Diversity & Inclusion of Looks in the Workplace Isn’t Just Great for Fashion, It’s Great for Corporate America

I’ve sat on panel after panel but this is a first for me.  I am the only light skinned person in this entire conference, speaking about beauty in the workplace.  And I’m bubbling with excitement (and a bit of fish-out-of-water feeling) because I’m sharing the stage with four gorgeous, brilliant, fierce business women who are blowing me away with their poise, warmth and insights.  My friend Ty Heath of Linkedin organized an amazing conference for women of color, TransformHER, and she asked me to join this particular panel.  No question, I jumped at the chance.  Ty gave me an opportunity to discuss the truly important topic of beauty in corporate America.  While I write about this issue in Beautyskew, I’ve never had the honor to SPEAK about it.  I am thrilled that this topic is finally getting some real attention. 

I can totally understand why this is a key topic for the conference.  There is no denying that African-American women face a double challenge: they often have to concern themselves with BOTH not appearing too feminine or too “black.”  In this era of greater diversity an inclusion, the business world has loosened up the expectations of how we should look in the office. But let’s face it, we still have a long way to go.  I, myself, am still challenged with not looking either too sexy or too dowdy or too corporate. I wrote an angst-filled post about this last year when I had to prep for a huge speech in Norway.  What a pain to have to a. worry about what to wear, and b. have to curb our true selves so so others can feel comfortable.  Why is being comfortable so good anyway?

Diversity of looks goes beyond even ethnic identity or sexual identity.  In a recent Washington Post article, “Hey Goldman Sachs, does your dress code allow thigh-high boots?” the author, Buzz Bissinger, points out that a shift to casual attire may indicate a loosening of rules but doesn’t demonstrate a broad acceptance of divergent looks and styles despite the company’s claims of diversity and inclusion.  There’s still a big gap between allowing chinos in the office and being tolerant of all styles.  He continues to write: “… (A) shift to more “casual” attire is fine, as long as the choices are dictated by what others want, others think, others find appropriate. Which, of course, is antithetical to what fashion should be about: individuality, freedom, self-expression. What one wears, not just on heightened days but every day, should never be captive to anyone else except yourself. It is only clothing, which, as far as I know, is not harmful or lethal — unlike, for example, subprime mortgages. “

Bissinger’s passion is palpable.  How we look isn’t something to take lightly.  It’s fraught with anxiety, judgement, and insecurity. As Bissinger writes: “… In our society of self-suppression, nothing is more subject to instant judgment than clothing. You are defined by what you wear, and if you wear anything different from the mainstream, the furtive stars come out. Then come the snickers. Then come the inevitable stereotypes associated with styles of dress. Worst of all comes your own overwhelming self-consciousness, the sense that somehow, some way, you are actually being offensive by choosing to wear what you want, and that it’s better to be a lemming of conformity, boxy and boring, stultified and stifled, but not sticking out. So you jettison what is most sacred of all, your own sense of self.”

What Bissinger doesn’t stress as much is how our fashion can also also be a source of pride, fun, self-expression and happiness.  And these feelings undoubtedly make us more successful.  So, yes, it’s about time we engage, seriously, in the topic of beauty and fashion in the workplace.  From our hair styles to our clothing, to our thigh high boots, our ability to show up as we want is critical for our senses of self and of confidence. But, as I say on the panel, it doesn’t just impact ourselves.  It signals to our colleagues, our friends and families that we don’t need to hide ourselves, but rather embrace who we all are with pride and happiness.  And doesn’t a happier, more confident, more diverse workplace lead to a more corporate success? No question!

For a full look at the panel watch this:

Week in Review: 7/22-7/27

Lots of fun discussions this week…take a look:

Is a woman’s height now a success factor in the boardroom? Weekend Observations: Women, Height & Power

Microsoft celebrates the beauty of and the beauty that’s inspired by the digital space Pic of the Week: This Data-Fueled Space is Filled with and Inspires Beauty

Now that natural hair is “in” what will happen to all the wonderful community building that used to take place during the day-long hair appointments at beauty shops? What Happens to Sisterhood When the Beauty Shops Are No Longer Necessary?

