COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jakini Ingram loves every curl, braid and baby hair on her head. She loves to change her hair with the season, but the 25-year-old law student said her love for her hair and her love for the law don’t always co-exist.
As a third-year law student at Ohio State, professionalism and presentability are two words that consume her morning routine and push her to think twice before doing a new hairstyle.
“When I have my natural hair out, I tend to just wear it in a sleek straight back bun, like almost what you’d see in the military,” said Ingram. “It’s very conservative, it's very laid back and I can wear it almost anywhere.”
Wigs have been an easy yet expensive solution to the overwhelming stress Ingram faces when trying to find what to do with her hair. The New Crown 2023 Workplace Research Study reported that 66% of Black women change their hair for a job interview and more than 20% of Black women between 25 and 34 have been sent home from work because of their work.
“I’m literally putting this wig on in two weeks when I’m going to meet with partners and associates up there,” said Ingram when explaining her upcoming trip to Seattle.
The same research study found that Black women are 54% more likely to feel they must wear their hair straight to a job interview to be successful. This is a feeling Ingram shares and said it’s an uphill battle, fighting hair discrimination and prejudice.
“Black women in professional spaces, we all get to have a hill that we chose to die on and so she said choose your hill, but she also followed up with saying that I don’t think that's the hill that you want to choose,” said Ingram when sharing advice she’s gotten from other Black women attorneys.
Ingram said she works hard to present herself in a way that would skirt comment and criticism, but she often falls short of the goal.
“Quite literally I've been asked, 'So when was the last time you cut your hair twice this week,” Ingram said when asked if anyone has ever commented on her experience. Comments like this in reference to Ingram's braids are considered microaggressions and Black women are twice as likely to experience them in the workplace.
“Choosing my hairstyle, choosing my wig intentionally so I don’t have to deal with those questions is something that I quite literally deal with every single day,” said Ingram.
Ingram leans on mentors for solace and guidance. Keri Richardson graduated from law school two years ago and now works as a legal counselor for Abercrombie and Fitch.
The Harvard Business Review conducted a study and found that 81% of the women of color in their study experienced at least some racism in the workplace. Future Forum, a workplace research company, reported that only 3% of Black knowledge workers wanted to return to the workplace after the pandemic.
In externships and law school, Richardson had similar experiences to Ingram. Her job now allows flexibility to work from home and has both women and women of color on all levels of management.
“I probably have a better experience in law just because of the environment I’m in, however, you still have your own internal challenges as far as presenting yourself in the best way,” said Richardson.
Ingram is finishing her last year of law school. Richardson has shared with her the importance of interviewing jobs the same way they interview her to make sure she feels safe and supported while fulfilling her passion.
“I had to ask questions to figure out whether or not this is an environment that I feel safe in, this is an environment where I feel I can do good work and be surrounded by people I can learn from,” said Ingram.
Ingram graduates from Ohio State's Mortiz School of Law this spring and will work for a law firm in Seattle starting in the summer. Right now, the CROWN Act, a law that prohibits race based hair discrimination, hasn’t been adopted on the federal or state level. Columbus, Cleveland Heights, Akron and Cincinnati have all adopted the legislation.