Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Will my hair be held against me in a job interview?

Dear Diversity Diva: Because I’m a white guy, you may not find this a diversity issue, but it’s an issue to me. Two days after I put blond highlight tips in my hair, I got a call for a job interview. I’m in a fairly conservative industry and am wondering if that will be something held against me? — Highlights Holding Me Down
Dear Highlights: First, let me get out of the way that diversity is not just about minority groups and women. Workplace diversity is about bringing differences to the table and maximizing everyone’s talents.
Diversity, at its best, is about people in the work force getting past appearances to knowing what you can do in the job you’re hired for.
Now you’re probably right that blond, spiky hair will probably not make it to the U.S. Supreme Court as a discrimination issue, but that doesn’t make your issue any less important to you because it’s not a legally protected one.
A few months ago I wrote about the issue of tattoos on job interviews, but this is different, in that, generally speaking, tattoos are permanent and not something you can change the week before a job interview — if you wanted to.
In essence, what you’re worried about is whether an unflattering, mistaken conclusion will be drawn about you based on your appearance. Or it could be that you’re worried that a very accurate conclusion will be drawn about you based on your appearance, but a conclusion that won’t help you get the job.
In either case, the question to ask yourself is whether your hairstyle is a statement of some kind or whether it’s just a hairstyle. If it’s a statement about your individuality or reflects your identity in some key way (for example, you’re a Kansas City surfer boy), then the better question to ask yourself is whether the place where you are interviewing is a good fit for you anyway.
On the other hand, if it’s just a hairstyle, then change it. It’s not an immutable characteristic or a reflection of cultural, religious or sexual orientation, so it’s not like you would be compromising yourself in any fundamental way to have your stylist slap on some hair rinse.
Diversity often is about the large and deep issues that have historical context and emotional relevance, but sometimes it can just be about the misconceptions about people created from small details.
In the case of hair color, this is a detail you can easily control.
Good luck on your interview!

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