Afro-hair discrimination: a blind spot for US and UK companies

Research partnership with World Afro Day

Picture this: a prestigious London establishment sends a Black applicant their grooming policy, stating that ‘unusual hairstyles’ such as ‘spiky hair, Afro style’ are not allowed.

You’d be forgiven for assuming the year was 1923. But it was 2023.

Cases of discrimination such as this are why we’re proud to have collaborated with World Afro Day and Dr Patti O’Brien-Richardson of Rutgers University on a survey to uncover and quantify employer attitudes towards Afro-textured and Afrocentric hairstyles in the workplace – both in the UK and US.

We received responses from 1,000 workplace decision-makers in the US and UK, focusing on those who have responsibilities around HR policies, recruitment and line management

Unofficial Eurocentric bias

Findings revealed that, while many organisations do not have official policies, Afro-hair discrimination appears to be present in UK and US companies – even those that make diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) a priority. In particular, when respondents were asked whether certain hairstyles – including those shown above – would be considered appropriate in their workplace, a clear Eurocentric hierarchy emerged:

  • Styles with higher acceptance rates included straight hair, male fades, ponytail braids and weaves/wigs, which can be seen as the styles in which Afro-textured hair was the least visible and styled.
  • Likewise, styles with lower acceptance rates included afros, locs and cornrows.

Further findings can be found in the full white paper, including around gaps in both training and understanding – the latter highlighted by reactions to a real-life case study.

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