Empowering African American Women in the Workplace: Why Natural Hair Belongs at the Office
Black Report Op-Ed: As African-American women, we have had to constantly fight against discrimination in the workplace. We have been subjected to humiliation over our choices of hairstyle and thrust into a box that tells us what works best for others should be accepted as “professional” by everyone. It is time that we, as a community, work together to challenge and overturn these oppressive, outdated standards of beauty and professional respectability within the workplace – starting with embracing our natural hair. With this article, let’s take an in-depth look at why it’s so important for African-American women to advocate for the acceptance of their natural hair in the workplace and how doing so can empower them both personally and professionally.
The issue of African-American women’s hair in the workplace is one that has been a source of tension for many years. This tension often arises from societal and workplace expectations for African-American women to conform their hairstyles, or even alter their natural hair texture, in order to meet certain standards. These standards are typically dictated by Eurocentric notions of beauty and professionalism—and unfortunately, these standards can be highly restrictive for many African-American women.
Furthermore, this issue can have both personal and professional implications. On a personal level, African-American women who feel pressure to change their hair may struggle with feelings of shame, insecurity, or loss of identity as a result. On a professional level, they may also face discrimination as employers or colleagues may view them as less qualified or not conforming to the image they desire in the workplace. Even if an employer does not outwardly discriminate against an employee based on their hairstyle, there is still often an underlying concern amongst many African-American women that they will be judged by their peers or supervisors because of their choice in hairstyle.
On top of this, there can be financial implications to changing one’s hairstyle to fit into more traditional expectations—such as getting expensive chemical treatments or paying higher fees for maintaining certain styles—which some African-American women do not have access to due to socioeconomic disparities. Therefore this issue has become even more pressing given the need for greater economic equity and inclusion in the workplace.
In recent years, however, there has been progress made towards increasing acceptance of African-American women’s hair in corporate settings. Laws have been passed that protect employees from being discriminated against based on race or cultural appearance; employers are becoming increasingly aware of these regulations; and advocacy groups are pushing for further awareness around respecting natural hairstyles in the workplace. Despite these developments though, much work still needs to be done in order for true acceptance and equity around different hairstyles in corporate environments to become reality.
The Crown Act is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that seeks to protect individuals from discrimination based on their natural hair in the workplace. The Act, which has passed in seven states and is currently being considered in nine more, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their natural hairstyles or textures. By outlawing this type of discrimination, the Crown Act helps protect individuals from unfair treatment due to their hairstyle—allowing them to look presentable at work while still staying true to themselves and their identity.
While the protection of rights should be enough motivation for allowing natural hair in the workplace, there are also several professional benefits associated with it. Firstly, allowing employees to wear their natural hair allows them to be more comfortable during work hours—which can then lead to higher productivity and better performance. Secondly, when employers adopt policies that are inclusive of diverse styles, they increase diversity within the workplace—which can have beneficial effects on company culture and morale. Finally, having an inclusive policy toward hair opens up access to a larger pool of potential hires—giving companies a wider range of talent from which they can draw.
For many, embracing natural hair can be a liberating experience that encourages self-confidence and acceptance of one’s true identity. By freeing themselves from polished looks imposed by society, individuals can express themselves without fear of judgement or criticism. Without worrying about constantly maintaining it with heat, straightening products and other chemicals, they can let go of any pressure to conform to unrealistic standards and instead focus on being themselves unapologetically. Freeing ourselves from these expectations gives us the space to explore our own unique beauty and feel comfortable in our own skin—which is something everyone deserves the opportunity to experience!