Newscaster Lena Pringle Talks Workplace Hair Discrimination
This Newscaster Wants to Redefine What "Professional" Hair Looks Like
Image Source: Courtesy of Lena Pringle
Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold solely based on a person's skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we're passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they're using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: newscaster Lena Pringle, who in 2020 went viral on Twitter for embracing her natural hair at work and who is partnering with Clairol Professional to raise awareness about hair discrimination in the workplace.
Journalism is something that I've always known that I wanted to do. When I was an undergraduate, I had done a ton of different internships in the journalism field. At the time, I had a short, relaxed, pixie-like haircut, but I thought that I might want to go natural once I got into the industry. But a comment from an internship coordinator was made saying, "Oh no, you need to keep your hair how it looks. It needs to be straight — maybe a little bit of curl — but you definitely don't want to go natural."
For the first time ever, I had to reckon with the fact that my appearance, and the decision that I would make based on how I wanted to wear my hair, might be a reason why I wouldn't get into the industry.
From school to the workplace, I was wearing a relaxed pixie cut, and I had some hair coloring at the top. Fortunately for me, I was embraced with open arms at first — but that's likely because the person who hired me was a person of color as well. Once I got into the industry, that's when I realized the alarming rates at which other women who looked like me had to consistently deal with hair discrimination, whether it was because they wanted to wear their natural hair or because they wanted to wear protective styles.
I have several colleagues and friends who I've watched go through a lot of different battles when it comes to hair at work. So although it wasn't my personal experience — in the beginning, I still had relaxed hair, so it was pretty much standard — the experiences that I've had to endure with other colleagues were quite alarming and something that really caught my attention. I knew the reality of what it looks like for people who look like me who don't have the flexibility to wear their hair as they choose and may even lose employment because of it.
Image Source: Courtesy of Lena Pringle
A hairstyle is professional enough because you decided, as a professional, that you wanted to try it.
I went natural for the first time in 2018, two years before my tweet about it went viral on Twitter. That was the first time that I had gone as short as I did and with a part. It was partly liberating and partly frustrating. I was very excited to have a lifestyle that wasn't so heavily dependent on hair maintenance because that was the first time that I'd ever experienced that. For the first time in my 25 years of life, I experienced a life that wasn't so heavily tied to maintaining my hair and what it looked like with every situation. Prior to that, I would have to make sure that my hair looked good no matter if it was raining or if it was sunny or if I was on the side of the road reporting. So it was very liberating to have a freer hairstyle.
It was also very frustrating that because I had been doing my hair one way for so long, it took me probably about two years to really figure out the maintenance for natural hair. It was something that I wasn't taught how to do, and it took me being in my adult life to be able to navigate around the drastic new hairstyle.
What prompted me to tweet about it was that experience that I had seven years prior when I was still in school. And now, almost a year and a half after that viral moment, my mind is still blown that it resonated with so many people across this country and the world. I still have people who reach out to me who talk about how seeing that tweet encouraged them to go shorter or to show up as their natural selves. I'm very thankful that I was a part of a moment that encouraged people to take up this space and show up as their authentic selves in professional spaces. They will adjust — we now are making spaces grow to fit us and not shrinking to fit them.
When I originally went natural, it was really just for a lifestyle change, but now, throughout the four years that I've been natural, I understand that the representation means so much more to women who look like me in professional spaces. So working with Clairol Professional for its "Texture by You, Color by Clairol" campaign has allowed us to amplify the conversation around natural hair in the workplace and its professionalism when it comes to color.
There needs to be more conversations about hair discrimination in the workplace because, while I might not have experienced it directly, there are far too many men and women who look like me who have — especially in broadcast journalism, you're hired based on your current appearance. There are a lot of promotional and marketing tools that are used around appearance. So sometimes people in broadcast journalism find it a bit more difficult to change up their looks and their styles. That's why the CROWN Act is so important in my industry: it allows people to change their hair, especially women with textured hair.
Just like everything else in our lives evolves, from health and technology to road infrastructure, so should the ideas around what's professional. Life is short. A lot of us work a good bit — five days out of seven a week — and people should have the ability to try new things with their hair and not wonder if it will be deemed professional or not professional, or if they may not have their job the next day. It takes more people in a variety of industries, especially one such as broadcast that has strict standards around appearance, to be able to show up and show how these standards are evolving and changing as we continue to move forward as a society.
At the end of the day, professionalism remains based on the individual's ability to do the work and to get the job done. A hairstyle is professional enough because you decided, as a professional, that you wanted to try it.