- Black women with natural hairstyles — including Afros, braids and twists — were perceived to be less competent, less professional and less likely to be recommended for a job than Black women with straight hairstyles and White women with either curly or straight hairstyles, according to the results of research published this month in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
- The research, which included four studies conducted at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, asked participants of different races to rate fictional Black and White female job candidates on factors including professionalism and confidence. Researchers found Black women with natural hairstyles received lower scores in both professionalism and competence and were not recommended as frequently for interviews compared to other candidates, Duke University said in a statement.
- In one experiment, two groups evaluated the same Black female candidate. One group saw a photo that depicted the candidate with straightened hair and the other saw a photo that depicted her with natural hair. The former group rated the candidate as more professional and more strongly recommended the candidate for an interview, Duke University said.
Amid a global discussion in recent months about systemic racism and racial inequality in the workplace, natural hair discrimination emerged as one of several potential issues that employers can address.
In a recent interview with HR Dive, speaker and diversity and inclusion consultant Risha Grant said hair policies may exemplify the type of discriminatory policies that affect people of color in the workplace, whether such policies are formal requirements or informal expectations. Such expectations of what is "normal" in the workplace can signify deeper cultural issues, Grant said.
Since 2019, a few states have opted to enact legislation banning natural-hair discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. The trend began with enforcement guidance enacted by New York City's Commission on Human Rights in February 2019. California became the first state to do so in July 2019, and the state defined this type of discrimination to include hairstyles "historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles." The states of New York and New Jersey followed in short order, and Virginia became the fourth state to pass such legislation in March 2020.
But one of the researchers who conducted the Duke University study said such legislation has its limits.
"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," Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a management professor and senior associate dean at the Fuqua School, said in the statement. "This work illustrates that racial discrimination based on hair can occur, and we hope it can inform new policies and practices for firms to ensure they're considering candidates equally, and furthermore, aren't missing out on top talent."
The university noted that the study's results indicate certain industries may impact the degree to which candidates experience hair discrimination. Fictional job candidates in the study were subject to discrimination when being evaluated for jobs in consulting, "an industry with conservative dress norms," Duke University said. But a candidate's hair texture did not affect perceptions of professionalism or recommendations for interviews in a study simulating evaluations for an ad agency role.
Companies may have employee grooming policies that are put in place for health and safety reasons or that reflect the culture of their organizations. But sources previously told HR Dive about the need to clearly communicate the need for such policies while realizing the toll that practices like straightening hair may take on some workers. Some straightening processes may be expensive for workers, and they can also lead to conditions like hair breakage and scalp diseases, Rosette said.