A former student I had, who is Asian, was criticized harshly by her new boss in a training program because she had a ponytail.
He said it wasn't a professional hairdo and it made Asian women look childlike. This was a high tech company where standards are business casual for dress. What do you think? Are ponytails considered unprofessional?
The proper answer to your question depends upon whether or not the company where your former student is working has a published dress code which includes acceptable hair styles.
If the company has a published policy and ponytails or similar hairstyle are specifically listed as inappropriate business attire then your student's boss may have had the authority to comment on his employee's ponytail hairstyle. Some companies might require the boss to first forward the matter to the human resources department for official comment.
Of course there could be a variety of caveats to this question. Depending on where the company is geographically located, there may be issues with calling out your former student's hairstyle in relationship to her racial or ethnic background.
In the United States directing criticism on an employee's hair as well as linking it to their race or ethnicity could be a serious breach of discrimination policies and/or laws.
If your former student is unsure if her new boss had the right to question her ponytail or connect it to her Asian heritage she may wish to stop by and visit with the company's human resources department to determine what the policies are for wearing ponytails.
She should definitely discuss the matter further to be sure she follows all corporate requirements or suggestions while asking for examples of proper hair styles.
From a general viewpoint there is a wide range of opinions about what constitutes professional hairstyles. A lot depends on the industry and profession and whether or not a ponytail is considered too casual or not.
Your question does bring up a good point for anyone starting a new job. They should always inquire, before the first day, about expected dress codes and make sure they understand what is considered acceptable grooming practices.
Karen Marie SheltonAskKaren
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