PHOENIX – Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday banned all state agencies under her control from discriminating against workers based on their hair texture and style.
In signing the executive order on Friday, Hobbs said she wants to ensure that black state employees as well as workers for companies that contract with the state “will be able to wear their natural hair without fear of discrimination.”
“More importantly, the message this sends to all black women, men and children is that you deserve to be comfortable wearing your natural hair at school and in the workplace without being perceived as unprofessional or suffering other negative consequences,” she said.
However, nothing in her order affects the policies of other levels of government, much less private employers, all of which are beyond her unilateral control. Nor does it prevent schools from establishing their own rules and regulations about hair for staff and pupils.
But Hobbs said it could prompt action by others.
“I hope that this order will set an example for other employers who are also committed to building an Arizona for all,” she said, as well as for the Republican-controlled Legislature “to address these inequities for all Arizonans .”
The governor acknowledged that her order is focused on black hairstyles and does not address how other employees may be discriminated against because of their hair. This ranges from a Rostafarian with dreadlocks to Sikhs who must maintain uncut and uncut hair and Hasidic Jews with side curls known as “payos”.
Hobbs said there are already certain protections already in state law, such as a 2021 law allowing Native American students to wear tribal regalia to graduation ceremonies. But nothing in that goal addresses hair.
And problems with hair for everyone else?
“We’re certainly willing to look into it more,” she said, reiterating her hope that her executive order would spur legislation “to end this kind of inequality across the board.”
But the governor made it clear that she was acting because it appears to be a particular problem for black workers and contractors.
“A black woman is 80% more likely to change her natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work,” Hobbs said.
“Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home, or know of a black woman who has been sent home from the workplace because of their hair,” the governor continued. “And one in two black children have experienced hair discrimination as early as age five. And the impact can last a lifetime.”
The move was praised by Neal Lester, a professor at Arizona State University who specializes in African American literature and cultural studies. Lester, who also co-authored “Hair Stories,” a catalog prepared for the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, said the order recognizes the reality of the discrimination that occurs now based on how some black people are perceived.
“All this is to say is that we are not our hair,” he said at the signing of the executive order. “But our hair is part of who we are and how we are.”
Lester recited a number of situations across the country where people were turned away from restaurants because of their hair and students were forced to cut it.
“Thank you, Governor Hobbs, for making black people and our hair one less hurdle to jump over in many workplaces and social spaces,” he said.
Hobbs said the new provisions would take effect by June 1, giving the state Department of Administration, which oversees state employees and contracts, the ability to create the necessary rules.