falling out. I used to ask them how come they didn't just just stop putting all those chemicals on their heads and they would tell me, "I just have to, or my hair is bad." I always thought to myself, "bad? how can it be bad to avoid putting tons of chemicals all over you head?" I'm glad that more women, both black and white, are starting to see that it is no necessary to pollute their bodies in order to look beautiful.

    March 12, 2012 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  29. Joy M.

    I did the "big chop" in October 2009 and rightfully, so was probably the best decision I've ever made about my hair was to "go natural". I can say it was a personal choice and my co-workers weren't displeased in any way. If anything, I wasn't looking for acceptance from my workplace. I made a decision based on my personal needs and was tired of the back and forth of the salon, the cost and overall just needed a break from the chemicals and routine. I've learned to embrace my shapely head and honestly, was the most liberating decision I've ever made.

    March 12, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  30. Sue

    Silly racist.

    March 12, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  31. KA

    I've never thought "ewww, what did they do!?!" to any black person I've seen with natural hair. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Natural black hair is much prettier – IMHO – and I think it looks way better than chemicaled (is that spelled right!) & overprocessed hair. And I'm a white person. Go natural, it's much more beautiful 🙂

    March 12, 2012 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  32. Yvonne Sullivan

    I have natural hair and love it. Why reject yourself?

    March 12, 2012 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  33. tell that to all THE PHONEY GOVERMENT


    March 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sue

      Um, looks like you got lost on your way to the tin-foil hat store.

      March 12, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  34. bl4ck0utsUn

    Dduke, the world is going brown, get over it! Embrace it!

    March 11, 2012 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  35. Teetee

    ThiS is an encouraging article! I'm only 4 months into transitioning and already I am tired of not looking like what I am used to seeing myself look like with relaxed and heat styled hair. Thank you!

    March 9, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynda


      You should do with your hair whatever makes you happy. I have been natural for over 3 years and I love it but its my hair and my choice. No one in corporate America gave a rat's behind about what I was doing with my hair. They were interested in my work..period. And they still don't care. We are making this hair thing into way more than it is. It would seem that we should all know how to take care of what is growing from our very own heads. So if you aren't happy with your hair like it is now, then change it. If you want to stay natural find a good stylist who works with natural hair to help you discover styles that you will like and aren't too time intensive. And if you want a perm, then perm it. The only person you have to please is yourself.

      March 12, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Vera

      Then don't read them.

      March 18, 2012 at 4:09 am | Report abuse |