Natural in the Workplace: US Department of State Edition

July 27, 2011 Oyibo Princess
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Hello all. As I promised I am publishing a series of posts called “Natural in the Workplace”.  As I said before, my cousin recommended that I mentally prepare relaxed women for going natural.  One of the common concerns for many women, black women in particular, is that if they wear their hair in a kinky-curly state they will not get employed or will lose their job. Considering our economic times, no one wants to risk not having a job or losing their job.  As a result, I would like to investigate to find out the truth about natural hair in the workplace.  One of the first interviewees I recruited is Marita Lamb who works for the US Department of State.  I asked her because she was the first natural professional that popped into my head and she has a job that I am possibly interested in for the future.  Marita was nice enough to pass along the survey to several natural colleagues and friends of hers and as a result I have, not one, not two, but three interviews from women who work for the US State Department.  What a great way to start out!

For those of you who do not know, the US Department of State is the agency in the Federal branch of government that deals with foreign diplomacy issues and international relations.  If people are worried that their natural hair texture is not conservative enough or is too anti-establishment, why not ask questions to people who work for the establishment?  There is nothing more “establishment” than the Federal Government. What a blessing that I have interviews from three women that work for the US Department of State.  Please enjoy!

Marita Lamb

Marita Lamb

Name: Marita Lamb

Education: I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from Spelman College and a Master of Public Policy Degree from Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

 1.    What is the company/organization/agency for which you work?

U.S. Department of State

2.    What is your position?

Foreign Service Officer/Diplomat

3. Where are you located?

Dhaka, Bangladesh

4.    How long have you been working there?

Aug 2010- Present.  I worked for the same organization in the summer of 2009.

5.    How long have you been natural?

Since August 2005, roughly 5 years

6.    How did you wear your hair for the interview for this position?

I believe in a bun or bun-like poof

Bun-like puff

7.    Do you wear your hair in natural styles in the work place? If so, have you faced any conflict because of it? Any praise?

My styles are fairly conservative for natural hair and I work in a fairly conservative work place. With that said, I have to say that I have not encountered criticism, only queries about the dynamics of my hair maintenance and versatility. People mainly praise, especially when my hair is styled differently in a way that they have never seen.

8.    What is your favorite hairstyle to wear to work?

I have a tighter curl but my hair is generally worn out or in a poof.  I sometimes twist it back

9.    Have you noticed any other black women working for the same company, organization, or agency as you? If so, how do they wear their hair?

Like black woman all over the world, the hair styles of my co-workers run the gamut from weave, relaxed, natural, dreads, and super short.

10.    Do you find it difficult to take care of your hair now that you are working for this company, organization, or agency?

Definitely. Because I am a diplomat, I live, for periods at a time, overseas.  My access to products and professionals aware of my hair texture and care is a disadvantage but on the upside it has incentivized me to learn so that I can do things myself.

11.     Do you have any advice for professional women who want to go natural or natural girls who want to go professional (are entering the workforce)?

Going natural is, in my opinion, a great process of personal discovery.  The process allows you not only to learn about your hair but your body.  You also become even more creative about your hair and personal style than you ever were.  Going natural is definitely a journey not to be taken lightly (not to be done just because your friends do it).  Like all hairstyles adorned by black women, it is one that requires much attention and maintenance and every person’s hair texture is different.  But every hair type is fun and has exciting possibilities for beauty. As for natural hair in the work place, styles completely depend on your workplace.  However I would say use your judgment and remember it is called natural hair so it is natural for you to wear it.  Do not be discouraged by those who are ignorant to the glory that is natural hair and also, if you feel like it and even when you don’t, use this as an opportunity to educate others.  Good Luck


Kedenard Raymond on the right (obviously)

Name: Kedenard Raymond

Education: Bachelor’s in Arts from American U, International Development, Master of Science from Georgetown U, International Relations (fyi these schools and focuses have no bearing on being a diplomat, expertises in the foreign service run the gamut)

 1.     What is the company/organization/agency for which you work?

State Department

2.     What is your position?

Foreign Service Officer/ Diplomat

3.   Where are you located?

Based out of DC, on assignment in Montreal, Canada.

4.   How long have you been working there?

3 years

5.     How long have you been natural?

2 years

6.     How did you wear your hair for the interview for this position?

10 humid days into a flexi-rod set; pulled up in a loose bun/updo. Funny cuz it was permed at the time but was so fuzzy and crazy, it looked natural 😉

7.     Have you ever worn your hair in a natural style for any job interview? If so, for what position of what company and what where the results of the interview?

No. N/A

8.     Do you wear your hair in natural styles in the work place?

Hell yea

9.     If so, have you faced any conflict because of it? Any praise?

People that love it, LOVE it. I’m sure some may disapprove (deeming it unprofessional) but have never said anything. (My hair is also dyed blondish/orange-ish in the front which may contribute to the disapproval, moreso than it being natural.

10.     What is your favorite hairstyle to wear to work?

Fro up-do

 Fro-updo

11.  What hair styles, if any, are considered inappropriate in the work place?

Mohawks and even Frohawks

12.  Have you noticed any other black women working for the same company or organization as you? If so, how do they wear their hair?

Yup, pretty split between natural vs. permed/wigged/weaved up and those who rock a combo of the styles like me.

13.  Do you find it difficult to take care of your hair now that you are working for this company or organization?

No.

14.  Do you have any advice for professional women who want to go natural or natural girls who want to go professional (are entering the workforce)?

Just do it and own it.


