Women of color in the workplace, particularly those with natural hairstyles, are penalized because they often do not conform to traditional notions of beauty. No one has ever empirically measured the various biases people have about different types of hair and whether or not certain styles are “professional” – until now. In a new study that examines how women of color face major barriers to success, its authors asked the question: Is society biased against black women based on their hair? The answer is “Yes.”
The study involved 4,163 participants—men and women in a national sample recruited via an online panel and self-identified “naturalista” women who are part of an online natural hair community. Most people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias toward women of color based on their hair.
Good Hair Study
The ‘Good Hair’ Study: Explicit and Implicit Attitudes Toward Black Women’s Hair, using the first Hair Implicit Association Test (IAT), which Perception Institute created, and an extensive online survey, offers unprecedented evidence on implicit and explicit biases against natural and textured hair. Inspired by SheaMoisture brand’s “Break the Walls” campaign challenging beauty and retail industries to address aisle “segregation” of hair products by race, the study also explores how the hair and beauty standards that prevail in advertising, fashion, Hollywood, and on social media affect perceptions of women of color.
“This study confirms what most black women have known and experienced: wearing natural hairstyles has deep political and social implications,” says Alexis McGill Johnson, co-founder and executive director of Perception Institute, a consortium of researchers, advocates, and strategists who translate cutting-edge mind science research on race, gender, ethnic, and other identities into solutions that reduce bias and discrimination. “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. This study also demonstrates how research with an intersectional lens can help us create new metrics, such as the Hair IAT, and drive new conversations.”
Hair Bias Findings
White women demonstrate the strongest bias—both explicit and implicit—against textured hair, rating it as less beautiful, less sexy/attractive, and less professional than smooth hair.
Black women in the natural hair community have more positive implicit and explicit attitudes toward textured hair than other women, but they nonetheless perceive the social stigma of wearing natural hair.
Black women experience more anxiety related to their hair and greater social and financial burden of hair maintenance than white women. Black women are twice as likely to report social pressure to straighten their hair at work compared to white women.
Millennial “naturalistas” have more positive attitudes toward textured hair than all other women. This is consistent with past studies showing that millennials identify as progressive, confident, self-expressive, and open to change.