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Tackling Afro-textured hair discrimination at work

Progress has been made in recent years to address the inequalities that exist for black and minority groups, including in the workplace.

But while we’re still seeing media stories such as the job interview experience of Jerelle Jules – who on making it to the final round of interviews for a role at the Ritz was handed a grooming policy stating that "Afro styles" were not allowed – it’s clear that more work still needs to be done to eliminate discrimination from the workplace.

Challenge perceptions

The perception that Afro-textured hair is somehow unprofessional could leave black colleagues feeling pressured to modify their hairstyle to fit in and that they can’t be themselves at work.

Afro hair styles still considered unprofessional, study finds

Unconscious bias can creep in, too, which can lead to strong candidates of black heritage who wear their hair naturally, experiencing negativity and potentially being overlooked in job interviews or promotions.

This topic is close to my heart. There have been points in my own career when I’ve felt my natural Afro hair would not be acceptable in a professional setting and I styled it in what I perceived to be a more ‘acceptable’ way.

Sadly, I also once felt I was treated negatively at work when I wore my hair in a natural style.

The Ritz was quite rightly criticised and received negative press for Jules’ experience. This underlines the importance for all organisations to ensure their stance on hair at work is truly inclusive

Below are some ways to raise awareness of hair discrimination and prevent it.

Walk the talk on inclusion

Let’s not shy away from reality – Afro-based hair discrimination is an extension of workplace racism.

How people choose to style their hair for work is a matter of personal choice and excluding people with Afro-textured hair, intentionally or unintentionally, will ultimately have a negative impact not only on a firm’s culture and productivity, but also its bottom line.

At SEO London, we’ve been working with elite sectors such as banking, consulting, private equity and corporate law for over two decades to improve diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI).

We know from our work that bringing a rich mix of cultures and life experiences into the workforce helps businesses at every level to succeed.

It’s not just hair: hair discrimination in the workplace

So, what can employers do to attract people from black and minority communities into the workplace and ensure they are not discriminated against, however they choose to wear their hair?

1: Demonstrate representation

Demonstrate your firm’s commitment to being pro-choice on hair.

Ensure imagery of people with a range of hairstyles, including natural Afro, feature in your marketing and communications, on your website and in social media feeds. Let staff know they are free to wear their hair however they feel most comfortable too.

2: Change perceptions

Take action to address unconscious bias by including hair discrimination within mandatory diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) training.  

Regular DEI training is the foundation for building a workforce that feels valued and respected. It helps to raise awareness of the impact of issues such as hair discrimination and shifts negative perceptions about natural Afro styles at every level.

‘If you’re from an ethnic background, you are told to work twice as hard’

3: Review workplace policies

Review and update all company policies relating to staff grooming and appearance. Policies can contain outdated rules and regulations that need to be updated to ensure they continue to reflect the organisation’s focus on inclusivity, as illustrated by the Ritz incident.

4: Create safe spaces

Make it easy for employees to report incidents of hair discrimination within the organisation without fear of retaliation. You can sign up to The Halo Code, a framework firms can adopt to protect employees who come to work with natural hairstyles associated with their racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.

Events such as World Afro Day celebrate the history, culture, and identity behind Afro-textured hair. Eliminating workplace hair discrimination will help your firm give talented people from minority groups the same opportunities for career success as everyone else.


Nathalie Richards is CEO at SEO London