There is a saying, "If you want to do something, let black women do it." Esi Eggleston Bracey, Chief Operating Officer and EVP Beauty and Personal Care at Unilever North America, is a shining example of this saying. No stranger to the world of beauty – or getting things done – she has held high-profile leadership positions at Procter & Gamble and COTY, most recently leading the prosecution for Dove's CROWN Act.
Last year, Dove celebrated a major milestone in the fight against hair discrimination when California became the first state to pass law banning discrimination against natural hair. They launched National Crown Day on July 3rd to celebrate the day the CROWN Act was incorporated into law.
The CROWN Act legislation is designed to formally combat racial hair discrimination in the workplace and in schools, and protect the right of black women and men to wear their natural hair, braids, loks, twists, Bantu knots and more. Eggleston Bracey and her team are working tirelessly to end hair discrimination across the country.
Twenty-three states have CROWN laws, including Georgia, Florida, and Arizona.
BET.com spoke to Esi Eggleston Bracey about the importance of the CROWN Act and her own journey with natural hair. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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BET.com: Why were you so passionate about fighting to end hair discrimination with the Crown Act?
Esi Eggleston Bracey: As a black woman, it's a topic that is deeply personal to me and that has influenced me. But more importantly, there's so much in the middle of Dove's life's work. Dove is a longtime champion for beauty inclusivity. It is very engaging for every person, woman and girl who have a positive experience with beauty. We see in the Black Community and other underserved communities that the world's tight standards of beauty don't always lock us in. And when we talk to women, especially black women, it always comes down to our hair and all the negative associations and stereotypes that come with our hair. So it was just obvious that this is an area Dove can help, and he was determined to make the change. So it's not just me, but the entire Dove community and team working tirelessly to eradicate discrimination on hair.
BET.com: What is your message to black women in the workplace who have been discriminated against?
Esi Eggleston Bracey: For one thing, you are not alone. Dove commissioned a study that found that black women were 80 percent more likely to alter our natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work. So often you think it's your fight alone, but 80 percent of black women know all too well what it is like to pretend or hide behind who we are, of course. Our hair is part of who we are, more than something superficial. Our hair is a part of the world that benefits from what we can bring. That's what we say to black women on behalf of Dove.
BET.com: Can you share a defining moment in your own hair journey and how it affected your career?
Esi Eggleston Bracey: It was actually 1995 when I became natural. Before going natural, I wore a straight bob and started in America in 1991. When I was younger I naturally wore braids and pearls before getting perms, and I was very comfortable with my natural hair. But as I got older it was clearer that I had to wear my hair straight in order to be accepted. That was just generally accepted. Even in the black community, it was almost confirmed that this was the popular hairstyle. So I went through the rest of high school and college and then to Corporate America and thought that this was a standard I had to adhere to in order to fit in and look professional.
It was almost like being on an autopilot just sticking to social norms. Then I went to a diversity training course that opened my eyes to the challenges women and people of color have in their workplace. It was about what we do to adapt and how it becomes even more difficult for new people to be themselves because we make others believe that it is okay to adapt. I thought, "Oh my god, I'm complicit in this." And I was such an advocate of diversity, but I was partly to blame for that. So I waxed out my perm, cut it off and wore a short natural. My hair was probably half an inch.
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When I look at my passport photos from back then, I see someone who cuts his hair as an advocate of diversity. But what I got from it in the long run was incredible freedom. I didn't even notice how my hair was holding me down. All I had to do was go to the barber shop and get my haircut every now and then and wash it in the shower every day. It was like a rejuvenation. But more than that, it was like my career started when I cut my hair. I was really marching to my own pace. I had such a heavy heart for people who do not have the opportunity to be themselves and express themselves in their lives and in the workplace. This is why the Crown Act is so important because it has laws and it's not okay to say that women and men can't come to work or school or play games like Andrew Johnson who was forced to shut his locks open or take part in this championship wrestling match. It is not okay. Dove and the Crown Coalition are enacting laws so that discrimination is fully accounted for as discrimination based on sex or race. I have had this hair freedom experience and we should all be entitled to it.
BET.com: What did it mean to you that seven states passed the crown law at the state level last year?
Esi Eggleston Bracey: I see the success of Dove's Crown Act and the Crown Coalition as evidence of the strength of the community. What it is telling me is, "Yes we can." When I look at the grassroots organizations, historically black colleges and sororities, the Jack and Jill & # 39; s and all the legislative officials who have advocated it in their states – like Senator Holly Mitchell in California, it's remarkable. In most cases, black women stand up and say, "Yes, we can do this," in seven states. It was Dove and the Crown Act that made it happen.
But I also see opportunities because we won't stop until this is federal law. I'm really proud that we made progress because we also got by the US House of Representatives. Our next step is the Senate. Our work is not over yet.
BET.com: What are your future plans regarding the Crown Act and seeking to empower black women and their workplace experiences?
Esi Eggleston Bracey: We're talking about four centuries of oppression and opportunity. It has shifted from the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and much more from the Crown Act. So there is so much more to do. CROWN stands for creating a respectful and open world for natural hair. We know that hair discrimination is part of discrimination in general, and we are committed to making it even more effective.
The "N" in "CROWN" does not stand for racism. That's why we've stepped up our efforts to fight systemic racism and to raise the voices of black women and their experiences around their hair and other issues. That's why we developed the Crown Fund and donated $ 5 million to organizations over the next five years to further this mission in the black community. Some examples are the National Black Child Development Institute. Save a world, save a girl who only names a few. Dove has a legacy in this decade of elucidation, like the Dove Self-Esteem Project. Now we are explicitly evolving to address racial injustices and justice because we know that our commitment applies to future generations.
To learn more about Dove's CROWN Act initiative, click here.
(Photo: Prince Williams / Filmmagic)
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