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Natural hair reportedly hurts black women in the workplace

BARRIERS: A study has found that black women with natural hair face obstacles in the workplace

A NEW study in the US has concluded that black women who wear their hair naturally face tougher obstacles in the workplace than other groups.

The study was conducted by the Perception Institute, an organisation that describes itself as a “consortium of researchers, advocates, and strategists” that uses cognitive scientific research to identify and address biases in areas such as law enforcement, education, civil justice and the workplace.

In collaboration with Shea Moisture, the Perception Institute created a digital hair implicit association test (IAT) comprised of rapidly changing photos of black women with smooth and textured hair, with rotating word associations.

It gauged unconscious attitudes of certain hair types based on the adjectives participants choose when presented with a particular image.

The study found one in five black women feel social pressure to straighten their hair for work — twice as many as white women. The research also found that black women perceived a level of social stigma against natural textured hair, and this perception is substantiated by mainstream society’s devaluation of natural hairstyles.

Although a debate about whether black women with natural hairstyles are held back in the workplace because they are perceived as not being professional and often do not conform to traditional Western notions of attractiveness, the report marks the first time that these biases have been measured empirically.

The Good Hair Survey also explored the concerns, social pressures and experiences women have related to their own hair. It found that even though on average all women worry about their hair to some extent, black women experience higher levels of anxiety more than white women. Furthermore, one in three black women report that their hair is the reason they haven’t exercised, compared to one in ten white women.

Alexis McGill Johnson, co-founder and executive director of Perception Institute, said: “Wearing natural hairstyles has deep political and social implications. From the classroom to the workplace, bias against natural hair can undermine the ability of black women to be their full selves and affect their professional trajectory, social life, and self-esteem.”

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