The Impact of Race-Based Hair Discrimination in the Workplace

The Impact of Race-Based Hair Discrimination in the Workplace


Black women continue to face discrimination in the workplace attributed to their hair texture or hairstyle. However, as Ashley Alese Edwards notes in Glamour, “It’s not really about hair, and it never has been.” This is an issue of racism. This kind of discrimination results from explicit and implicit biases, microaggressions, and racially discriminatory policies — in this case, “racialized standards of professionalism” that disproportionately affect Black women.

As the American Bar Association reports, Black women “face the highest instances of hair discrimination and are more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair.” Currently, only seven US states (California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, and by October 1st, Maryland) ban discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyles such as braids, Afros, locks and twists. These states ban workplace grooming or appearance policies that prohibit hairstyles and hair textures associated with race, as they unfairly burden or punish Black employees, and others, and affect employment outcomes such as hiring, promotions, and termination.

Currently, there also is no federal law that bars this form of discrimination, although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits racial discrimination generally as it pertains to employment. However, we are one step closer — on September 21, 2020, the House passed the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) that would ban race-based hair discrimination nationwide. It will now pass to the Senate for consideration.

Sensitize your employees to race-based discrimination — help them understand the impact of touching, asking about, or commenting on someone’s hair, actions that can demean, disrespect, or devalue another coworker. Ensure your grooming and appearance policies are non-discriminatory and do not disproportionately affect employees and candidates based on their race or religion.

Read the stories of six inspiring women, who instead of being evaluated for their performance at work, faced unfair consequences for the way they wore their hair.

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