May 2, 2019

What's on Your Head?

Photo by Deddy Yoga Pratama on Unsplash

It’s 5:30 am, a foggy April in San Francisco. Alex’s alarm goes off, he wakes up, looks in the mirror, and his eyes lock onto his hair. In a few hours, he has an interview with a tech company for his dream job and he wants everything to be perfect, however, he is unsure how they will react to his hair. For 30 minutes he waivers about cutting off his dreadlocks. On the opposite side of the country in Manhattan, Fatima is walking into work at her finance job. As she heads to her desk she feels the intense stares from two women. As she walks by she overhears one of them say, “I can’t believe she wears that thing over her head at work. It’s disrespectful to our soldiers”. The comment makes Fatima want to cry, but she doesn’t want to seem unprofessional. For employees whose hair and head coverings do not match the Western norms on workplace attire, you often share the experiences of Alex and Fatima.

Photo by Joshua Oluwagbemiga on Unsplash

Just two years ago, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was legal to not hire someone because they wore dreadlocks, and just last year the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take on the case cementing this as the law of the land. Additionally, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, Muslim women who wear Hijabs often face increased discrimination in the workplace as well. Despite the protection of religious expression being enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, employers can circumvent this by outright banning head coverings for all employees. Lastly, a simple Google search online will shed light on countless blogs, think pieces, and articles on the microaggressions women and men of color face when their co-workers want to “touch their hair” and inquire about their weave or curls.

Simply put, what employees wear on their heads or how they style their hair is symbolic of who they are. It is representative of their culture, religion, the shared history of their people, and the pride they feel in their identity. This should be celebrated and appreciated by any company who seeks to have a diverse workforce.

While the current law of the land (New York City and soon California excluded) may reinforce decades-old prejudices, your company’s policies do not. Companies should lead and institute policies that explicitly allow diverse hairstyles and head coverings in the workplace. A small change like this can have a major impact on how good employees feel about working for you and improve your bottom line.

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