New research shows that Black women with natural hair are less likely to land that job interview, CNN reports. Researchers from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business found that participants in their studies who wore styles including afros, twists, braids and locs were perceived as less professional. This was especially true “in industries where a more conservative appearance is common,” according to CNN.
The research, which will be published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science next week, shows how societal biases perpetuate racial discrimination in the workplace, according to a press release.
Researcher Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, a Black woman who is a management professor and a senior associate dean, said in a statement obtained by CNN that current events are pushing organizations to explore their own biased practices. “In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and the corresponding protests, many organizations have rightly focused on tactics to help eradicate racism at systemic and structural levels,” she said. “But our individually held biases often precede the type of racist practices that become embedded and normalized within organizations.”
“The biases are rooted in a standard of beauty in many Western societies that is based on white women and straightened hair,” Rosette told CNN. “It also becomes the standard of perceived professionalism, and recruiters are then influenced by that standard.”
The Duke studies included hundreds of participants from different races and backgrounds, who were asked to act as recruiters and screen potential job candidates. They were required to give them “a score for competence, professionalism and other factors, based on mocked-up Facebook and LinkedIn profiles,” according to CNN.
In three of the studies, participants were selected from the general population. The study comparing attitudes in management consulting and advertising involved MBA students.
Participants gave Black women with natural hair lower scores for competence and professionalism, and didn’t recommend them for interviews as often, compared with Black women with straightened hair, White women with straight hair or White women with curly hair.
In one instance, two groups of participants were asked to evaluate the same Black female job candidate. While one group were shown a photo of the candidate with natural hair, the other saw an image of her with straight hair.
The latter group gave the candidate a higher score for professionalism, and recommended her for an interview more strongly.
In an interview with CNN, Rosette explained that, although people don’t usually submit photos while applying for jobs, these days it’s extremely easy for the hiring manager to view potential candidates’ online profiles. “It would almost be an automatic thing to Google the person’s name and see what their profile looks like on social media,” she told CNN.
The studies also showed that Black women with natural hair were less likely to be discriminated against in fields that are considered creative, according to CNN. For example, they weren’t discriminated against for advertising job interviews. “This may be because advertising is viewed as a more creative industry than consulting with less rigid dress norms,” the research team said in a statement.
“What we suggest is that hair and the hair choices of Black women can be very consequential,” Rosette told CNN. “Hair is not just hair.”
Rosette also stressed to CNN that the onus doesn’t fall on Black women to change their hairstyles in order to fit into conservative work environments. “In no way are we asking that the Black woman change who she is,” she said. “We’re asking that people understand that this difference exists.”