My Natural Hair Is Unprofessional: The Impact of Black Hairstyles on Perceived Employment-Related Characteristics
Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
de St. Aubin, Ed
The media has multiple examples of Black women experiencing negative outcomes at the hands of their potential employers and the employers’ biases against particular hairstyles. Research has demonstrated that several within-race variables such as skin tone and Afrocentric facial features influence how Black individuals are treated across a number of contexts. The present study investigated hairstyle as a potential within-racial variable that effects Black women negatively in the employment context. Utilizing the Princeton trilogy methodology, researchers empirically documented the stereotypes associated with Black hairstyles (i.e., afros, dreadlocs, straightened hair). Participants were instructed to generate traits they were aware of that are associated with each hairstyle. Straightened hair was uniquely associated with clean, professional, feminine, and pretty. Afro was uniquely associated with wild, radical, and solidarity. The dreadlock hairstyle was uniquely associated with drug use, ghetto, nasty, and gross. These findings suggest the existence of unique stereotypical content for each of the hairstyles.Researchers then explored whether associations made with these hairstyles would impact the perceived employability of Black female job applicants. Participants viewed one of three LinkedIn profiles for a Black female applicant, which were identical except for the hairstyle she wore in the profile image, and rated the applicant on employment characteristics, hair-specific traits, hirability, and starting salary. Researchers failed to support their hypotheses. There were no significant differences on employment characteristics, hair-specific traits, hirability, and starting salary across hair style conditions. Further, employment characteristics, hair-specific traits, and hirability were all rated consistently high for the mock-applicant regardless of hairstyle. Researchers propose the applicants compelling qualifications may not have allowed for ambiguity in the hiring process, where racial bias is more commonly witnessed.