Last year, we came across a LinkedIn post from Jules Tyler who opened up about a situation at work where she was told clients were less likely to hire her because she was bald. Jules’ post about the experience, and how she responded, went viral. Jules has kindly shared more of her story.  Jules’ talks alopecia at work, changing mindset, establishing boundaries and the value of good support.

What impact do you think alopecia has had on your work life?

Early on, when I lost my hair, I found it very hard to deal with, both emotionally and physically.  It was very challenging.  I went from having a full head of hair to Alopecia Universalis in 6 weeks flat.  As a condition, Alopecia is especially cruel as it’s one you cannot hide. You go through your diagnosis in public.  I had a tiny head and I bought wig after wig but none of them fitted.  I had to get signed off work because there was no way I was going to work with no hair. The stress was incredible!  I eventually worked it out and bought children’s wigs, but I was so frightened that people would know I was wearing a wig that I bought 3 of the same one.  I seemed to live in constant fear that someone would “suss out” my hair wasn’t real and tell others I wore wigs. I used to be outgoing and chatty, but I just started hiding away. I become really withdrawn and a shadow of myself.  

About six months after losing my hair, I started a new job.  I had an awful headache one day and my wig was quite tight.  I got up the courage to take off my wig (it was to be the first time I did so).  To tell you I felt incredibly brave in that moment was an understatement.  The reaction was one of surprise from those around (but I felt that was to be expected so didn’t take offence) and it soon faded.  However, one of the PAs I worked with came charging over to me telling me that I couldn’t walk around looking like that as I might upset people and that there’s a dress code!  I was absolutely crushed.  It took so much for me to take that step in removing my wig, but in seconds this lady had reduced me to tears and an anxious heap.  I, of course, reported it to HR, however I didn’t get any support at all. At the time they behaved like it was no big deal.  I had to quit that job as I felt so unsupported. It was a tough experience. 

I’m pleased to say though that all of the other firms I have worked for since have been incredibly supportive regarding my alopecia.  My colleagues have wanted to be educated about it and my last firm even encouraged me to get my tattoo on my head and show it off. I’m glad that this first experience was a rarity, however that discrimination is an all too frequent occurrence for those of us who look a little “unique”.

How did you manage any difficulties you had at work because of your alopecia? 

That first experience rocked me, and I came out of it a bit angry!  I was pretty livid that I was made to feel “less than” because of my lack of hair and my skin somewhat thickened quickly.  I did a lot of work on my mindset and became quite a straight-talker when it came to my Alopecia and put boundaries around what is acceptable.  I have had to correct people when they have approached me in a way that was unacceptable (for example, trying to touch my wig or pat my head like a pet!) or asking very personal questions.  I had a confrontational situation recently with a client of mine.  She demanded that I wear a wig when we worked together.  She was extremely rude to me, calling me thuggish and unprofessional due to my tattoo and look.  I posted about this on LinkedIn because I was really shocked, all these years later, to have to deal with a person like this again.  

My post went viral and clearly connected with a lot of people that suffer discrimination in the workplace in one way or another.  Things this time however were different.  I have real boundaries around how I’m willing to be treated now and I simply fired her!  I’m a business owner so I was able to do that, but I’m aware that others aren’t so fortunate.  Before I fired her, I did what I would have done in any employed role.  I had a very direct but polite conversation where I educated her about how her comments and thoughts were discriminatory.  I let her know that the world doesn’t tolerate such behaviours anymore and nor will I.  I also let her know that a person’s knowledge, expertise, and skillset is not housed within the strands of their hair.  She did eventually apologise to me after she saw my post blow up. 

I will not tolerate anyone being unkind or intolerant to me based upon my looks.  I will be held to account 100% for my actions, my expertise and my service provided to my clients, but my work quality and ethic has zero to do with whether I have hair or a tattoo or not.  Boundaries became an essential part of me when I decided to just be my authentic self.

What would you say to others who might be experiencing difficulties at work because of their alopecia?

First and foremost, I cannot recommend enough that if you are struggling with self-esteem due to your Alopecia or negative self-talk, therapy is amazing and it changed my life.  If you cannot see a therapist, there are lots of resources online about working on your mindset and there are coaches, like myself, who work with people to help them overcome negative mindsets, fears and obstacles to positivity.  This has been really key for me.  Next, know that the law is on your side!  Discrimination is not ok for any reason and you should be supported by your employer if you are having issues with anyone directly at work.   My best general advice for everything else in life is to try to be open and honest.  I know this isn’t what a lot of people want to hear, but don’t try to hide your alopecia or the fact you wear a wig (if you do), because people close to you already know and the stress we can cause ourselves doing this can be very damaging.  Having an open conversation about your condition, and anything others can do to support you, can really help.  I think the last thing I’d say is we always presume people will be negative (often borne out of how we feel about ourselves), but give them a chance, they may surprise you!

You may have heard the phrase ‘change your mindset’ before. It’s a term meaning to change how we think about something. We may not have the power to change situations in our life or how other people behave, but we can change how we think about them and therefore how we respond. Jules is a certified Mindset Coach with The Jay Shetty Certification School. 

Can you tell us a bit about changing your mindset and why that was important for you?

After my early experience I realised that the only way I was ever going to make it mentally through my Alopecia was if I learned to accept my condition and myself.  Easier said than done right?!  If I wasn’t ok with myself, how on earth could I expect anyone else to be ok with me?  People tend to react to us in how we present ourselves so if we present ourselves with negative energy, people will tend to receive us negatively.  

The first stage of changing your mindset is to accept that your thinking needs to change, then you need to look at what limiting and negative self-beliefs you have and why.  I worked through this with a therapist and over time, began to realise that what others thought of me really didn’t matter.  Would I sit down for coffee with these people or give them my time?  No!  Therefore, why let them affect my mental health severely?  I started going out without my wig all the time. It was uncomfortable at first, but the more I did, the more confident I became.  It was a real plus on a hot summer’s day too!  The more confident I got, the more positive my energy was and I can honestly say it’s very rare these days to get any negative responses from people and I feel 100% able to be myself.  On the occasions I do get any negativity, they sure wish they hadn’t by the time I was finished with them!

What’s helped you through the challenging times?

Being in touch with Alopecia UK was great when my journey with Alopecia begun.  Michelle Moffatt (now owner of Mimo Wigs) helped me work out how to find a wig that fitted me and encouraged me to look at the positive side of my diagnosis.  Seeing her being out there and living her life really inspired me. Being part of the Alopecia UK Facebook group was great too as it made me not feel so alone with everything.  Even if you don’t post, reading how others struggle just like yourself can often help as it validates your feelings.   I started making daily gratitude lists and journaling. I found it really beneficial for my mental health to focus on those priceless things I was grateful for and it also helped with the mindset shift to always trying to look at the positive.