Beauty Executive Esi Eggleston Bracey On The Importance Of Fighting Hair Discrimination

The venerable beauty executive and Dove are championing the voices of Black women with the CROWN Act initiative.

There’s a saying that goes, “If you want something done, let Black women do it.” Esi Eggleston Bracey, chief operating officer and EVP Beauty and Personal Care for Unilever North America, is a shining example of that adage. No stranger to the world of beauty — or getting things done —she’s held high profile executive roles in Procter & Gamble and COTY, and most recently, has led the charge for Dove’s CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair).

Last year, Dove celebrated a major milestone in the fight against hair discrimination when California became the first state to pass a law banning natural hair discrimination. They also launched National Crown Day on July 3 to celebrate the day the CROWN Act legislation was signed into law.

The CROWN Act legislation is designed to formally tackle race-based hair discrimination in the workplace and schools and protecting Black women and men’s right to wear their natural hair, braids, locs, twists, bantu knots and more. Eggleston Bracey and her team are working tirelessly to help end hair discrimination nationwide.

Twenty-three states have introduced CROWN legislation including Georgia, Florida and Arizona. spoke with Esi Eggleston Bracey about the importance of the CROWN Act and her own natural hair journey. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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Esi Eggleston Bracey: As a Black woman, it's an issue that's deeply personal to me and has impacted me. But even more importantly, it’s just so much in the middle of what Dove's life work is. Dove has been a longtime champion for beauty inclusivity. It's very committed to each and every person, woman, and girl having a positive experience with beauty. We see in the Black community, and other underserved communities, that the narrow beauty standards of the world don't always include us. 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 that Dove could help and it was committed to making the change. So it’s not just me, but the whole Dove community and team who are tirelessly championing to eradicate hair discrimination. What’s your message for Black women in the workplace who have faced discrimination?

Esi Eggleston Bracey: One, is that they’re not alone. Dove commissioned a study where we found that Black women are 80 percent more likely to change our natural hair to meet social norms or expectations at work. So many times you think it's your struggle alone but 80 percent of Black women know all too well what it's like to have to pretend or hide behind who we naturally are. Our hair is a part of who we are, it's more than something that's superficial. Our hair is a part of the world getting the benefit of what we can bring. So that's what we say to Black women on behalf of Dove. Can you share a pivotal moment in your own hair journey and how it impacted your career?

Esi Eggleston Bracey: It was actually in 1995 when I went natural. Before I went natural, I wore a straight bob, and I started in corporate America in 1991. When I was younger, of course, before I got perms I would wear braids and beads and I was really comfortable in my natural hair. But as I got older, it was clearer that to be accepted I needed to wear my hair straight. That was just universally accepted. It was almost reinforced, even in the black community, that straight was the popular hairstyle. So I went through the rest of high school and college and then onto corporate America thinking that it was a standard that I needed to comply with to fit in and look professional. 

It was almost like I was on autopilot just abiding with what the societal norms were. Then I went to a diversity training that opened my eyes to the challenges that women and people of color have in their workplace. It surrounded what we do to conform and how it makes it even harder for new people to come in and be themselves because we’re leading others to believe that it's okay to conform. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I'm complicit in this.’ And I was such a champion for diversity, but in that, I was complicit. So I grew out my perm, cut it off and wore a short natural. My hair was probably a half of an inch. 

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When I look at my passport pictures from back then, I see someone who cut their hair as a champion for diversity. But what I got from it longterm was incredible freedom. I didn't even realize how my hair was oppressing me. All I had to do was go to the barbershop and get my haircut every now and then, and wash it everyday in the shower. It was like rejuvenation. But even more, it was like my career started taking off once I cut my hair. I was really marching to my own beat. It made me have such a heavy heart for people that don't have the opportunity to be themselves and express themselves in their lives and in the workplace. That’s why the Crown Act is so important because it legislates and it's not okay to say women and men can not come to work or school or compete in matches like Andrew Johnson who was forced to cut his locks or compete in this championship wrestling match. It is not okay. Dove and the Crown Coalition are legislating so that it is fully considered discrimination like gender or racial discrimination. I've had that experience of hair freedom and we all should be entitled to it. What did it mean to you to have seven states pass the Crown Act at the state level last year?

Esi Eggleston Bracey: I view the success of the Crown Act from Dove and the Crown Coalition as a testament to the strength of the community. What it says to me is, ‘Yes, we can.’ When I look at the grassroots organizations, historically Black colleges and sororities, the Jack and Jill's, and all the legislative officials who have championed this in their states — like Senator Holly Mitchell in California, it’s remarkable. In most of these cases, it’s Black women standing up and saying, ‘Yes, we can make this happen,’ and it did in seven states. It was Dove and the Crown Act that made it happen. 

But I also see opportunity because we're not going to stop until this is federal law. I’m really proud that we've made progress on that because we passed in the US House Of Representatives as well. Our next step is the Senate. Our work is not over. What are your plans for the future as it relates to the Crown act and driving to amplify the voices of Black women and their experiences in the workplace?

Esi Eggleston Bracey: We’re talking about four centuries of oppression and opportunity here. It’s shifted from the civil rights act, voting rights act so much more, and now, the Crown Act. So there's so much more to do. CROWN stands for creating a respectful and open world for natural hair. We know hair discrimination is one part of overall discrimination, and we're committed to having an even bigger impact.

So now the “N” in “CROWN” stands for no racism. So we've made an even bigger commitment to help fight against systemic racism and amplify voices of Black women and their experiences related to their hair and other issues. That’s why we’ve developed the Crown Fund, donating $5 million over the next five years to organizations in support of uplifting this mission in the Black community. Some examples are The National Black Child Development Institute. Save A World, Save A Girl, that just names a few. Dove has a legacy over this decade of uplifting, like the Dove Self-Esteem Project, so now, we're evolving to explicitly address racial injustice and equity because we know our commitment is for generations to come.

To learn more about Dove’s CROWN Act initiative, click here. 

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