Having natural hair 'limits job opportunities for black women'

Black women with 'natural' hairstyles, such as curly afros or braids, are perceived as less professional than those who straighten their hair, a new study claims.

Experts in the US say black women suffer from a lack of job opportunities due to their hair, particularly in industries that 'dictate a more conservative appearance' such as consulting. 

Inherent and 'embedded' racial bias in the upper echelons of companies means women with non-conforming hairstyles are denied job opportunities.  

In experiments, the researchers found black women with natural hair are deemed 'less competent and professional' than black women with straightened hair and white women with curly or straight hair.  

Black women with natural hairstyles were perceived as less professional and less likely to get interviews

Black women with natural hairstyles were perceived as less professional and less likely to get interviews

'For black women, it's a serious consideration and may contribute to the lack of representation for blacks in some organisational settings,' said Professor Ashleigh Shelby Rosette at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, North Carolina. 

'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.'     

To detect bias against black women with natural hair, researchers recruited participants of different races and asked them to assume the role of recruiters screening job candidates. 

Participants were given profiles of black and white female job candidates and asked to rate them on professionalism and competence. 

Black women with natural hairstyles received lower scores on professionalism and competence and were not recommended as frequently for interviews compared with three other types of candidates – black women with straightened hair and white women with curly or straight hair. 

Teenager with cornrows, where the hair is braided very close to the scalp in rows. States in the US are working to end discrimination against people with such hairstyles

Teenager with cornrows, where the hair is braided very close to the scalp in rows. States in the US are working to end discrimination against people with such hairstyles

In one experiment, two groups of participants evaluated the same job candidate – a black woman. 

One group saw a photo of the candidate with natural hair while the other group saw her with straight hair. 

The group who saw a candidate with straight hair rated her as more professional – defined as 'more polished, refined and respectable' – and they more strongly recommended her for an interview.  

The job candidates with natural hair were subject to discrimination when they were being evaluated for jobs in consulting, according to the researchers, which they deem an industry with conservative dress norms. 

Applicants for jobs in more modern, creative industries were less likely to be negatively judged by their natural hair, however.  

When participants considered profiles of women who wanted to work at an ad agency, the candidate's hair texture didn't affect perceptions of professionalism or whether they were recommended for interviews. This may be because advertising is viewed as a more creative industry than consulting with less rigid dress norms

When participants considered profiles of women who wanted to work at an ad agency, the candidate's hair texture didn't affect perceptions of professionalism or whether they were recommended for interviews. This may be because advertising is viewed as a more creative industry than consulting with less rigid dress norms

When participants considered profiles of women

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