Natural Hair in the Workplace Is Often Looked Down Upon, but That Needs to Change — Now
"Hair should be out of the face. Neat. Polished. Put together."
These are the characteristics I read under the 'hair' section of the dress code at my first fashion luxury retail job. This was in 2011. I saw it again in 2013 when I entered the fashion corporate world, as well as when I entered the magazine industry in 2015, and again when I got my big break at a newspaper in 2018. Nowhere does it mention your hair needs to be straight, and yet it is often implied. I'm not alone, either: Black actors like Gabrielle Union have lost roles because their hair was not part of "the costume design," and Black females have had job offers rescinded or gotten sent home if they failed to adhere to unjust hair policies.
There are some protections to combat the discrimination Black women face in the workplace, like the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act. CROWN prevents enforcement of "grooming policies that claim to be race neutral, but in reality have a disproportionate negative impact on people of colour." The law is a way to grant freedom to Black employees to wear their hair in natural curls, braids, dreadlocks, twists, afros, and any style they desire. In January of this year, California was the first state to pass this law and six states have followed in its footsteps.
I'm glad there is legislation in place, but there is much more work to be done. The corporate world must learn to normalise Black hair within its company culture. I wanted to learn more on how Black women view their own hair in the workplace, so I reached out to actress Olivia Battle and senior product marketing manager Amanda Stewart for tips on how to knock down societal pressures to redefine what professionalism actually looks like.