Master of Science
Migration and Ethnic Relations
There have been numerous cases where Black women have been disparaged for wearing their natural hair or Afrocentric hairstyles in the workplace. While some have argued that such mistreatment was due to racism, others have stated that it was a case of not adhering to a professional dress code. In line with the justification-suppression model of prejudice, this research investigated whether prejudice against Black women in the workplace is expressed when they wear Afrocentric hairstyles as this allows the bias to be justified under the guise of normative standards of professionalism. Our pilot and main study showed that the Black target woman with Afrocentric hairstyles was generally rated less favorably than the Black target woman with socially conforming hairstyles, but more favorably than the White target woman with non-socially conforming hairstyles. Therefore, the findings do not provide support for the application of the justification-suppression model of prejudice against Black women with Afrocentric hairstyles in the workplace.
Summary for Lay Audience
On a number of occasions, Black women have stated that they were told to change their hairstyles or were fired from their jobs when they wore their hair in an Afro, in braids, in twists or in locs (all Afrocentric hairstyles). When recounting their stories, these women and their supporters said that racism was to blame. On the other hand, their employers stated that it simply was a matter of enforcing the dress code of the given job. We conducted two studies to test whether Black women who wear Afrocentric hairstyles are viewed negatively due to racial bias, which is then excused by claiming that it is because their Afrocentric hairstyles do not follow the dress code of the workplace. In both studies, we showed participants pictures of Black and White women with different hairstyles. We predicted that the Black woman with Afrocentric hairstyles would be rated less positively than the Black woman with hairstyles that are seen as normal, everyday hairstyles. We also predicted that the Black woman with Afrocentric hairstyles would be rated less positively than the White woman with non-traditional hairstyles. In both studies, we found that the Black woman with Afrocentric hairstyles was in fact generally rated less positively than the Black woman with normal, everyday hairstyles. However, we also found that the Black woman with Afrocentric hairstyles was rated more positively than the White woman with non-traditional hairstyles. Thus, the results did not support the suggestion that Black women who wear Afrocentric hairstyles are treated negatively in the workplace due to racial bias alone.
Adegbembo, Bukun F., "CEOs Don't Wear Afros: Exploring the Justification-Suppression of Prejudice Against Black Women in the Workplace" (2019). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 6562.
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