Virsa Perkins

Name: Virsa Perkins

Education: BA in Japanese Studies from Dillard Univ, and an MA in International Affairs from Columbia University

1. What is the company/organization/agency for which you work?

Department of State, Federal

2. What is your position?

Foreign Service Officer

3. Where are you located?

Washington, DC

4. How long have you been working there?

Three years

5. How long have you been natural?

Seven years

6. How did you wear your hair for the interview for this position?

My hair is shoulder length when natural, so I two-stranded my hair into twists, and pulled it all back in a bun.

7. Have you ever worn your hair in a natural style for any job interview? If so, for what position of what company and what where the results of the interview? Yes, my hair was styled the same way as my answer to question number 6.

8. Do you wear your hair in natural styles in the work place?

Yes

9. If so, have you faced any conflict because of it? Any praise?

No conflict. I receive praise by a number of my co-workers.

10. What is your favorite hairstyle to wear to work?

I usually wear my hair in twists, and at night I use spiral rollers to keep them curly and bouncy. I wash my hair every two weeks and re-twist it. A few days before I wash my hair, I un-twist my hair and wear it down natural. The latter is my favorite hairstyle and the one for which I receive the most compliments.  Thanks to Marita, I just discovered curl formers and I plan to try them out very soon. I love these spiral rollers and they come in different sizes. They are very good at keeping my hair bouncy and curly. They also don’t dry my hair out.

Spiral rollers

Twist-out (had been twisted two weeks)

11. What hair styles, if any, are considered inappropriate in the work place?

In my opinion, any natural style is appropriate as long as it is neat.

12. Have you noticed any other black women working for the same company or organization as you? If so, how do they wear their hair?

Most black women in my workplace have relaxed hair. I have, however, seen a rise in natural hairstyles among my African-American female colleagues. I see locks, mini-fros, etc.

13. Do you find it difficult to take care of your hair now that you are working for this company or organization?

No. Twists are job appropriate and look good on me.

14. Do you have any advice for professional women who want to go natural or natural girls who want to go professional (are entering the workforce)?

I would say that you should keep your hair moisturized and keep your ends trimmed. My typical hair style is two-stranded twists, and I feel that this hairstyle is appropriate and looks good on women with natural hair. I think that that what’s important is that your hair is neat and appropriate. Locks can be wild and crazy,  but they can also neat and sophisticated, depending on the environment. I work for the State Dept and, for the most part, the rules of hair are pretty lenient. A number of black diplomats opt for natural looks because we travel frequently to countries that do not sell black hair products or have beauticians who know black hair. My goal with my hair is to make it work appropriate, which means pulling it off my face, sometimes in a bun, or wearing it down in a bob.

Virsa in South Asia

Conclusion:  Natural hair is as professional as you make it.  There seem to be several black women who work for the US Department of State and also have natural hair.  Not only is the natural accepted at the State Department, but if you work there, wearing your hair in natural styles can be a great conversation starter as well as an opportunity to bond with your co-workers. From what the Foreign Officers said, the US State Department employees really enjoy seeing God’s beautiful creation! So if you want natural hair and you also want to work for the State Department, both are certainly possible (that is if you pass the exam, have a good interview, résumé, and cover letter). Whether you wear your hair natural to the interview or you decide to go natural while you are working there you can do it!! As we say in Naija, “Carry go. No Shaking.”  (Approximately: Keep moving. Have no fears.) Okay. Thanks for reading this post and if you have more questions or would like to network with diplomats in this article please email me at oyiboprincess@gmail.com and I will ask them.  If you are interested in a job or an internship at the State Department, please visit: http://careers.state.gov/  .

Oh my. Look. I went to the State Department career website to get the link and found that the woman on the front page has a natural.  Dreads in fact.  You cannot really see it that well but it’s there.

Maybe this is better:

Entry Filed under: Hair,Workplace

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. miz  |  November 10, 2013 at 3:19 am

    I’m sorry for posting on an old article, but I just wanted to let you know just how much I appreciate this post and feedback from these three ladies. Not only did it sooth my worry (I’m newly natural, just 2 weeks post-BC), it also enlightened me. I really didn’t expect natural to be so… well, accepted at such a high level of government. I know that sounds silly, and it should be, but I’m just ignorant to how professional natural can be. I mean, when you think about it, regardless of your natural state of hair, you most certainly style it before going to any sort of job interview, right? It’s not like I’m going to any additional lengths to make my natural hair presentably professional when I had to do the exact same thing with my relaxed hair. For instance, I didn’t go to an interview with my relaxed hair looking the way it looked straight out of bed–no! I combed it, I curled it, sometimes I’d braid it.

    Wouldn’t I be doing the exact same thing with my natural hair? The task didn’t change, only the medium I’ve been working with. Thus, a professional hair style is a professional hair style; the type of hair doesn’t make any difference.

    Ha ha. And here I was thinking I’d have to go buy a wig for a consulate position I’m applying for. Thanks again. I can sleep peacefully–and save some money, too! 🙂

    • 2. Oyibo Princess  |  November 10, 2013 at 4:40 am

      Thank you so much for your comment. Yes. I wrote this a little while ago, but I wrote it to help women for an indefinite period of time. It also reminds me that I need to write a post about a PwC interview I had recently.

      • 3. miz  |  November 10, 2013 at 3:06 pm

        Well, I’m certainly looking forward to reading it. 🙂 I’ll keep an eye on this blog in the future.

        At the same time, I’m not familiar with that term. What’s PwC?


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