Zara Employee's Braids Deemed Unprofessional By Management

They tried to fix her hair in front of customers.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

One Zara employee got more than she bargained for when she went to work wearing her natural hair in a braided ponytail.

20 year-old Cree Ballah works in one of Zara's brick and mortar stores in Toronto. When she showed up for her shift on March 23, her braids pulled back into a ponytail. Not one, but two of her managers reprimanded her over her hairstyle, even going so far as to tell her to take it down.

Another manager took her outside for a private chat, telling her, "We're not trying to offend you, but we're going for a clean, professional look and the hairstyle you have now is not the look for Zara."

So, a black woman's natural hair isn't the "look" Zara is going for? They wouldn't be the first to associate natural hair with unprofessionalism. As one Twitter user revealed, a Google search for "unprofessional hair" yields pages upon pages of black women with natural hair, whereas searching for the opposite - "professional hair" - results primarily in photos of white women.

It's a bias that women like Cree have to contend with everyday. As if being criticized just for wearing her natural hair wasn't bad enough, Cree's managers then tried to "fix" her hair, in plain view of mall-goers and other employees.

"It was very humiliating... It was unprofessional," Ballah said in an interview with CBS News.

Following the incident, Ballah said she left, feeling hurt and upset, and filed a complaint with human resources.

"My hair type is also linked to my race, so to me, I felt like it was direct discrimination against my ethnicity in the sense of what comes along with it," said Ballah, who identifies as bi-racial. "My hair type is out of my control and I try to control it to the best of my ability, which wasn't up to standard for Zara."

Though she did eventually meet with company officials, she wasn't satisfied with the encounter, and will likely quit her job and file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. A spokesman for Zara insists that their company has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination, and that they have no formal policy regarding how their employees wear their hair, as long as it looks professional. Whatever that means...

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