The relationship between Black women with their natural hairstyles has been a bittersweet one, with disparaging terms such as “nappy” and other derogatory terms being thrown around. Natural hair, combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, has emancipated more women to wear natural hairstyles in recent years, which has resulted in an increase in the number of Black women who are learning to accept their natural manes.
According to new data, Black women with natural hairstyles of any kind — curly afros, twists, or braids – have a lesser likelihood of landing a job interview than their White counterparts or Black women with straightened hair, regardless of race.
A team of researchers from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business conducted the research. The findings of the study, which were published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, demonstrate how societal preferences contribute to racial discrimination in the workplace.
Hairstyles for Black women were viewed as less professional by those who took part in the study, particularly when competing for opportunities in industries with a more conservative outlook.
A press release from Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a management professor and senior associate dean at the University of Southern California (USC), stated that, “In the wake of the George Floyd murder and the ensuing protests, many organizations have rightly focused on tactics to help eradicate racism at systemic and structural levels.”
According to the author, “yet, our personally held biases frequently precede the type of discriminatory acts that get established and normalized within companies.”
In the West, there is a particular degree of perceived professionalism that is deeply based in prejudices against Western conceptions of beauty. As Rosette told CNN, “ideal beauty pictures” such as white ladies with straightened hair are more welcoming for many, and recruiters tend to consider those to be more professional than anything that does not conform to those norms.
Hundreds of volunteers of various races were selected for the study, and they were asked to assess possible job candidates in the same way that recruiters would. When they received the pseudo-Facebook and LinkedIn profiles of the candidates they were asked to rank them based on their skill, professionalism, and other aspects.
There were several components to the study, and in three of the investigations, participants were drawn from the general community. MBA students were recruited to participate in a study comparing opinions about management consulting and advertising.
Following the investigation, it was discovered that natural hair played a significant role in the rankings. In terms of professionalism and competence, black women with natural hair obtained lower ratings and were thus not shortlisted or suggested for interviews.
However, Black women with straightened hair, White women with straight hair, and even White women with curly hair made it through to the interview stage with flying colors and received high marks for professionalism and ability.
In one situation, two groups were given the same Black woman to evaluate for a position in the same company. In order to demonstrate the goal of this study, one group used a photo of this candidate with natural hair, while the other used a photo of her with straight hair, and the results were much different.
When it came to professionalism, the group with the straight-haired photo gave the candidate higher marks, and they strongly recommended her for an interview, whilst the other group did not do so.
According to Rosette, it is not standard business practice to demand applicants to submit images; nonetheless, in recent years, it has been simpler for recruiters to obtain photos of applicants online through their social media accounts.
The researcher explained that searching for the person’s name on Google and looking at their social media profiles would almost be an automated process.
Additionally, the outcomes differed according on the field of study. Black women with natural hair were not considered for managerial positions in which the dress code was deemed to be conservative. Their applications for work in advertising, which is considered a more creative industry with “less rigid clothing requirements,” were successful, and they were hired.
Natural hair bias exists, and according to Rosette, it should not be dismissed lightly. In her words, “What we indicate is that Black women’s hair and the hairstyles they choose can be quite consequential.” “Hair is not just hair,” says the author.
Afros were traditionally worn by Black women to make political statements, but nowadays many choose to wear their own hair because it is healthier, less expensive and seen to be more convenient.
“We are not requesting that the Black lady change who she is,” she stated emphatically. “We are requesting that people recognize the existence of this distinction.”
A game changer in the United States has been the CROWN Act, which prohibits any form of discrimination against natural Black hairstyles. California, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia are among the states that have implemented the Act, and other states are considering enacting their own versions of it.
The United States Navy now has a more inclusive hairstyle policy, and while all of these improvements are positive, there is still more work to be done. “There is progress in places where there was previously not even acknowledgment [sic],” Rosette stated proudly.
This movement has been a long time in the making, and Black women are much more than their hair, despite the fact that their hair is still a significant part of their overall identity.