July 10, 2019
Following in NYC’s footsteps, California has proposed state legislation that would make it illegal to punish Black employees and students for how they wear their hair, whether that be Afros, braids, twists, cornrows, or dreadlocks. More specifically, the CROWN Act would prohibit “the enforcement of grooming policies that disproportionately affect people of color.” It’s a response to the decades of lawsuits from Black employees who have lost their jobs or faced discrimination for their hair. If passed, it would help challenge the unspoken notion that looking “professional” means looking Eurocentric. Sen. Holly Mitchell (D–Los Angeles) explains that “Eurocentric standards of beauty have established the very underpinnings of what was acceptable and attractive...in the workplace. So even though African Americans were no longer explicitly excluded from the workplace, Black features and mannerisms remained unacceptable and ‘unprofessional.’”
Beyond fighting against discrimination, the CROWN Act is especially impactful for health reasons. When Black women are pressured to treat their hair to make it more Eurocentric, the costly hair treatments involve harsh chemicals that have been linked to “asthma, birth defects, reproductive issues and cancer.”
Redefine what “professional” looks like in your office or school by:
• Reviewing official and unofficial grooming policies. Do these policies suggest that employees or faculty abide by Eurocentric ideas of professionalism?
• Taking steps to diversify your leadership team
• Making it clear that everyone is encouraged to express themselves authentically
Marketing company P&G recently released a film that highlights “the unconscious biases that Black men are forced to confront on a daily basis.” Titled “The Look,” the film follows a Black man as he wakes up and goes through his daily routine, only to encounter “suspicious glares and gestures” from people wherever he goes. The film itself confronts the viewer’s unconscious bias by following the man as he ultimately enters a courtroom—and sits down at the judge’s bench. “The Look” is a follow-up to P&G’s viral film “The Talk,” which points to “the difficult conversation that Black parents must have with their children in order to keep them safe in a world full of prejudice.” P&G created the film with the help of Saturday Morning, a creative collective that aims to push back against racial bias and injustice. Geoff Edwards, co-founder of Saturday Morning, explained, “Our goal with this film is to urge people to have an honest conversation and not pretend that unconscious bias doesn’t exist...The film ends with the line ‘Let’s talk about the look so we can see beyond it.’ This is really a call to action for dialogue.”
Not only does “The Look” confront microaggressions and unconscious bias in a powerful way, but the film’s production is also a great example of how companies can partner together to create inclusive and thought-provoking content. Critics of P&G’s earlier film “The Talk” thought that it “failed to properly acknowledge the role of Black men in family life and perpetuated negative stereotypes about African American males.” Instead of behaving defensively or issuing a mere apology, P&G adopted a thoughtful approach to “address this oversight and open up the conversation about the African American experience even further” by creating “The Look.”
If your organization is planning a diversity initiative of any kind, do some research on other organizations and groups with whom you can partner to develop deeper insight. Additionally, if your organization has been “called out” in the past for non-inclusive behavior, consider actionable ways you can modify your approach in the future.
Did you know that in 26 states, it is currently legal to fire an employee based solely on their sexual orientation and gender identity? Laws protecting LGBTQ people remain woefully behind the cultural strides that have been taken in favor of LGBTQ inclusion. That’s why over 200 companies have signed an amicus brief for the Supreme Court, arguing for an interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that defines “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Under this interpretation, discrimination against LGBTQ employees would be illegal nationwide. The brief states, “The 206 businesses that join this brief as amici collectively employ over 7 million employees, and comprise over $5 trillion in revenue...These businesses — which range across a wide variety of industries...share a common interest in equality because they know that ending discrimination in the workplace is good for business, employees, and the U.S. economy as a whole.”
On an individual level, being inclusive of LGBTQ people can take the form of combating common myths and microaggressions, and ensuring that the workplace is welcoming and accepting. To achieve significant change, these skills must be practiced in concert with larger-scale efforts, like creating gender-neutral bathrooms, offering health insurance that covers transition surgery and therapy, and fighting to legally protect LGBTQ workers from discrimination.
While more and more companies and organizations are espousing LGBTQ equity, examining LGBTQ policies and taking part in pro-LGBTQ activities like Pride celebrations, it’s important to remember how much work is left to be done in terms of legal protections for LGBTQ people. When you organize Pride events next year—and ideally, throughout the year—consider how you can direct fundraising money toward legal organizations that are fighting to protect LGBTQ workers.