Bias against natural hair limits job opportunities for Black women

Gabrielle Masson - Print  | 

Black women with natural hairstyles are often perceived as less professional than Black women with straightened hair, according to research conducted at Durham, N.C.-based Duke University.

The findings, forthcoming in Social Psychological and Personality Science, offer evidence of workplace discrimination against natural Black hairstyles, such as curly afros, braids or twists, said Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, PhD, management professor and senior associate dean at Duke University.

Researchers recruited participants who screened job candidates based on profiles of both Black and white women. Black women with natural hairstyles received lower scores on professionalism and competence and weren't recommended as often for interviews compared to Black women with straightened hair and white women with curly or straight hair. 

"It's a serious consideration and may contribute to the lack of representation for Blacks in some organizational settings," Dr. Rosette said. The research also found racial discrimination against Black natural hairstyles more common in industries where norms dictate a conservative appearance.

"Some organizations strip away biographical information such as a person's name and other clues about gender or race from application materials," Dr. Rosette said, adding that the procedure, known as blinding, has been proven to reduce similar types of societal bias.

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