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Afro hair styles still considered unprofessional, study finds

Over one in 10 (12%) business decision-makers think several Afrocentric hairstyles are completely inappropriate for the workplace, according to a survey by awareness campaign World Afro Hair Day.

Michelle De Leon, author of the report, said the report quantifies the continued discrimination many workers with Afro hair experience.

She said: “Africans should be able to look African in the workplace like Europeans can look European and Asians can look Asian. Ending hair discrimination is decades overdue, I hope companies and politicians will now do the right thing and act on the research.”  

Read more: It's not just hair: hair discrimination in the workplace

The study found European styles were considered more appropriate in all circumstances, including straight hair (83%), male fades (80%) and weaves/wigs (76%). 

Hairstyles with a lower acceptance rate are those where Afro-hair is more visible, including the male Afro (65%), female braids (62%) and cornrows (64%).

Even employers with strong DEI commitments need to consciously tackle hair discrimination, according to Sandra Kerr, race director at responsible business network Business in the Community.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "This research highlights that even with the increased number of organisations investing in diversity and inclusion programmes, there are still incidents of discrimination against people from different cultures.

“A person’s hair is part of who they are, and if an organisation has a truly inclusive culture, it shouldn’t matter what the texture of someone’s hair is, be it curly, braided, or in any other hairstyle.” 

Read more: Legal-ease: Dress codes

Grace Mansah-Owusu, organisational psychologist at consultancy Oxford HR, said organisations should review dress codes to ensure that they are inclusive.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Organisations should update dress and uniform policies to ensure they don’t discriminate against curly or coily hair types, and generally ensure policies are inclusive around appearance.

“Additionally, organisations can ensure people have received EDI training to understand how discrimination manifests at work, especially around appearance and hair.” 

The survey of 1,000 UK and US decision-makers – CEOs, line managers, HR professionals and DEI specialists – was conducted by World Afro Hair Day.