I have noticed over my career that when we think about diversity, equity and inclusion, we often forget how biases or perceptions of professionalism can apply to employee grooming habits and hairstyles. It is not uncommon to hear stories from African-American professionals expressing concerns about going on interviews or showing up at work with traditional hairstyles like locs, braids, or twists.
As a SHRM HR Knowledge Advisor, I often receive questions on whether employers should address cultural hairstyles and grooming habits in their dress codes or include grooming and hairstyles as a part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion training. Training employees on cultural norms is a step in the right direction, but forming professional hair and overall appearance policies that are inclusive of all ethnic groups and accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs may be the best defense against potential discrimination.
It is disconcerting that certain hairstyles are attributed to certain lifestyles or seen as less professional when compared to traditionally acceptable hairstyles of other ethnic groups. An awareness by some states has led to the passing of anti-discrimination laws based on hairstyles, also known as CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act legislation. Human resource professionals should lead the charge in making sure our employees work in an environment where they are free to be authentic and not worry about expressing their sense of style and culture respectfully in the workplace.
So what can we as leaders and professionals do to support our employees?
We should ensure that any dress code or grooming policies do not unfairly target or restrict protective hairstyles, such as braids, twists, updos, or locs. While an employer’s policy may require a clean and neat appearance, employers should stay away from language that would label natural and cultural hairstyles as noncompliant.
Seek ways to train and educate employees on biases and how they can actively combat them by being self-aware of their feelings and how those feelings are influencing them.
As we reflect and make these changes to our workplaces, we can move closer to obtaining inclusivity in the truest sense of the word.
If you want to know more about cultural hairstyles and professionalism or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. The HR Knowledge Center is one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!
SHRM’s Ask an Advisor service is a member benefit through which SHRM’s HR Knowledge Advisors share guidance, real-life personal and professional experiences, and resources to assist SHRM members with their HR-related inquiries. We receive questions from HR professionals on a wide range of topics that include dress code and appearance and returning to the workplace post-pandemic.