How a Major Haircare Brand Is Working to End Hair Discrimination

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It’s crazy that there’s still no explicit law preventing businesses and schools from discriminating against a person for their hair. (Remember when this 18-year-old student was suspended from school for having dreadlocks?) Luckily, a major brand is on a mission to fight these injustices. Esi Eggleston Bracey, executive vice president and COO of personal care at Unilever (a global company that owns over 400 household brands, including Dove) spoke with Cosmopolitan’s Beauty Director Julee Wilson at this year’s Curlfest, a virtual festival that took place on September 19, and celebrated women with naturally textured hair. Bracey gave details about Dove and the CROWN Coalition’s tireless work behind the CROWN Act—a bill that aims to tackle hair discrimination head on.

The CROWN Act Makes Hair a “Protected Trait”

The CROWN Act stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. The TLDR is that it aims to end race-based hair discrimination. Black women are 30 percent more likely to be informed of a formal workplace appearance policy and 80 percent more likely to agree to change their hair from its natural state to fit in at the office. The CROWN Act makes this kind of bias illegal because “it makes hair a protected trait—the same way race and gender are protected by previous legislation,” says Bracey.

Dove Helped Spearhead the CROWN Act

Bracey’s own experiences as a Black woman inspired her to make the CROWN Act a focus of her work at Dove. “If you think about hair, Black women, and the images in society—for too long, we haven’t been embraced in the beauty conversation,” Bracey says. “Dove always believed in beauty, inclusivity, and felt that hair discrimination is not okay.”

“For too long, we haven’t been embraced in the beauty conversation.”

She says Dove identified the opportunity for change and took action, introducing the bill in December of 2019, and assuming the role of primary financier for the CROWN Act. “We made a call to action to legislative officials,” she says. “From there, we joined the National Urban League, Color Of Change and the Western Center on Law and Poverty to make it happen.”

The Fight Against Hair Discrimination Is Ongoing

On September 21, the CROWN Act came one step closer to nationwide recognition when the legislation was passed in the House of Representatives. But it still has to pass through the Senate. Bracey explains that Dove and the organizations behind the CROWN Act are committed to making sure it does. “We’re not going to stop until we get federal legislation and all 50 States,” she says. “Many ask us why we want both state and federal legislation and I tell them that having both enables every business and school will be covered.” By covered, Bracey wants entities to be held accountable both legally and financially if they are found to be using discriminatory practices towards employees, students or patrons.

And there is work that we can be doing to help—Dove has put together a petition that urges legislators to pass the CROWN Act. “We’ve called for 100,000 petition signatures,” Bracey says. “We currently have over 160,000, and we’re continuing to drive the message forward and collect more. We’re transitioning to what I call CROWN coalition 2.0.” Also included in CROWN coalition 2.0 is a pledge Dove has made of $5 million over five years to invest in further efforts to eliminate systemic barriers that face young, Black adults. This includes contributions to organizations such as the National Black Child Development Institute and Save A Girl, Save A World, which aim to improve the state of wellness, finances, and literacy in young Black women. In addition, Dove has gathered the support of over 70 social justice organizations as part of the coalition working to get the CROWN Act passed.

“I’m proud to be able to champion this work across all Unilever brands,” Bracey says. “Let’s all work together and collectively use our voice for good.”

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