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Lose the braids or lose the job

SPEAKING OUT: Simone Powderly believes she was overlooked for a job after resfusing to take out her braids

A POPULAR blogger and model says she has been the victim of discrimination after a luxury recruitment agency asked her to remove her braids or risk missing out on a job opportunity.

The exchange is said to have taken place in November 2014 when Simone Powderly applied to get on the books of Elite Associates, which describes itself as ‘a respected leader in the luxury recruitment industry, providing the highest calibre of candidates to the most selective and prestigious retailers and brands in the world’.

The 25-year-old from south London, who wears her naturally curly hair in different styles including straightened or braided, said she received a worrying phone call despite soaring through the first round of group assessments.

She told The Voice: “I was told I was successful in my group assessment but what was said next I didn’t expect. I was asked: ‘Can we ask you to take your hair out in time for the interview…high-end brands like a more natural look?’”

Stunned by the company’s request, the natural hair model admitted to being torn about attending the next round of interviews.

She continued: “I couldn’t decide what to do; if I took them out then I wasn’t standing up for equal rights and basically saying it’s OK to discriminate against me.”

Ahead of the scheduled interview, Powderly sent several emails explaining that she was uncomfortable with the request but still wanted to attend the interview and would be doing so with her braids firmly in place.

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She received no word from the company and as a result decided not to attend the interview. After outlining her grievances in an email, she received a call from the recruiter who originally requested she remove her braids to reschedule the interview.

Upon arrival, Powderly recalled being confronted by the member of staff. “She put me in an uncomfortable position when she approached me and said: ‘I hear you were offended by what I said’.

She insisted that her request was not reflective of the recruitment company but the luxury brands they represent.”

The request “hurt” nonetheless, said Powderly.


INSPIRATION: Zendaya Coleman, pictured here at the Oscars, was told she looked like she ‘smelled of weed’

“On the basis that they said yes to me in the group assessment, I believe that I shouldn’t have been asked to take out my hair. They should have decided then and there as I was, and it is very unfair to judge me based on my natural hairstyle, which didn’t affect my ability to do the job at all.”

Following her second interview, the brand expert said she was not surprised that she was unsuccessful: “To be honest, I feel like they offered me the second interview to avoid any sort of negative press or me speaking against Elite Associates and their ‘equal’ opportunities, but they had already made up their mind.”

She claims she was assured that unsuccessful applicants would still be trained in the company’s extensive boot camp – an offer she alleged they didn’t follow through in her case and without any explanation.

Following her rejection, she reached out to the company for feedback on her performance and received no reply. She then decided to call. She told the receptionist that she wanted to submit a complaint to the manager, but nobody responded until recently.

The Voice contacted Elite Associates for a comment.

Spokesman David Delamarca maintained they had reached out to Powderly, and added: “Our recruitment policy is very diverse and we pride ourselves on embracing people from every walk of life so our directors will be looking into this.”

Inspired by Disney star Zendaya Coleman, the teenager who recently hit back at an entertainment reporter who joked that her dreadlocks made her look like she ‘smelled of weed’, Powderly was encouraged to stand up for herself.

“I feel if I stay quiet, companies like Elite Associates will destroy women out there, turning them away for jobs that they could do perfectly because of a natural hairstyle. Like Zendaya Coleman, I will stand up for myself and the rest of these women.”

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