You have a new job and are excited to start. At onboarding, your manager tells you that you must straighten or cut your natural hair due to a workplace policy. You’ve just experienced hair discrimination. That scenario isn’t rare: 35% of Black women experience it just like Chastity Jones, whose job offer was rescinded after refusing to cut her dreadlocks.
Predominately, Black Americans are experiencing hair discrimination at work and school: dreadlocks, twists, braids, and afros are deemed inappropriate and distracting for the corporate space. Many employers and schools implement policies demanding employees and children change their hairstyles, whether its cutting or straightening their hair. Failure to conform often results in job termination, suspension, and forfeiting athletic competitions.
There is no doubt that commentary about an employee’s professional nature based on how they wear their hair is highly attributed to racism: taming natural hair to fit a societal norm is highly prejudicial.
Look to the termination of WJTV Mississippi news anchor Brittany Noble. Noble was ordered to keep her hair straight (despite it causing consistent damage). Her boss explained, “Mississippi viewers needed to see a beauty queen,” and ultimately, Noble was fired in March of 2018 unexpectedly after putting in several complaints about discrimination at her job.
Asking someone to change their hair is asking them to change their identity at a deeper level and can have a huge emotional impact. In 2018, a referee told Andrew Johnson, a 16-year old high school wrestler, that he had to remove his dreadlocks or forfeit the match. Johnson cut his dreadlocks and faced immense insecurity returning to school.
Start with these 5 steps
Leaders can recognize hair discrimination by opposing alterations to fit criteria, advocate for anti-discrimination against natural hair types, and not make hair types or styles a cause for termination, especially when unemployment rates within Black Americans are significantly higher.
- Creating a healthy space where employees can bring their best selves to work removes the apprehension one can face when approached about the appearance of their hair.
- Educate yourself and your team about legislations and laws that can help protect people, like the 2020 CROWN Act. Supporting the bill can be the first step a company takes to advocate for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- During recruitment and onboarding, make it a point not to attribute hair type to unprofessionalism.
- Open a discussion with your team to affirm zero-tolerance for biased or prejudicial discussions about hair appearances.
- Emphasize collective support and your teammates’ role will influence-advocacy throughout the organization and outside.
As a Black woman, I have faced many dilemmas regarding wearing my hair a certain way while interviewing: slicked back in a bun or in a twist out. With Zoom meetings and heading back into the office, I worry how my hair would be perceived. However, my team’s explicit declaration of anti-discrimination as part of our team contract gives me the confidence to wear my natural hair without anxiety.
As a leader, you should want your employees to feel the same way. Doing so leads to a better work environment and improves employee mental health and overall company success.
What’s implied versus explicitly stated in your team contract?