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Study shows Black women with natural hair seen as less professional when seeking work

Posted at 12:52 PM, Sep 11, 2020

Deshaunta Goolsby loves exploring new hairstyles.

“I cut my hair all the time, I color it all the time, it’s a reflection of who I am and how I feel," Goolsby said. "I’ve had it braided to my waist; I’ve shaved it bald. I’ve done just about everything you can imagine to it.”

However, it hasn’t always been that way. There was a time in her life when she had to wear her hair the same way at least five days a week.

“It was processed, straight style and it was, ya know, shoulder length. It was, I guess, the industry standard.”

Goolsby was a news anchor and reporter for 11 years. It was in her last few years that she wanted to transition to a hairstyle that was wasn’t so high-maintenance.

“My family and I had gone to the beach one weekend or something and it was maybe midnight Sunday and I’m trying to straighten my hair back out to go to work the next day and it was impossible," Goolsby said. "I was in tears, my husband was helping me, and I just said ‘this is too much.’ So at that point, I did go to my news director and I said ‘hey, I’d like to wear my hair natural.'”

In the news industry, it’s common for anchors and reporters to get their hairstyles approved, but it took a few weeks until Goolsby got the green light.

“It was a lot of questions at first. ‘How are you going to wear it? We need to see it first.’ It was definitely an approval process.”

Goolsby says there was some pushback from the community and she’d be called into the office. However, she also got a lot of praise from people who loved her natural hair.

“It doesn’t take much," Goolsby said. "Which is why I love it. I shampoo it, and it air dries, and that’s about it.”

Ashleigh Shelby Rosette is a management professor and senior associate dean at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She recently conducted four different studies where participants of different races were asked to assume the role of a recruiter looking for job candidates.

“We found that Black women with natural hair were evaluated as less professional, less competent, and they were the least likely to be hired,” Dr. Rosette said.

Black women with natural hair – like afros, twists or dreadlocks – were compared to Black women with straight hair, white women with straight hair, and white women who chose to wear their hair curly.

“Sometimes people equate natural hair with unkept," Dr. Rosette said. "And that’s not even remotely what it is. And so to suggest that a Black woman can’t be her authentic self and be judged on her merit is problematic. I think anyone would find it problematic.”

Dr. Rosette says she’s hopeful this bias is changing as more people become aware of it. And the Crown Act – which prohibits bias based upon natural hair – is legislative policy that has been passed in seven different states. Dr. Rosette says she’d like to see the act pass in all 50 states and so would Goolsby. Otherise, they say it’s likely organizations will be missing out on some serious talent.

“If they don’t accept you in that place, there’s somewhere else that will. And so maybe that will be the change that people need – that employers who are more accepting, they get the better candidates,” Goolsby said.

Optimistic for a more accepting future, Goolsby is teaching her young daughters to be proud of their natural hair.