More beauty-in-culture reading to enjoy! More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

Have a wonderful last week in July!

What Happens To Sisterhood When The Beauty Shops Aren’t Necessary?

Cassandra Jackson, Professor of English and contributor to the Huffington Post, wrote a fascinating article about the bitter-sweet transition that more and more African-American women are participating in ( Is Natural Hair The End of Black Beauty Culture?).  No, I’m not talking about becoming male. I’m referring to their journey from chemically straightened hair to natural fros.  It’s a process…both physical and emotional.  Hair is laden with symbolic value, especially for African-Americans whose culture and political identity is so tied up with it.

So why is this phenomenon bitter-sweet?  Because it means the decline of the beauty shop experience.  For decades, African-American women had to spend countless hours, on a weekly basis, tending to their hair.  The shop became a Church or community-hall of sorts, where women would gather and share laughter, stories and suffering.

I think women of all cultures gravitate towards communal spaces like beauty shops.  For instance, Indian women have the hours-long henna procedures that take place in their salons and Orthodox Jewish women gather monthly in Mikvahs (ritual baths).  By virtue of these sites being for women only, they create a sacred, secret place for women to let go.

But I think there’s something else going on that goes beyond the single-sex nature of these gatherings.  After all, we’ve always had gender-specific social clubs and gyms.  Beauty shops are different because in them we are beautifying ourselves.  We are engaging in intimate behaviors and as soon as we walk out the salon, bathhouse, mikvah, where ever, we are changed.  When we let others into these intimate practices, we are opening ourselves up in deep, vulnerable and, ironically, empowering ways.  Moreover, we are beautifying ourselves in ways that only people within our religion, cultural or social circles truly understand which makes the rituals that much more meaningful — even if that means burning our scalps for straight hair.

I understand Jackson’s bitter-sweet feelings.  Hopefully, she and her friends can find other places to beautify themselves in unique and culturally-binding ways.

More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

Take a look at some great beauty-in-culture reading:

  • Yet another adaptation of Sleeping Beauty that gives more (albeit freaky) depth to “Beauty”

http://boingboing.net/2012/07/16/stalker-sleeping-beauty.html

  • Top Ten NEW Rules for Black Beauty

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-arogundade/black-women-beautiful-hair_b_1668599.html

  • The story of Benedict Arnold’s beautiful wife

http://articles.philly.com/2012-07-16/news/32685656_1_benedict-arnold-brains-and-beauty-american-revolution

 

 

Cutting Your Hair Makes You More Attractive Than You May Think

Ivy Farguheson

Whether you like your hair short or long isn’t the point.  But for many it is, especially for African-American women, whose hair is a source of tension, cultural pride and self-expression.  And for Ivy Farguheson who cut her hair and wrote about it in “Beauty and ‘el gran corte’: It Really is Possible”, cutting her hair short was a BIG decision.  And what she learned was powerful.  Whether you cut your hair a bit or a lot, you will appear beautiful.  Why?  It it was YOUR decision and that personal power makes you appear downright amazing!  As she states: “Truth is, women — people — can be attractive when they make their own decisions about how they want to look. Being true to yourself is attractive. Period.”

Love it.

Week In Review: 10/9-10/15

Catch up on what’s been discussed on Beautyskew this week:

Sheila taught me to embrace my daughter’s beauty…but in the right way Weekend Observations: What Sheila Kelley Taught Me

MAC cosmetics defies beauty industry norms again with its new campaign.  But does this campaign convince you to go out and buy more MAC?  Do they even care? Pic of the Week: The New Face For Mac

Buying luxury items doesn’t have to be seen as just an indulgence anymore.  No Need to Feel Guilty Shopping for Luxury Anymore

Many women are forgoing a critical aspect of staying healthy, namely exercise, so as not to ruin their hairstyle. Does Your Hairstyle Keep You From Working Out?  Many Say Yes, Yikes!

More fascinating news in the realm of beauty and culture More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

Comment or tweet me your thoughts @beautyskew

Does Your Hairstyle Keep You From Working Out? Many Say Yes, Yikes!

