Black ExperienceLifestyle

Freedom to Wear Natural Hair at Work Benefits Employee and Company

Rah Thomas made a decision early on in his corporate career to work at a company that would not only accept his dreadlocks but would encourage him to wear the hairstyle.

Thomas, 37, a managing director in Accenture’s (No. 14 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) Infrastructure Operations practice and co-lead of the African American employee resource group, has been growing his dreadlocks for almost 20 years.

His family is from Cape Verde, off the coast of northwest Africa. He told DiversityInc that as a part of his culture, “I can’t cut my hair unless someone dies or someone is born.”

“As I got into corporate America, I had to make some decisions,” he explained. “Was corporate America going to define me, or was I going to continue to define myself?”

Thomas once interviewed for a company, which he wouldn’t name, that challenged his hairstyle.

“They were pretty clear in saying, ‘This is not how we do business,'” he said. “And, I declined the offer.”

But now at Accenture, Thomas is thriving in an environment that not only allows for but also encourages him to be his authentic self.

“We have an obligation to ensure each person — she, he or they — feels safe, valued and able to show up every day as their authentic self,” Accenture’s Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer Ellyn Shook told DiversityInc.

“When this happens, we unlock people’s full potential. By serving our people, we ultimately serve the business.”

Thomas said that “Accenture’s done some good research around, if you bring your [authentic self] to work, you are more likely to progress throughout your career.”

New research from the company has identified 40 workplace factors that create a culture of equality — including the 14 factors that matter the most. The research, published in Accenture’s “Getting to Equal 2018” report, details the most effective actions that business leaders can take to accelerate advancement and help close the gender pay gap.

The research found that enabling employees to be themselves shows respect for individuals that fosters goodwill.

Not asking employees to conform to a dress or appearance code, as well as trusting and giving them the responsibility and freedom to be innovative and creative, are linked to advancement.

AccentureAccenture surveyed more than 22,000 working women and men with a university education in 34 countries to measure their perception of factors that contribute to the culture in which they work.

While Thomas works in an environment that appreciates his cultural heritage expressed through his hairstyle, an Alabama woman, Chastity Jones, is taking her dispute with Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS) over wearing dreadlocks to the Supreme Court.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) has become involved in Jones’ five-year battle. On April 4, the LDF filed a petition to add U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. CMS to the Court’s docket to overrule a 2016 judgment that it’s legal for companies to refuse employment based on hairstyles.

In 2010, Jones was offered a job as a customer service representative at CMS, a call center in Mobile, Ala., under the condition that she would remove her dreadlocks, as they “tend to get messy,” said a human resources representative. The company rescinded the offer of employment when Jones refused to change her hairstyle.

The EEOC filed a race discrimination lawsuit against CMS on behalf of Jones in 2013, stating, “Dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.”

In 2016, U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan upheld a claim from a 2014 ruling by an Alabama federal judge that found the company’s hairstyle policy did not violate federal anti-discrimination law as racial discrimination had to be based on characteristics that didn’t change.

Jordan wrote for the 2016 ruling, “Discrimination on the basis of Black hair texture (an immutable or unchangeable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of Black hairstyle (a mutable or changeable choice) is not.”

LDF attorneys wrote in their petition to the Court that the human resources representative’s statement that dreadlocks “tend to get messy” is a “false racial stereotype”:

“The question presented is: Whether an employer’s reliance on a false racial stereotype to deny a job to an African American woman is exempt from Title VII’s prohibition on racial discrimination in employment solely because the racial stereotype concerns a characteristic that is not immutable.”

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