In many companies and schools, Black people face discrimination in the form of dress codes that discriminate against natural hair styles. The CROWN Act—short for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair—provides protection against discrimination based on natural hairstyles in employment, housing, and education. The CROWN Act has already become law in many states and localities. It was also passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in September 2020 but stalled in the Senate. It was passed by the U.S. House again in March 2022 as H.R. 2116, and advocates of the bill are hoping it can receive a vote in the Senate and become law later this year.
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Employers should stay up to date on news about the CROWN Act. They should also review dress code and appearance policies, making changes necessary to ensure policies do not discriminate against natural hair styles.
What is Hair Discrimination?
Race-based hair discrimination occurs when employers, landlords or school administrators make decisions that have negative impacts on applicants for jobs, housing, or educational opportunities, based on the appearance of natural hair styles. Specifically, many organizations institute policies prohibiting hairstyles of minority cultures but not of the dominant culture. In the case of Black Americans, these policies often force them to chemically change or straighten their hair, rather than wearing their hair in an Afro, braids, dreadlocks, or other natural hairstyles.
The Frequency and Impact of Natural Hair Discrimination
Unfortunately, discrimination against natural hair styles is exceedingly common in the business world as well as in schools. Dove commissioned two research studies to find out how often Black women and girls faced this type of discrimination. One survey conducted by Dove studied hair discrimination in schools and found nearly two-thirds of Black girls in majority white schools report experiencing hair discrimination. These early experiences of discrimination are carried with them as they enter the world of work.
Dove conducted a survey of 1,017 Black and 1,050 non-Black women, ages 25-64, working in a corporate office or field sales position. The results are startling and demonstrated that hair discrimination can have a measurable impact on Black women’s social wellbeing, self-esteem, and economic wellbeing. HR leaders should consider these findings and rethink company policies about grooming and appearance:
Black women are 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy and they are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair than non-Black women.
32% of non-Black women stated they never actually received the corporate grooming policy compared to only 18% of Black women.
Black women are 80% more likely to agree with the statement: “I have to change my hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.”
Black women’s hair is 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as “unprofessional.” Those wearing natural hair styles are consistently rated as less ready for job performance.
It’s important to note that Black men can also be impacted by hair discrimination. Job applicant, Jeffrey Thornton, lost a job offer because he would not cut off his dreadlocks, even though he was willing to tie his hair back. Student, DeAndre Arnold, was suspended from a private high school in Texas for the same reason. Wrestler, Andrew Johnson, was forced to cut off his dreadlocks in order to compete in his championship match.
The Pandemic and DEI Movement Accelerated the CROWN Act
Two major moments in time—the pandemic and the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) movement—converged to shine a spotlight on hair discrimination. During the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, many Black women lacked their usual access to hair stylists and began wearing their hair in more natural styles. This year, as businesses began their return-to-work policies, many Black employees have been returning with more natural hair styles—sometimes leading to conflict with existing corporate grooming guidelines.
Over this same pandemic period, corporations have worked hard to improve workforce DEI initiatives. DEI came to the forefront of talent management during the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd by police officers. In addition to the #BlackLivesMatter movement calling for better police accountability, there has been a larger national call to address racism and discrimination, including in the workplace.
The CROWN Act is Already Law in Many Locations
The CROWN Act has been passed at the state level in 15 states, as of this writing. The most recent state to sign it into law was Tennessee. It is also law in more than 40 municipalities, with more city councils taking up the measure each year.
7 Tips to Help Employers Eliminate Hair Discrimination
As companies work hard to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion, it makes sense to take action within your business and stamp out any forms of race-based hair discrimination—whether the Senate passes the CROWN Act at the federal level or not. It is simply the right thing to do for your employees. And as we have noted above, the CROWN Act is already the law of the land in many states and cities. These tips can help HR leaders eradicate race-based hair discrimination from their organizations:
Revise the corporate dress policy to remove references to protected hair styles. Are any parts of the policy applied specifically to Afros, braids, dreadlocks, cornrows, Bantu knots or twists? These hairstyles are predominantly worn by Black individuals are specifically recognized in the CROWN Act. When you revise your policy, be sure to update your employee handbook.
Educate all managers and employees. Incorporate hair into your an
ti-discrimination training discussions. Teach employees how microaggressions towards natural hair can make Black employees feel like they are not a part of the team. Employees should never ask to touch another employee’s hair or speculate/question about “your real hair” or “your real color.” Even comments about frequent hair style changes can make employees feel targeted. Managers need to know how to navigate these sensitive topics when any issues arise.
Avoid discrimination over hair color. Does your policy prohibit dying hair an “unnatural color”? Many companies use language like that to avoid bright hair colors such as blue, orange, and purple. But inadvertently, you might be sending a message that Black women can only wear their hair in dark shades.
Use gender neutral language, remembering that the burdens of race-based hair discrimination fall unevenly onto Black women.
Examine the company’s motivations behind any rules about hair. Carefully consider standards related to hair style, texture, length, or color. Standards based on employee safety may be necessary and practical. For example, there are some jobs where having a beard or long hair might put an employee at greater risk of being hurt by a machine. On the other hand, standards based on ‘corporate image,’ or ‘professionalism’ should be scrutinized to remove any form of intentional or unintentional bias.
Distribute the policy uniformly. Give your workplace appearance/grooming policy to every employee—male and female—without exception. And provide the policy at the same point in time, whether that is during the application process, at the interview or on the first day of onboarding.
Train people involved in interviewing and hiring. Hiring managers and interviewers should avoid commenting on an applicant’s appearance.
Talented individuals want to work at companies that take care of their people with strong values and consistent fairness. Eradicating any potential discrimination in the job application and hiring process are table stakes for providing a just employee experience and complying with labor laws. Avoiding race-based hair discrimination is one step toward strengthening DEI within your organization.