Leila (not her real name) says her London employer has told her on a number of occasions not to turn up for work with her natural hair.
She says she has been encouraged to wear a weave to disguise her afro hair.
“I am West African, and I work at a consultancy firm in London. I am always being made to feel that my natural hair gives the impression that I am unprofessional”, says Leila.
“A few years ago I had my hair styled in cornrows and I was asked quite blatantly by my boss how long it would be before my hair was back to ‘normal’.
“I was taken aback. I could not believe what I was hearing.
“Although shocked, I did change my hairstyle – I did not want my hair to be the cause of problems for me at work.”
Anna Birtwistle is a partner at specialist employment and partnership law firm, CM Murray LLP.
“The most common pitfalls for employers in this area are religious and gender discrimination but it is entirely possible that a case might be brought on grounds of race or nationality”, says Anna.
While employers have the right to apply dress codes, an employer who prohibits afros in the workplace risks the allegation that they are discriminating against black employees, and would need to objectively justify that policy by reference to the job in question.
Leila hopes her story will help young professionals to take a stand and be brave enough to go to work with their natural hair despite what people may say.