[Editor's Note: This article has been updated.]
Octavia Goredema is a career coach and author who has distinguished herself as a go-to source for underrepresented professionals looking to advance their careers.
She's coached leaders at renowned companies including Google, Nike, American Airlines and Dow Jones. Her insights have been featured in CNN, Forbes and The Los Angeles Times, and she has co-hosted and produced "HBR Now," Harvard Business Review's weekly show on leadership.
But early in her career, Goredema often faced a form of discrimination that many other Black women also experience.
"Prior to becoming a career coach and author, there were occasions where I've had to handle unsolicited comments or suggestions about my hair in the workplace," said Goredema, who has worn her hair in braids for many years. "Unconscious racial basis isn't always vocalized. It can be subtle, which doesn't diminish the impact."
Black women are 30 percent more likely than other women to receive a formal grooming policy and to be sent home due to their hairstyle in the workplace, according to a 2019 study by personal care company Dove.
In 2019, Dove partnered with social justice organizations National Urban League, Color of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty to launch the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Coalition.
This alliance aims to create a more equitable and inclusive experience for Black individuals through the advancement of the CROWN Act—a law that prohibits discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyles.
Which States, Localities Have Enacted the CROWN Act?
In January 2019, California became the first state to introduce the CROWN Act. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law on July 3, 2019.
The inaugural CROWN Act expanded the definition of race in the Fair Employment and Housing Act and state Education Code to ensure protection against hair discrimination in workplaces and in K-12 public and charter schools.
Since then, the legislation has galvanized support from federal and state legislators. Federally, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the CROWN Act in March. The bill now sits with the Senate. President Joe Biden has indicated he would sign the federal CROWN Act into law.
As of June 2023, 23 states have enacted the CROWN Act into law and more than half of all states have filed or prefiled legislation for consideration. About 1 in 10 states have yet to formally examine the CROWN Act.
More than 40 local areas have enacted the law, including the U.S. Virgin Islands. Municipalities like Ann Arbor, Mich.; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; and Tucson, Ariz., have passed the CROWN Act, even though their states have yet to do so.
Lauren Baker, global brand manager for Dove, said hair discrimination cannot truly end until there is a national law.
"The CROWN Act is important to ending hair-based discrimination so people can thrive and celebrate their own beauty," Baker said. "Unfair grooming policies have a disparate impact on Black women, men and children, and the CROWN Act aims to end cultural and racial discrimination taking place within workplaces and schools."
Fast Facts About Hair Discrimination
Black hair is often a representation of history and carries deep emotional significance, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Cornrows, locs, twists, afros and bantu knots have historic connections to Black pride, culture, religion and history.
However, that hasn't prevented Black adults, schoolchildren and members of the military from experiencing hair discrimination. According to Dove, Black women are:
- Often pressured to conform to Eurocentric standards of appearance.
- 80 percent more likely to change their natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work.
- 83 percent more likely to report being judged more harshly on their looks.
- 1.5 times more likely to be sent home or to know of a Black woman who was sent home from the workplace because of her hair.
- Consistently rated lower or "less ready" for job performance based on their hairstyle.
"The fact this legislation is needed speaks volumes," Goredema said. "The sad truth is, despite decades of federal anti-discrimination laws, navigating the workplace as a Black woman exerts a largely unseen emotional tax on your performance and well-being."