Professional Career Advice On Hairstyles

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Professional career advice and dreadlocks? We get all kinds of questions at one of which is typically posed as follows...

"What if my boss won't let me get dreads? Is there something I can say or do about that or am I out of luck?"

Enter Diana Pemberton-Sikes, my favorite image consultant. With more than a decade of industry experience, here's what she had to say about dreadlocks in the workplace. How important is hair style to constructing an ideal image?

Diana Pemberton-Sikes: Just as clothing can convey all sorts of information about you, so can your hair. Whether it's short and sassy, long and lustrous, or somewhere in between, others can tell a lot about you from your hair -- including your approximate income, education level, and background, among other things. Proper grooming and current trends say you're into details and up to date in your skills. Sloppy and outdated styles say just the opposite. You're an image consulting professional. Career advice for the image conscious is what you're best at. That being said, what is your take on dreadlocks and how they are perceived in the workplace?

Pemberton-Sikes: While hair locking has been around since ancient times and has been worn by various groups all over the world, dreadlocks are still often associated with certain cultures and ethnic groups. While simple, contained styles are typically acceptable in most workplaces, sloppy, wild, or strangely colored styles may not be. Your business hair, like your business attire, should be in line with your profession and improve your ability to relate with clients. Otherwise, you may lose business. How easy is it to wear a hair style like dreadlocks or braids while maintaining an appearance that benefits a professional career?

Pemberton-Sikes: Braids and dreadlocks are usually acceptable in most professions so long as they're well kept and create a simple silhouette. No one objects to individual style -- so long as stays within the framework of the profession.

Your hair should complement your skills; not draw attention away from them. In recent years, have you seen more companies modify their dress code policies to include mention of hair style as well as dress? Is this a trend you see expanding to other forms of self-expression?

Pemberton-Sikes: Definitely. From tattoos and body piercing to clothing and accessories, companies have been changing their dress codes more frequently in the last five years than they did in the previous twenty. I certainly see this continuing for the next few years as employers seek to attract the most qualified applicants yet still maintain some uniformity in the workplace. Can you provide some professional career advice about other ways one can contribute to their image goals if they are adamant about keeping their hair style?

Pemberton-Sikes: The purpose of your business attire is to establish authority yet instill trust. The uniform - whether an actual uniform like a pilot, nurse, or police officer wears, or the standard dress for the profession, like a business suit or lab coat - may differ by industry, its purpose remains the same: to reassure your clients of your skills and to make them feel good about doing business with you.

If you're a doctor, a lawyer, or a candlestick maker, and you dress in the types of clothes associated with those industries, you'll set your clients' minds at ease. If you dress in a manner that's inconsistent with their expectations, you won't. It's as simple as that.

Want to keep your dreadlocks while you clock your 9 to 5? Dress appropriately for your workplace and profession and keep the hair simple and contained. Your skills should be the focus of your workday, not your hair. If you don't make a big deal out of your braids or dreadlocks, neither will anyone else.

If you're uncertain as to what's appropriate for your industry or profession, BUSINESS WEAR MAGIC can help. Do you have a general hair styling tip or two that you'd like to share?

Pemberton-Sikes: Controlled and current are the names of the game. Any other professional career advice you would like to add about maintaining a hair style like dreadlocks?

Pemberton-Sikes: Just remember that it's all about instilling confidence in your clients. If your skills are good and you keep your appearance consistent with your abilities and industry, no one will care about the details of your hairstyle.

Thanks, Diana! You can find out more about Diana Pemberton-Sikes by visiting her web site:

Here's what some of you had to say about locs in the workplace...

"I once donned a suit and took out all my facial piercings and cut off my dreads. At the end of the day it didn't make a difference in my employment quest. On the other hand I got a job in retail selling high end communications and astronomy equipment. [They] didn't care at all and were in fact supportive of my choice to wear dreads and have piercings."
- Tashi, Salesperson in AUSTRALIA

"I realize this should not matter, but we have not come far enough in our society for it not to matter. Fortunately, my locs have never been an issue for me as far as gaining employment. I was first hired with my locs in their teen stage- NOT very -attractive! In that case, I believe my confidence and skills outshined my hair, yet the staff who interviewed me thought my hair was 'neat.' I guess they are socially accepted around here in my profession. I wish every loc wearer could be so lucky. Maybe we'll get there one day."
- Paulicia, Teacher in USA

"My locs extend down to the center of my back. My hair is neat and I am very professional and know my job well. I found myself being turned down job after job and I knew it was because of my hair. We cannot allow the system to dictate who we are...we must come together as a body to maintain our individualism. Wear your nappy and be happy. I do and I still keep on striving. Besides someone will eventually hire you. Or you can always work for yourself..."
- Zadok, Computer Networking in USA

"I work at [a bakery]...we are required at all times to wear hairnets regardless of length or style of hair. As far as co-workers and bosses are concerned, as long as I wear my hairnet and keep them contained there is no problem what so ever. I do think that society is becoming more acceptable of dreads in general but it still does matter about perception in our professional workplaces and people have to remember that certain jobs do require a more 'professional' style of hairstyle. Proper care, maintaining the look and keeping it looking good and clean is of utmost important for the 'professionals' among us dreadies."
- Tim, Shipper/Receiver in CANADA

"Wearing dreads at work is not and has never been a problem for me. Now that is not to say that I did not have anxiety initially. My locks have never been a hindrance in my career. In fact, I was just promoted...and my hair is as 'nappy' as ever. People often say it's not for white collar jobs. Well I'm living proof that you can not only work in a white collar environment, but also you can excel. My advice for wearing locks, is the same for any hairstyle, keep it neat and clean."
- Loretha, Sales in USA

(Editor's Note: Only select submissions have been posted and edited accordingly. For example, while real names are used, actual company names are not for the privacy of our readers. Looking forward to your contribution, too!)

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