CROWN Act Making Gains, But Work Remains
In 2021, I wrote a piece on the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (“CROWN”) Act, which seeks to eliminate race-based hair discrimination. At the time, 14 states had enacted such legislation. Today, the CROWN Act is law in 19 states and numerous cities, and a federal bill now sits with the U.S. Senate that would ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin. Given the widespread impact that such a federal law could have on several different industries and employers, it’s important to understand what hair discrimination is, how it affects people, and how hair discrimination can be resolved in real-world situations.
What Is Hair Discrimination?
In late October, I met with Angela Arrington, Corporate Counsel Manager at Alliant Energy and Board Chair of YWCA-Madison. Angela herself experienced hair discrimination when she was first entering into the practice of law. Several of her friends and colleagues, across various professions, also have experienced hair discrimination.
For Angela and others, hair discrimination in the workplace can take the form of:
- Having another employee “pet” or stroke one’s hair
- Being stared at by others
- Being asked inappropriate questions at inappropriate times
- Being passed up for a job or promotion
- Seeing changes in the type and quality of assignments received
How Hair Discrimination Affects Employees
“It adds a layer of self-consciousness,” Angela says. She has seen the effects on other employees as well. Employees disconnect, their motivation plummets and their mental health and work performance can suffer as well. More importantly, as Angela puts it, hair discrimination stands in the way of an employee “showing up as their true authentic self.”
Ending Hair Discrimination in the Workplace
According to Dove’s 2019 CROWN Research Study, Black women are:
- 80% more likely to alter their natural in the workplace
- 30% more likely to be made aware of formal workplace grooming policies
- Nearly twice as likely to be sent home from work because of their hair
When working from home, there is little to no risk of harassment or discrimination – no staring, unwelcome touches, harmful comments or other microaggressive behavior. For employers looking to bring workers back into the office, Angela suggests starting by asking yourself, “What kind of workplace do you want to foster?”
Even though Angela and many other women have experienced hair discrimination, this did not deter her from remaining true to expressing how she desired to wear her hair. She has seen workplaces evolve on the issue over time and that has come from an intentional focus of fostering an inclusive work environment.
Managers and employers can take concrete steps of being inclusive and ending hair discrimination in the workplace, by:
- Reviewing grooming and dress policies for your company, removing subjective standards and references to specific hairstyles
- Educate managers and employees on cultural sensitivity regarding natural hair
- Encourage allyship, so employees do not feel they need to stand up to discrimination on their own
Right now, the CROWN Act has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and sits with the U.S. Senate. Until it becomes the law of the land in all 50 states and territories, employers should be open to discussions of current policies and ways they can be updated to allow employees to be their true selves at work.
This article is a publication of MWH Law Group LLP and is intended to provide general information regarding legal issues and developments to our clients and other friends. It should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or situations. For further information on your own situation, we encourage you to contact the author of the article or any other member of the firm.
CONTACT ASSOCIATE MELISSA RUBIO
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