Closing The Gap

Why ending hair discrimination should be an essential part of companies’ DEI efforts

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2021 has been a landmark year for improvements in diversity and inclusion when it comes to race, gender, and sexual orientation. However, discrimination remains a major issue in workplaces nationwide and, with offices reopening, 97% of Black employees are concerned about returning to work environments where microaggressions are commonplace.

According to a study by the Gallup Center on Black Voices, one in four Black workers in the U.S. reported being discriminated against at work last year.

In an office environment, one of the prevalent types of discrimination Black workers face is hair discrimination. This issue is what sparked the creation of the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act in 2019, which aims to outlaw hair discrimination in the workplace and public schools. The bill has successfully passed legislation in 14 states and several cities, Tempe, AZ being the latest on Nov. 9. For workplaces in states without the CROWN Act, however, employers are responsible for facilitating initiatives that support Black employees, especially during The Great Resignation, as workers assert their power to secure opportunities with higher salaries, inclusive environments and more workplace flexibility.

For Adjoa Asamoah, leading impact strategist and champion for the CROWN Act, the change starts with companies and organizations "living in their values."

"There are environments where the strategic plan is something that you pull out, come up with some random goals and put it back on the shelf and you don't revisit it again until it's time to assess your progress," she tells CNBC Make It. "But if people don't know what's actually in it, they can't really achieve those goals."

Asamoah adds that companies should work to ensure that racial equity, real diversity and true inclusion are embedded in how their corporate mission operates. "Make sure that you have policies in place to prevent racial discrimination. Revisit grooming policies and dress codes to confirm that they are actually inclusive."

While hair discrimination is not the only reason Black people are hesitant about returning to in-person work environments, the pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms on the job is undeniable. According to the Crown Research Study conducted by Dove in 2019, Black women are 80% more likely to alter their hair from a natural state to fit into workplace culture. Black women are also 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace policy and are almost two times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair. Asamoah explains the physical and mental impact that these conditions have on Black women.

"Black features have often been deemed inferior in this country and that being the reality in professional settings can certainly stress the idea that the way you were born is not okay. It's so sad that to be consistent with what many would deem as professional, would require us to employ harmful excessive heat and use chemical relaxers that burn our scalps. The anti-hair-discrimination movement isn't about telling people what to do with their hair, but celebrating the versatility of black hair."

Additionally, she says that inclusive workplace cultures aren't only beneficial for Black workers, but also for employers, as they help promote workplace efficiency and employee retention.

In a 2018 Deloitte study on Inclusive Mobility, researchers found that organizations with inclusive cultures have a higher retention rate and find it easier to recruit new employees than those without. Companies with more diverse teams had a 22% percent lower turnover rate. Deloitte also found that "organizations with inclusive cultures are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets as those without, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes."

"It's important to encourage corporations and organizations to really understand the value and profitability of diversity," says Asamoah. "DE&I in the workplace, particularly racial equity, makes people more productive because they're in an environment where they feel appreciated and included."

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