‘Can I Touch Your Hair?’: Answers About How to Build a Respectful and Inclusive Work Culture

‘Can I Touch Your Hair?’: Answers About How to Build a Respectful and Inclusive Work Culture

‘Can I touch your hair?’

A common complaint to HR representatives by women of color are requests to touch their hair. While we all want to build a curious and open work environment, it is vital that you also establish boundaries around personal space and people’s bodies. When we think about expressions of identity at work, we might not always think about hair styles.

Yet, particularly for women of color, their hair style can be an important expression of their identity. Much like other forms of identity expression – dress, religious paraphernalia, tattoos – it is important that your co-workers with natural hair feel they work in an inclusive and supportive environment.

In order to foster that environment, make sure everyone knows that their colleagues’ bodies aren’t, you know, on display for their curiosity. A quick email about personal boundaries that starts off with “We love and want to foster curiosity, but let’s not have it around people’s bodies” can go a long way. As a leader, it’s your job to establish these appropriate boundaries.

You want your people to be curious – and learning about our colleagues is a key element of building emotional intelligence. But, we believe in promoting a form of bounded curiosity – where your people understand that there are a limits. They need to know that every conversation that happens at work starts from a place of respect. Especially, for the other persons in any conversations and any boundaries they might set around their expressions of identity.

Cultural perceptions about natural hair also have a long history of bias and discrimination in the workplace. At the start of the year, California became the first state to ban discrimination against people with natural hair. If your harassment and discrimination policies do not include a part on natural hair, we would advise that you work on including that in your policies going forward.

If you want to read more about this specific issue, we recommend this article by Emma Dabiri. Also – look our for our book review of ‘You Can’t Touch My Hair’ by Phoebe Robinson later this month!

Join us for the next 5 weeks as we’ll be exploring different issues around expressions of identity at work. We believe that following our tips in this blog will help you increase peace, profit, and productivity in 2020!



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