Eliminating Discrimination Against Natural Hair in the Workplace

Throughout every industry, Black people experience disproportionate bias and discrimination in the workplace due to their natural hair and the policies in place that create an unequal environment.

The notion that straight hair is better than curly or “kinky” hair has become widespread and  created a societal standard that black hair and the different hairstyles are unacceptable and unprofessional. In most schools and workplaces, dress codes or grooming policies prohibit natural hairstyles; if violated, they are often sent home or asked to change. Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair and 80% more likely to change their hair from its natural state to fit into an office setting than other women. Based on societal standards, these grooming policies are discriminatory and biased against natural black hair. Different hairstyles represent culture and history that have a deep-rooted, emotional tie to  the Black community. In addition, certain hairstyles help to protect and keep the hair healthy. Having policies and practices in place that deny them the ability to express and share their culture, is unjust and biased. 

The CROWN Act and How it was Formed: 

Something needed to change. In 2018, The CROWN Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) was created to alter these policies and put a stop to the unfair treatment that Black women endure. The law, which is enacted in 20 states, “prohibits race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots.” It failed to pass the senate in 2022, but there are many organizations and supporters who are trying to get it passed on a federal level. The CROWN Act was founded by four black women: Esi Eggleston Bracey, Unilever’s chief operating officer and executive vice president of beauty and personal care; Kelli Richardson Lawson, the founder and CEO of DC marketing firm JOY Collective; Orlena Nwokah Blanchard, JOY Collective’s president and chief operating officer; and social impact and legislative strategist Adjoa B. Asmoah. These women saw a problem and did something to create change for the Black community. For decades, black hairstyles have been used as a reason to fire, not hire, or not promote black employees. As a result, Black people have felt the need to conform to white hair standards to fit into the professional setting. 

How Does this Fit in the Modern Workplace?

More than ever, we are working with people from diverse backgrounds. Culture and upbringing influence so much of what makes people their unique self. Although some may have a different way of talking, their taste in music and food, the way of dress and how they wear their hair, doesn’t mean that one way is better or more superior. Everyone’s differences should be respected and accepted by their peers and the organization as a whole. Respect is the foundation of an inclusive workplace culture, where people feel safe and a sense that they belong. However, when there are policies in place that discriminate against and single out certain people, it’s extremely difficult to foster any respect within the workplace. 

In our newest Preventing Workplace Harassment Training Course, we have lessons that teach the skills of respect and inclusion, including how to mitigate bias against Natural Hair and an overview of the CROWN ACT, to avoid any discriminatory or biased behavior in the workplace. Beyond that, we teach the legal requirements for each state and clearly define what’s unlawful and what can be considered harassment. When employees are discriminated against based on any of their protected personal characteristics, which are race, age and gender, it becomes unlawful harassment. In the section titled “Respecting Natural Hair”, learners will receive information about the history of The CROWN Act and the discrimination and bias that Black people have had to and continue to endure in the workplace. It teaches the importance of acknowledging and learning about other people’s cultures and to respect their backgrounds. Preventing harassment is partially reliant on increasing respect and inclusion amongst employees. 

The CROWN Act protects Black employees from being harassed and creates a tone for respect and acceptance for cultural differences in the workplace. This is a step in the right direction towards equality and creating respect and inclusion in the workplace.

Learn more about how you can mitigate bias and discrimination at work, check out our Preventing Workplace Harassment course or contact us to see a customized demo!  

diversityharassment preventioninclusionrespect
Sierra Case
Marketing Intern
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