‘It’s virtually impossible to reach the top of City firms without straight hair’

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Is black hair and professionalism an oxymoron? An aspiring lawyer looks at the research

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Black British women’s natural hair, often kinky and curly, has historically been described as ugly and unprofessional. During the 1880s, such hair was associated with characteristics of laziness, dirt and even dishonesty, and thus deemed inferior. Because of such a negative stigma, black females chemically relaxed their hair to make it straight.

Despite the adverse effects on their health, many black women went to such lengths because they knew those with straightened hair were deemed more reliable than those with natural hair. Although this happened hundreds of years ago, the aspiration to conform to European beauty is something that persists today and is often perpetuated by the media and traditional institutions.

My interest in this topic was sparked while reading one of Legal Cheek‘s Career Conundrums, where an anonymous training contract hunter discusses corporate law firms’ unspoken hairstyle policy. Many flocked to the comments section to encourage the law grad to get a weave because “appearance matters to clients, clients matter to the firm, therefore, your appearance matters to the firm”.

The struggle to portray a ‘professional’ image is not faced only by black women. It is a struggle that all women confront. However, it is evident that black female lawyers face unique challenges around appearance, especially when it comes to hair. For aspiring lawyers, most corporate law firms require their trainee solicitors to adhere to a strict appearance code. For example, most City firms require a smart attire/appearance that may prohibit protective hairstyles such as braids or dreadlocks.

Naturally, the way you present yourself at work can affect the image you convey to partners. It can influence work allocation and future promotions. This may make it difficult for women of colour to reach the top of the corporate ladder with their so-called ‘ethnic hairstyles’.

With the perception that straight hair equals professionalism, it seems black job seekers should perhaps think twice before wearing their hair natural for an interview. In February, the Perception Institute released research that suggested black women with natural hair experience bias in the workplace.

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And first-hand accounts seem to support this. Dana Harrell — an education and sociology major at Claflin University — was told during an internship interview that if she wanted to move forward, she would have to straighten her hair. This is despite, on a panel event at City Law School, senior solicitor Angela Jackman stating hair should be a personal choice not a reflection of one’s skills or personality. Therefore, if one’s hair doesn’t prevent one from doing their job properly then why is it such a big deal in the workplace?

Understandably, most employers have adopted dress codes, in part, to keep the working environment free from distraction. Employers have the right to impose dress codes, however, they must be careful not to enforce policies based on the grounds of race or nationality. An employer who prohibits afro hairstyles in the workplace risks the serious allegation that they are discriminating against black employees.

The ‘Natural Hair Movement’ which began a few years ago (and has taken the internet by the storm) has convinced some that the disdain for natural hair is merely a result of societal conditioning. This can effectively be changed with exposure to positive visual representation via mainstream social media. For black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) females just breaking into the legal profession, their initial reaction, if faced with this dilemma, would be to conform and fit in with their colleagues. However, over time, this obedience may falter.

To many afro-Caribbeans, hair is a huge part of their identity, and by conforming they would be watering down their identity for career advancement. Many, if not all, share the following view: the way a woman chooses to wear her hair should be a matter entirely of her choice, whether it is natural, weaved or otherwise, given it doesn’t affect the quality of her work. Many are aware that self-acceptance and happiness walk hand in hand, and believe you cannot have one without the other.

Solicitor Hopeful is an LLB student and is seeking a training contract.

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Please don’t make stupid and offensive comments.

If you do not have the hair type, nor have experienced what is being said, then you have no right to comment, attack or ridicule the matter.


s.32 Salmon Act 1986

I fully agree with the request that nobody should make stupid or offensive comments.

However, the suggestion that nobody can comment on this article unless they have a certain hair type is a stupid comment, and is therefore in violation of your original proposal.

Hair can wait. You need to straighten out your ideas.



haha thanks for the comment, I made an error. It should have been : no right to comment attacking or ridiculing the matter, not no right to comment.



Who put you in charge?

Sod off back to your safe space, snowflake!



Yes and we should also prevent doctors who have not yet personally recovered from cancer treat cancer patients right?



This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.






How do you think I feel, I’m completely bald.


Commercial Barrister

Thank you – what a thoughtful and well-written article. I agree that there is a huge amount of racist baggage in the British upper middle class and the “professions” related to black hair. The onus is on everyone in the professions, and especially white people who benefit most from the unconscious biases which still persist, to try to recognise any prejudices (even unintended prejudices) we might have and make a conscious effort to overcome them. Black professionals must not be judged on whether they decide to wear a weave or wear their hair relaxed, curly or braided.


Solicitor Hopeful

Thank you, appreciate it x



You’ve never worked as a solicitor. Please stop using anecdotal accounts to make lazy assumptions on a sector.



what if you’re bald?


loljk m8

I ensure my body remains totally hairless and greased with coconut oil. I have reached a heightened state of aerodynamics. By adopting this approach my working efficiency has increased by at least 17%.



I’m an associate. At the two firms I have worked at there are big pushes for diversity and inclusion. That also comes from our clients who are doing more and more on diversity and want the same for their lawyers.

This article isn’t about law firms, it is about how black women have different hair to white and Asian women and need a weave for long hair. Black women don’t grow long hair. Most black women choose a weave because they think it looks better and they like it. It just isn’t an issue in the workplace for that reason. If black women choose not to have a weave, companies like mine would not judge, unconsciously or otherwise.



