sisters, networking, aarp
Irene Rinaldi
Irene Rinaldi

The Genius Networking Tool Black Women Don’t Even Realize We’re Using

It’s the ultimate signifier of sisterhood and solidarity. Leverage the phenomenon we know as “Black girl hair talk” to break the ice, build your network, advance your career and boost your earnings.

I’m in the crush of Midtown pedestrians on our way to work. The light at 41st and Madison signals “Don’t walk.” I feel someone’s eyes, and I glance at the sister beside me, who holds my gaze and smiles back.

“I love your hair,” she says, eyeing my honey-tinted afro with blond highlights.

“I love your locks,” I tell her.

“What do you use to moisturize you curls?” she asks.

I easily rattle off my cocktail of styling products, as I have to countless total strangers before her — even in a case where the sister spoke little English and my Spanish was rusty. I had to break out a scribble pad, make a lot of gestures and struggle to remember if the word cepilla meant hairbrush or toothbrush!

“Oh, so you use the L.O.C. [lotion, oil, cream] method?” she asks.

I explain that my routine is even easier because I work those three products into my towel-dried strands in a single step rather than in succession.

“Thanks,” she says as the “Walk” light flashes and we step off the curb. “I always like to ask when I see someone with good curl definition.”

Another fleeting follicle friendship ends as we silently walk east. But curiosity suddenly grips me.

“What sort of work do you do here in the city?”

She tells me that she works for a nonprofit dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease research, and I excitedly share the coincidence that I work for AARP, a nonprofit that recently invested $60 million to support advancements in treatment for the disease and the search for a cure. There’s a lot of collaboration between people at her job and at mine. She hands me her card, from which I’ll later notice that she’s a physician and program officer, and I promise to follow up on LinkedIn. When I do so, I learn that we have several friends in common, and I invite her for coffee.

Black girl hair talk is the ultimate signifier of sisterhood and solidarity. We’ve got our natural hair online communities; Black hair meetups and conventions; hair shows; outdoor events like Brooklyn’s Curlfest (which is basically the Coachella of coils and kinks) and, of course, Saturdays at the salon. We naturally let our hair down in these spaces and connect on an authentic level that can lead to lasting connections. The things that distinguish us from women of other ethnicities — hairstyle and texture — also bond us as Black women. We’re linked by kinks!

Funny thing, the “hair talk” habit is so ingrained, I now do it with women of all races, such as the white sister with a beautiful cascade of silver waves in line at the store. You probably do, too! But the quick compliments we trade with other queens in passing are designed to say “I see you, sis” and affirm one another’s unique beauty in a racist society that too often devalues it.

But what if we also held the intention in those moments to support not just a sister’s self-worth but also her success? Catching up with my new colleague over coffee, I realized we could leverage that vibe to break the ice, build our networks, advance our careers and boost our earnings.

After all, for successful networking, career experts say you need to do several things:

  • Express interest in others
  • Talk to strangers
  • Be personable
  • Be genuine
  • Discover something you have in common
  • Share personal details about yourself
  • Give authentic compliments

Now, if BGHT isn’t networking, please tell me what is?

So, when we see each other out there, why not help each other slay and get paid? When you’re done discussing butter vs. jelly; shampoo vs. no-poo; 4C vs. 3B; lace front vs. U part; crochet braid vs. sew in; cornrows vs. box braids; or doobie vs. blowout, consider taking another 30 seconds to share your name, AirDrop your VCF or hand over your physical business card. If it feels right, share your elevator pitch!

And sis, however you’re wearing your hair today, I know you look fabulous.

XOXOXO –Claire


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sisters, networking, aarp
Irene Rinaldi