Duke Revises Policy to Prevent Race-Based Hair Discrimination
The policy, amended last year, also applies to temporary and contract employees
This story is part of the Working Toward Racial Justice series.
Natural hair – a term that encompasses Afro-textured hairstyles such as locs, braids, twists and hair not chemically straightened – has been a target for bias against Black people, including in workplace settings.
Last year, Duke amended its anti-discrimination policy to prohibit discrimination or harassment based on hair texture or hairstyles commonly associated with a particular race. The policy also applies to temporary and contract employees, third parties within Duke programs and employees of Duke contractors.
“It’s about creating a supportive environment where people feel they can thrive,” said Kim Hewitt, Duke’s Vice President for Institutional Equity and Chief Diversity Officer. “There’s a sea change in terms of the number of women who do wear natural hair. There was a time when almost nobody did it at work.”
Hewitt said Duke’s policy was updated to be consistent with a Durham City Council ordinance that expanded Durham’s non-discrimination policy in 2021 to ban hair discrimination by public and private employers in the city. That ordinance drew inspiration from Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, a bill created in 2019 and championed by skin and hair product company, Dove, the National Urban League, Color of Change and Western Center on Law & Poverty, to end hair discrimination.
The CROWN Act, which has passed in 20 states, prohibits racial discrimination based on natural hairstyles in schools and workplaces. Last year, the act passed in the U.S. and North Carolina houses of representatives before stalling in the senates.
Fuqua School of Business professor Ashleigh Shelby Rosette said policy changes like at Duke signal support for Black women.
In 2020, Rosette co-authored an article, “The Natural Hair Bias in Job Recruitment.” Across four studies, Rosette and the authors demonstrate a bias against Black women with natural hairstyles in job recruitment.
“We found that Black women who wear their natural hair are the least likely to be hired,” Rosette said.
Hewitt said that Duke’s policy reinforces an environment at Duke where all community members can be authentic.
“This supports the values articulated in the racial equity work,” Hewitt said. “It’s related in particular to the kind of climate that we want to create here: that people feel welcome, and they can bring their whole selves.” ›
Read Duke’s policy on prohibited discrimination: oie.duke.edu/ppdhrm.