Without making assumptions would you be willing to confirm which company you work for.



Black women can and do grow long hair – many examples can be found on YouTube.

Wearing weaves, relaxed hair, extensions, natural hair and even headscarves in professional roles has not seemed to impact me.
(I now have my hair in sisterlocks – small sized locks – a low maintenance natural hair style that promotes long hair growth, and which has been adopted by many professional black women).

I fully understand how some black women may feel like they have to conform in order to succeed, but I also think progress has a great deal to do with confidence and high quality work.

You can’t force people to validate your appearance, but you can become so brilliant that when they think of you, the last thing on their mind is your hair.



Most don’t and if they do it is too weak as it is curly. Mixed women grow long hair. It is a trite point to point to make.



Well meaning or not, you are one of the problems black people regularly have to deal with. Afro hair actually grows long. There is something called shrinkage which makes the hair look shorter than it actually is. As you do not know this simple fact, I wonder how you purport to understand the relationship black women have with hair or how you can make assumptions about how black women in general feel about their hair because some women choose to wear straight weaves. I wonder if you carried out a survey and black women told you that they think straight hair is better. Oh and please do not respond saying “…but my one black friend told me…” because this is the way this type of conversation usually goes. Finally, to all the black women that post these silly articles on Legal Cheek, please stop. You do not need anybody’s validation or approval. This is becoming ridiculous!



I live with a black girl. She has said this to me word for word many times. I asked her about it again before commenting on whatsapp. I think that is reasonable. If you don’t share that characteristic you listen to people who do. And then get shouted down by an internet troll. Which sounds about right.



Haha! Why am I not surprised. I knew the “I can speak for black people because I know a black person” comment was coming. Usually very easy to see from a mile away. Anyway, I’ve said my piece.



You’ve basically been pretty rude and banal.


1. black women can and do grow long hair.

2. there is a thing called ‘shrinkage’.

3. curly hair is not necessarily weak.

4. neither you nor your black flatmate know why most black women do anything (we are not a homogeneous group and your flatmate cannot speak for me).

5. read a book called ‘why I no longer talk to black people about race.’ You might learn something about the many many ways in which your comments are wrong, insulting and completely unnecessary.



This is not true and actually a myth . The problem is weave actually damages our hair. I have cousins who have hair to their ankles and they are beautiful dark skin black women. If you go on Instagram, you will see a host of black women with long natural hair .

However, I do not necessarily think there is a bias. I wear a weave. Nevertheless, I think unless you are willing to fork out about 500+ for a descent weave. You are actually better off wearing your own hair.



Thanks for overlooking black men



As if they don’t have the same hair, ye


R Kelly

And thanks for overlooking me! #metoo



As usual the peripheral black male bullies trying to get air time kmt.



“With the perception that straight hair equals professionalism, it seems black job seekers should perhaps think twice before wearing their hair natural for an interview.”

Telling people they ‘should’ be doing x or y in order not to upset a prejudicial applecart might be viewed as a bit controversial…



Very well written!


Solicitor Hopeful

Thank you x



I like that type of hair. I think it looks great if anybody says otherwise I will come down on them like the HAMMER OF THOR. The thunder of my vengeance will echo through this comment section like the gust of a THOUSAND WINDS.



I will RUIN you



It isn’t just women with hair like that. Look up Leroy Sane. I think it is stylish.



A quick sample of websites of the leading law firms in Nigeria and Ghana (it’s been a slow morning…) yields no evidence that I can see of even a single afro, on a woman or a man:

I am not entirely sure what to conclude from that, but it seems somewhat implausible that those firms (or wider societies) have pressured their lawyers (or job applicants) to cut or straighten their hair in order to conform to white notions of what is “professional”. Maybe there is, instead, a wider social convention across many cultures that having “big hair”, whatever ethnicity you are, is an unwelcome distraction in a legal context?



I’ve worked closely with lawyers from Banwo & Ighodalo on a large Nigerian arbitration, and can safely say they’d crush many of the ‘Hurray Henry’ types in firms across the City in both ability and legal knowledge.

Plus their names sound pretty cool.



I saw quite a few women with natural hair in the first link.



Whatever the styles are called, they all look professional to me. So what’s the problem?



‘somewhat implausible’? Try again.

Perhaps we can conclude that colonialism was a real bitch and that, sadly, after more than 60 years of independence, many of us in Ghana still aspire to western standards of beauty. Relaxed hair and wigs are the norm here. Skin bleaching is not uncommon either – should we conclude that this means dark skin is also an ‘unwelcome distraction’?



What a lot of bollocks…



Load* correcting my original comment



how so?



go natural, you do you girl.



Someone just needs to write a definitive guide on style for BAME city solicitors like that ex BLP lawyer.



🎼 I wanna live for-ever!🎶



Don’t blame the profession.

Blame the clients for not taking someone with dreads seriously!



Unless this is simply what senior lawyers think clients will care about, rather than what clients will actually care about.

That is, to the extent this is really a thing at all – I’m not wholly convinced it is.



Thanks for overlooking us Sukhoi fighter jet planes. It’s not easy being discriminated against in the office for having wings and being too big to fit in the office



Unfunny. Try again.


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