Naturally Professional — Marisa, Reliability Engineer

It’s been a long time since we left you with a Naturally Professional to step to! Or something like that…

Bellas, the monthly series dedicated to inspiring women in the workplace to wear their hair in the style which makes them feel most free, confident and comfortable is officially BACK on both Afrobella.com and CurlyNikki.com! Look out for fresh inspiration every month, and if YOU are a professional who wears her hair in a natural style, please contact us!

The Naturally Professional series was created by Afrobella and Curly Nikki, to make a positive statement. Our intent is to disprove false and long held beliefs that wearing ones hair in a natural style — including locs, sisterlocs, and loose natural hair — makes a person somehow not professional enough for a corporate environment. Natural hair IS professional, beautiful, well taken care of, and welcome in any kind of workplace.

This month we feature Marisa!

Marisa, Twist-Out

Name: Marisa
Age: 32
Title: Reliability Engineer

I work at an electric and natural gas utility company in Michigan. It is a conservative company.

Tell me about your natural journey. How long have you been natural? What led you to wear your hair in a natural style?

I am in my 28-month of being natural. In August 2009, our family decided that we would make a conscious effort to better our health. We began reducing the amount of chemicals we used and ingested. We eat an organic and whole food diet. So I figured, I might as well include my hair.

Have you ever faced any undue scrutiny and/or adversity in your career because of wearing their hair natural?

No. I have not faced any undue scrutiny or adversity in my career because of wearing my hair natural. I think it has benefited me in that it has reduced the amount of times I am confused with the other black women in my office.

That being said, I have received a range of comments, questions, and reactions from a diverse group of people, including:
Blank stares
Side eye
“What’s up with your hair? How did you do that to you hair?”
“Did you stick your finger in a light socket?”
“Are you doing to your hair what Chris Rock is talking about in his new movie?”
“I was watching Oprah with the wife, and they were talking about natural hair. Is your hair natural?”
“I hope I do not offend you but…I really like your hair. “
“Girl you need to comb your hair!!!!”

Do you think there is an issue today with acceptance overall in the corporate workforce for women who choose to wear natural hair?

Yes, overall there is an issue with acceptance in the corporate workforce. There have been times when I was preparing for a meeting and thought, “ Should I wear the twists?” However, things seem to be changing. I think people do not really care what we look like as long as we are producing quality results. I am an African American woman, so, generally, I do think there is a perception that we all look the same even if we do not.

Are there any particular natural hairstyles they feel are no-no’s for the workforce or a particular style that is “safer” or more accepted than others, based on your experiences?

For me the no-no’s are hairstyles that are too big and not neat. I will not wear bantu knots or regular corn rolls to work. I had my share of apprehensions about styles. When I was in the TWA stage, I wasn’t sure about wearing twists. Also, I was apprehensive in the “almost a big ass afro” stage. As I became more comfortable and confident, the apprehension with wearing various natural hairstyles lessened. I have made presentations to senior management wearing twists, twist outs, bantu knot outs, and afros.

How do you or have you handled any questions or issues you’ve faced regarding your hair?

I answer all questions, even the uninformed and insulting ones. I figure I am saving another person from having to answer the questions in the future. I know some people have the opinion, “I am here to work, so do not ask me about my hair”. Or “I don’t ask about your hair, so don’t ask about mine”. That’s fine and all but education is the best way to root out the misconceptions about natural hair.

There is always discussion and sometimes concern about wearing your hair natural and working, as well as succeeding, in the corporate workforce. What strategies can you offer other women who wear their hair natural on handling issues they may face in the workplace regarding their hair choice?

First of all, don’t get defensive, even with the jackasses. Most people make comments because they are uninformed. We work in diverse environments and all employees must adapt, even those confronted with issues to which they have no frame of reference. That being said Regardless if you are in twists, locks, braids, braid-outs, twists outs, keep it neat and make sure you stay within the confines of your company’s corporate policies.

As a leader what insight can you offer women in general, natural or not, on succeeding as African American women? What are the top 3 tips to success you can offer?

Develop Organizationally Savvy skills. I recommend reading the book “Survival of the Savvy”. It addresses the taboo topic of corporate politics and gives practical tips on how to handle differences with employees of different styles, rather than always reacting to your differences emotionally. Also, I highly recommend attending one of the workshops given by JTW Affiliates on the topic of Organizational Savvy. You will be enlightened on secrets of the “inner circle”.

Understand your coworkers and yourself. Know yourself from an objective viewpoint, and understand the “people styles” of those with whom you interact. Develop communication skills such that you are able to convey any point you have to anyone in the company, regardless of title.

Finally, ask for what you want. Sometimes we think some folks have an edge over us based on relationships with others at work. While that is often times true, that should not preclude you from speaking up when you desire a better assignment or project or even an opportunity for more training.

Thank you, Marisa!!

Are you Naturally Professional? Do you know someone who fits the description? Then please send an e mail to bella@afrobella.com or to nikki@curlynikki.com using “Naturally Professional,”as the subject line. Please include the nominee’s name, photos, and a reliable email address.

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Comments

  1. Sherry Blossom says:

    I LOVED this!! Especially the part about answering all the questions and understanding that criticism and “side eye” comments come from those that are uninformed. She is absolutely right about getting ride of misconceptions about natural hair with education! Love this series and I can not wait to see more!!!

  2. robyn_elle_p says:

    I wish this article was available back when I was preparing to graduate from college! I am also and engineer, and in my senior year of college, I was advised that I’d better get a relaxer if I expected to land a job. Well, I did; and I suffered years of hair damage after that.

    Eight years later, I’m newly natural again! I am confident in my job as a project engineer, and like Marisa, I keep my hair neat and natural in whatever professional circumstance. I find that it shows confidence, and that is absolutely necessary to be a black female engineer. Thanks for posting this! I hope it encourages other young naturals to resist straightening to have a “professional” look.

  3. Praise heaven’s you’ve started this! My biggest concern and that amongst my counterparts in graduate school is that you cannot be natural and taken seriously in conservative business or the working world. I struggle with getting sew-ins and feeling like I’m selling out my soul just because I want to do consulting and don’t think they’d be hip to my lovely natural self. Please, please, please post more of these. Especially, women in financial services/consulting.

    THanks!

  4. Thanks for this feature, i am a medical doctor in Africa and the pressure is intense.someone asks me if i have lost my comb every time i wear a twist out. Marisa and Patrice for telling your story, i am very encouraged.

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