Black Workers, Especially Women, Continue to Face Hair Discrimination at Work

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By Lucy Wyndham

How you wear your hair to work can say a lot about your professional aspirations. It is possible for black women to wear their hair in a variety of styles that can still appear professional. However, a shocking number of corporate employers still have Draconian dress codes on the books.

All too often, their policies on hairstyles specifically prohibit Black women from wearing their hair in a natural manner. It may require that employees straighten their hair. Other times, it may deny workers the right to wear common ethnic hairstyles, such as braids or dreadlocks. These policies are not only unfair, but they also have a chilling effect on the potential of Black women and some environments. Employees must incur significant expense to comply with these rules than other workers of a different racial background do not have to face.

Maintaining Eurocentric Hairstyles Takes Time and Money

Black hair usually isn’t meant to be straight or light-colored. It is naturally wavy, kinky, curly, and dark. There are many hairstyles that work well with Black hair, some of which require very little expense for upkeep.  Maintaining your hair in a style other than how it appears naturally requires a lot of time and chemical input. In other words, women with natural Black hair are facing discriminatory dress codes will have to invest money and several hours every week to straighten their hair and conform with the employer dress code.

Depending on the salon Black women frequent, it may cost several hundred dollars a week to follow a dress code that forbids natural hairstyles. In many ways, that cost serves as an attack on Black workers, especially when you consider that their colleagues of other races will only need to go to a salon once a month if that. While it may be possible to cut costs on those salon trips, low-quality salons can mean poor outcomes. More importantly, it can exacerbate the damage that chemical treatments exert on human hair.

Female Workers Face More of a Burden

Despite the list of skills and experience that Black women continue to develop, dress code policies typically have a stronger impact on rising up the career ladder. After all, the dress code policy likely instructs men to keep their hair short. That removes the need for difficult care, such as chemical straightening. It also precludes male employees from the requirement to purchase quality wigs to look professional.

Instead, they can just maintain a short shaved or buzzed haircut, which will cost a fraction of a woman’s trip to a salon. Women in the workplace already make less money on average than male employees do. When you consider the compounded expense of caring for longer hair, that can be another source of inequality and discrimination for black female workers.

Challenge the Dress Code and the Assumption that Natural Hair Isn’t Professional

No one should have to face discrimination in the workplace over the natural state of their hair. Regardless of your hair color or style, you should challenge your employer’s dress code policy if it discriminates against Black workers. Not only does it create an unbalanced requirement for individuals of color, but may also impact your ability to draw the best and brightest to your company.

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