I was flying back from L.A. a few months ago and sat next to a very friendly and astute African-American woman around my age.  She and I started talking about my blog and spoke almost the entire trip home.  She clued me in something interesting: I’m not very likely to see African-American women in the gym or outside jogging.  And if I do, look at their hair.  They probably have short ‘dos.  Why?  Because of the time, effort and cost of weaves and hairstyles, many African-American women don’t want to exercise and sweat, and then risk ruining their hair.  Turns out she’s not the only one whose said this.  Even surgeon general Regina M. Benjamin warned attendees of the Bronner Hair Show in Atlanta (a humongeous, international hair show for Black hair) “that women who skip exercising in order to protect their hairstyles should focus more on their health.” (Do Women Choose Beauty Over Health?  The Surgeon General (And Advertisers) Say So)

While I balked initially, I then recalled how I felt after getting my occasional blow-out.  No way was I going to throw away $50 plus tip, let alone gorgeous hair, to work out. But even so, it’s not that hard to make my hair look close enough to the way I want it when styling it myself.  But for many others, especially my African-American friends,  it’s damn hard to style their own hair and do it “just so” EVERY DAY.

So what do we do?  Are people going to just throw in the towel and look like crap so that they don’t feel bad about exercising?   There’s a new website called YouBeauty (one of the founders being Dr. Oz) that connects beauty with health.  They suggested sweat bands, hair extensions that you can clip in and out or braids.  Hmmmmmm….

Another solution is to cut your hair very short or go completely natural.  But that’s not for everyone either.

So what do we do?  I think its time for some MAJOR tech-y inventions here.   Perhaps we can create cool caps that ensure we don’t sweat too much on our heads?  Or maybe someone could invent an “after exercise” spray or device that will vacuum out the sweat?

Any other suggestions? Comment or tweet me your thoughts @beautyskew

Week in Review: 8/28-9/3

The sensuality of organic skincare products Weekend Observations: Becoming A Skin Goddess

Amazing, massive sculptures on New York’s Governor’s Island Pic of the Week: Governor’s Island Spectacular .

 
The undeniable politics that surround African-American hair The Politics of Hair .

The beauty mags have it totally wrong, older women can be gorgeous enough to model! Older Women Can Be Totally Hot

More of the latest beauty news and thought pieces More To Love: Additions to the Reading List

Enjoy your Labor Day Weekend!

The Politics of Hair

Hair.

It’s something I fuss with, complain about, and think about everyday.  But I’m lucky.  I don’t have to spend a ton of money or time on it, at least not until those few white hairs I pull out start multiplying at an exponential rate.

But my African-American friends, colleagues and consumers I develop communications for have it much differently.  Hair takes up a lot more mental and physical space in their lives.  As the former Beauty Editor of Essence, Pamela Edwards told me, hair is inextricably tied to history and culture.  One hair style communicates one story while another can communicate a whole different one.  And black hair requires much more work to style.

Chris Rock’s movie, “Good Hair,” takes a simultaneously comical and harsh look at the hair industry and what African-American men and women will do physically and financially to get the hair they want.  After seeing the film, you’re definitely more enlightened – and even a bit disturbed.

But what he DOESN’T show nearly enough is that there’s a lot of fun, creativity, individuality and empowerment that is involved with hair too!  Especially now, according the L.A Times, as hairstyles for African-Americans are becoming much more diverse and accepted.  Unlike my hair that falls the second I step out of the house no matter how much spray I spritz on, black hair can hold very interesting and complicated styles.  So the opportunities for creativity are endless!

Ursula Stephens, the stylist that cut Rhianna’s hair when short hair was deemed too “scary” a move for performers, says that while it still isn’t “anything goes” for African-American hair in mainstream culture, many societal factors have led to positive significant changes.  Thanks to bi-racial families, pop cultural phenomena like tattoo artist shows, Sesame Street’s video I love My Hair, and greater access to a diversity of styles, both African-American and non-African-American communities alike are becoming more open and appreciative of diverse looks for all.

While I applaud Chris Rock for opening my eyes to some issues, I wish he could have shown the other side too.

For fun, catch the popular Sesame Street video and pass it along to your kids too.

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enpFde5rgmw]