A DEI Leader’s Advice: ‘Pay Attention to Black Women — They’re the Canaries in a Coal Mine’

DEI Leader Leniece Flowers Brisset

Leniece Flowers Brisset via LinkedIn

The Female Quotient
The Female Quotient
April 15, 2024 at 3:40AM UTC

Leniece Flowers Brissett, the senior global program manager of diversity, inclusion and belonging on the passing of the CROWN Act, the Black women at work who inspire her and the sage advice she offers her twins about loving their crowns.

Anti-Black hair sentiment is nothing new in America, where Black people — from school-aged children to seasoned executives — experience discrimination because of their natural hair. For some, this manifests as being told their hair is inappropriate, unprofessional or “too much.”

The passing of the CROWN Act in March 2022, however, now means that this race-based hair discrimination at work is officially illegal.

To discuss the passing of the CROWN Act and to learn new perspectives on intersectionality, specifically as it pertains to workplace policies on Black hair, The Female Quotient had the pleasure of catching up with Leniece Flowers Brissett, a senior global program manager of diversity, inclusion and belonging and founder and CEO of Compass Talent Group, a DEI consultant firm.

Here’s what she had to say about her experience with her hair at work.

The Female Quotient: Let’s start with a few words to describe your hair or hairstyle.

Leniece Flowers Brissett: I wear my crown in a tapered fade maintained by a trusted barber.

FQ: What has been your experience with bias or discrimination in the workplace?

LFB: My hair acts as a protective shield. I show up on “Day 1” — interviews, prospective client calls, stakeholder meetings — with my hair in its natural, voluminous state. It weeds out anyone with an aversion to my kinky-curly hair, a texture bequeathed to me by my ancestors. Employers and clients that are uncomfortable with how I present opt-out. It’s an efficient way of filtering companies and leaders that are overtly anti-Black.

Outside of work, my hair has been pulled and stroked on separate occasions. I’ve been told to tone my hair down when I wore it out in its natural state, and I’ve even been asked, “Did you comb it or plug it in this morning?” To have a natural part of you constantly objectified, scrutinized and made the center of attention is exhausting and dehumanizing.

FQ: What does the passing of the CROWN Act mean to you?

LFB: The CROWN Act is the counterbalance to centuries of professional standards and policies steeped in Eurocentrism. It means Black people can show up to work without having to contort ourselves to fit into a myopic, dominant view of professionalism rooted in Eurocentric norms.

The CROWN Act is long overdue, but it’s a start. We’re slowly breaking through. In my career today, I’m fortunate to work on a team with a wide variety of crowns. My manager wears a glorious afro in executive meetings. It’s been powerful to witness Black women at work display the full versatility of our hair and ascend the corporate ladder.

FQ: How can conscious leaders and business executives build off the momentum of the CROWN Act and take action to protect Black women from discrimination in the workplace?

LFB: Measure workplace culture fairly by starting with intersectionality. It’s important to pay close attention to groups that hold intersectional identities, like Black women. They are the canaries in the coal mine. Hold colleagues, managers and leaders accountable for the work environment they create.

FQ: What advice or words of wisdom would you give to your younger self who perhaps did not love or value her crown?

LFB: Every Sunday afternoon, my partner and I begin our weekly ritual of adorning our twins’ hair with braids and beads. I’d tell my younger self what I tell my daughters: Our hair is a rare gift that’s been passed down for generations. We are blessed to have this crown.


This article originally appeared in The Female Quotient (The FQ). The FQ is changing the equation and closing the gaps. The FQ’s diverse mix of live events, online forums, custom research, media, and corporate advisory services identifies challenges, surfaces effective strategies, forges powerful networks, and ultimately sparks measurable progress. Through its intensive engagement with women around the world, in multiple industries, and at every level, The FQ has a rare understanding of what is on the minds of working women and what specific needs must be addressed to confront existing inequalities. 

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice on combating discrimination in the workplace? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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