An employee has gone viral over her innovative response to her employer’s rules on hair colour.
Shortly after accepting a job offer, Emily Benschoter was told by her new boss that her pink hair was not appropriate for her front-of-house role in the hospitality sector.
The 29-year-old told Newsweek: “Dying my hair for a job I work at for 40 hours per week wasn’t an option.
“I am a self-expressive person and I feel very confident with pink hair so I came up with a solution to keep the job and my hair.”
After discussing solutions with seniors, Benschoter’s boss suggested she could wear a wig to cover her dyed locks. Cue a new TikTok sensation.
@emuhleeebee & yes every wig has a different name #corporate #corporatelife #pinkhair #coloredhair #fyp ♬ I want to buy a gun - Teagan
Since then, Benschoter has posted multiple videos on her TikTok account - of the various wigs she wears to work, which are intentionally OTT.
“When you have pink hair but corporate does not approve so you wear terrible wigs.” Benschoter has been racking up millions of views since posting her first wig video in July.
"The worse the wig, the better”, she said, adding: "It is a way to open up the conversation with the customers who think it is insane that I have to cover my pink hair."
And despite the humorous nature of her wig wearing, Benschoter pointed out there’s an important message behind it.
She explained to Newsweek: “It’s dehumanising that I can’t be accepted at face value because my hair is a non-traditional colour.
“It’s so superficial that my hair colour is an obstacle.”
The TikToker continued: “I prefer my pink hair, it’s me to my core. So now I purposely pick wacky wigs which is quite funny.”
Is dyed hair really ‘unprofessional’?
Over the past few years, personal appearance choices such as tattoos, make up and hair colour have increasingly become the subject of discourse around discrimination, particularly in the workplace.
But should it be the case?
“When it comes to coloured hair it can often have a reputation for being unprofessional”, says professional haircare firm Matrix, on its website.
“While each industry is different and there's no denying that some aren't quite ready for it, coloured hair can actually be perfectly professional for the workplace! The key is to making sure it's done correctly.”
The experts add: “We are a modern society that is constantly pushing the status quo and our hair should be a reflection of this. Your hair colour in no way reflects how professional you are and a lot of industries are beginning to understand this. If you've been wanting to try coloured hair, it's certainly something that you can do while still being taken seriously.
Matrix concludes: “Hair colour is changeable and isn't something that affects how efficient or hard working an individual is.”
A diversity issue, too
Amusing as the TikToker’s situation is, there are also some really crucial lessons around hair and personal appearance that HR should take from this quirky incident. With hair being a significant aspect of racial identity, employers not being aware of this, and their own bias, can have a detrimental effect on people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
For example, last month a 16-year-old black fast-food worker was sent home after being accused of having ‘unnatural’ hair, on the grounds the hairstyle went against company policy.
Autumn Williams was sent home after being told by her manager that her blonde braids was an ‘unnatural’, forcing her mum to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Williams said that although her hair was styled differently during an orientation at the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, the only guidance she was given around hair was that it needed to be out of her face, a rule she felt was reasonable.
When Williams spoke to a supervisor, they reportedly told her to “refer to the (company) handbook” which states "hairstyles must be neat and professional in appearance. Unnatural hair colours or eccentric styles (e.g Mohawks, shaven designs, etc.) are not permitted."
Historically, black and brown people with ‘natural’ hair have sometimes been penalised in the workplace for having an appearance that is ‘unruly’ or ‘unprofessional’, an attitude ingrained in racial biases. For example, research suggests that workers with hair textures that have a likeness to white and Eurocentric hair are shown preference over those with Afro-textured hair.
In a Harvard Business Review article focusing on the stigmatisation of afro-textured hair, Janice Gassam Asare, the founder and CEO of DEI consulting firm BWG Business Solutions, explains that the solution to hair-based discrimination includes employers having an awareness of the issue, encouraging employee feedback and increasing objectivity in the workplace. She says that this type of discrimination disproportionately impacts black women, who often have to spend time and money on treatments and, sometimes dangerous, chemical products to relax their hair. Therefore, it’s important for employers and those with decision-making powers to continue to have conversations that focus on the experiences of those affected.