On a cool day in New York in April 2011, a University of Southern California graduate named Zoé Zeigler sat in a hotel awaiting an interview that held the possibility of promotion with her employer, Toyota North America, a multinational organization.
Passing time, Ziegler found herself taking self-photographs to commemorate the day.
Staring back at the recent snapshots illuminated on her laptop screen, Zeigler sat in disbelief at what she saw. In every photo stood a stranger she did not recognize. The magenta blouse that she wore was present but the natural hair she had grown to love was not.
“I didn’t feel like myself,” Zeigler said.
Hours before her interview, Zeigler straightened her natural hair. Six months into her natural hair journey, she swapped her beloved curls for an appropriate, professional hairstyle that she believed would make a lasting impression.
Unlike the result of most selfies, Zeigler did not received the self-admiration she sought. Aiming to please others, Zeigler unexpectedly unimpressed herself.
“I thought to myself this is not you anymore,” said Zeigler. “This picture doesn’t even reflect your personality or who you are today.”
Like Zeigler, many job seekers desiring a career in the corporate world find themselves in a more personal conflict than producing a stellar resume. Figuring out what to do with one’s hair remains a dilemma around the world for many multicultural women with natural hair.
The competition inherent in Corporate America for prized and coveted jobs drives employees and career seekers to strive for professionalism daily, from workplace etiquette to personal grooming.
It’s not a surprise that some natural hair individuals can fall into an identity crisis, especially in an atmosphere teeming with stiff business suits and standard polished hairstyles.
Zeigler undeniably felt this pressure prior to her big interview as it fueled her decision to press her hair.
“I had this preconceived notion that I needed to have European hair to fit into corporate America” said Zeigler.
After her interview, Zeigler returned home and discovered that her hair had undergone heat damage when her curls did not completely revert back to its original state. In this moment, the communications graduate made a vow to herself.
“I’m going to wear my hair whatever way I want to.”
According to Zeigler, 28, she received the position, wore her hair natural the first day on the job and has ever since. Sporting her natural hair, Zeigler has seen continuous success in the corporate world.
At Toyota North America, Zeigler is the assistant manager of corporate marketing and communications. For more than 10 years, she has assisted in channeling the company’s story through paid media, advertisements, media placements, articles and social media. Zeigler has managed award-winning campaigns for brands spanning from Toyota to Teen Vogue.
Zeigler’s work has been featured in several acclaimed media outlets such as the Today Show, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Mashable and Adweek.
The savvy naturalista also serves as the communications director at ColorComm, a professional organization for women of color in communications. The organization is renowned for its supporters such as Vanessa Bush (editor of Essence Magazine), Soledad O’Brien (news anchor) and more. At ColorComm, Zeigler fosters community within the organization by facilitating network opportunities through event planning and media relations.
So far, Zeigler’s natural hair has not been called into question during her corporate career. Instead, her hair has been widely accepted and worthy enough for water cooler talk.
“I’ve gotten so many great comments from people like ‘I love your versatility’ and ‘You own your look a way that we don’t see a lot of people doing it.’’’
Within her corporate career, Zeigler stated that the harshest critic of natural hair in the corporate world tends to be an enemy close to home.
“I have found that sometimes in corporate America that people with the most issues about natural hair are black women,” said Zeigler. “It’s our own perception of how we think people are going to perceive us.”
Zeigler noted her own change in perception of natural hair to her arrival to New York. The large warm embrace of natural hair styles among women within the city inspired her.
“Coming to a city a couple days before the interview and where I saw so many natural girls, I was like that’s me,” said Zeigler. “I can be embracing my curls too.”
In Zeigler’s world, self-love is paramount to change and success as it drives every action.
“I think it’s kind of up to us to change those perceptions not corporate America,” Zeigler said.
With the growing popularity of natural YouTubers and bloggers, Zeigler stated that anyone can find a natural hair style appropriate for work among the countless bun, updo and twist-out tutorials. According to Zeigler, the hardest thing to find is the appropriate confidence.
“If you walk in a room like you own it, I don’t care what your hair looks like. People are going to be attracted.”
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