In bleak news that’s unlikely to surprise Black women, new research suggests that if a Black woman keeps her hair natural she’s less likely to get a job.
Why? Because employers still deem Black people’s natural hair ‘less professional’. This means that Black women are yet again at an immediate disadvantage in the job market, especially if they wear their hair in an afro, braids, or twists.
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In one experiment, two groups of participants evaluated the exact same job candidate, a Black woman. One group saw a photo of the candidate with natural hair while the other group saw her with straightened hair.
The group who saw the candidate with straight hair rated her as more professional, defining her as more polished, refined, and respecable, and they more strongly recommended her for an interview.
In a series of tests, Black women with natural hairstyles were consistently scored lower on professionalism and competence, and were not recommended as frequently for interviews compared to white candidates with straight or curly hair or Black candidates with straightened hair.
The findings, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, evidence how societal bias against natural Black hairstyles perpetuates race discrimination at work, the researchers explained.
As well as this bias putting Black women at a disadvantage for getting a job, it also encourages them to invest in costly hair straightening processes.
Dr Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a study researcher and associate professor of management at Duke University, US said: ‘The impact of a woman’s hairstyle may seem minute, but for black women, it’s a serious consideration and may contribute to the lack of representation for blacks in some organisational settings.
‘In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and the corresponding protests, many organisations have rightly focused on tactics to help eradicate racism at systemic and structural levels. But our individually held biases often precede the type of racist practices that become embedded and normalised within organisations.
‘In many Western societies, whites have historically been the dominant social group and, as a result, the standard for professional appearance is often based on the physical appearance of whites. For women’s hair, that benchmark is having straightened hair.’
The study found that the bias was not as strong in certain industries, finding a notable difference between more formal consulting jobs and roles in advertising.
When evaluated for consulting jobs, where dress norms are more conservative, the fictional job candidates with natural hair were discriminated against.
But, when applying for advertising agency posts, the candidate’s hair texture did not affect perceptions of professionalism or their interview chances.
The study authors suggest this may be because advertising is viewed as a more creative industry than consulting, with less rigid dress norms.
Dr Rosette added: ‘Some organisations strip away biographical information such as a person’s name and other clues about gender or race from application materials. This procedure is known as blinding and has been shown to reduce similar types of bias as what we found in our research.
‘But there fundamentally has to be a level of awareness that the natural hair bias exists. If you don’t know that it exists, you can’t know its influence on your decision-making processes. Although there have been some policy changes protecting black people from discrimination based on their natural hair, these changes are fairly recent and not as widely implemented as they should be.’
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