There was a time when Koai Martin didn't always feel at ease wearing her natural hair in professional settings -- until now.
On LinkedIn, Vidant Health administrative fellow Koai Martin, who lives in North Carolina, shared her latest headshots where she is seen wearing a black blazer, pearl earrings and a head full of her beautiful afro-textured hair.
She also revealed that this was the first headshot she's ever taken with her natural hair.
"I have always taken my professional pictures with straight hair because that has always been deemed the 'professional' look," said Martin. "Over the past year or so I have become more comfortable rocking my natural hair in professional settings and I could not feel any better."
Martin started her natural hair in 2019 but she told "GMA" she initially didn't feel comfortable wearing her afro and opted for protective styles such as box braids.
"I was the most comfortable this way because I have always been told and taught that straight hair is 'more professional' or 'more acceptable.' So when I started my professional career and I saw practically none of the Black women I worked with wearing any natural hairstyles, I assumed all the things I had been told were right."
Over the past two years, Martin expressed how she's evolved into a better version of herself. Wearing her natural hair is a large part of that transition.
She said she is proud of the work she has put in to get where she is in life.
"I thought this is who I am and how I show up to work every day so my new professional headshot should resemble that as well," said Martin.
Martin was photographed for her new headshots at the beginning of August and recalls sticking to her regular morning routine of steaming her afro out -- which is a tip her sister shared with her.
When she received the finalized photos, she was overwhelmed with joy. "Honestly, I really don't like when people bring attention to my hair, but something was different this time," she said.
"I have not had the most positive experiences when it comes to my afro in both professional and personal settings and felt that I wanted to share the joy I was feeling despite negative past experiences with LinkedIn," Martin added. "I felt like it was just LinkedIn so a few of my connections would see it would be it."
Little did she know, hundreds of thousands of people would like, comment and feel inspired by her new headshots.
Accenture Federal Services software engineer Zaria Davis, who wears dreads, said the post meant a lot to her.
"Joining the corporate world, I was told I would have to cut them off or at least style them to make them look 'more professional,'" she said in a comment.
Davis continued, "So for the first few weeks I was very meticulous with how I wore them, always pulled back. I didn't feel comfortable at all but that was the 'look.' But one day I thought, 'This is my natural hair, I should be able to wear it down like everyone else,' so I did, and my coworkers immediately noticed. They complimented me on my natural hair look. It felt nice being me."
Martin also highlighted the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) which aims to prohibit discrimination against race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists and knots in the workplace and public schools. She called out the important work that's being done by Dove, National Urban League, Color of Change and Western Center on Law & Poverty.
What's her advice for others who would like to wear their natural hair in professional settings? "Do it," Martin said.
"Wear the afro, wear the protective styles, wear your hair however you want," she added. "As my sister Drahea told me when I first started my natural hair journey, 'It is your hair growing from your head, what's not to like?' All hair is professional and your appearance does not make your work ethic or capabilities any less."