That's part of the reason why Alexis McGill Johnson, the executive director and co-founder of the Perception Institute (a group of researchers and advocates working to translate psychological science to help reduce discrimination and other harms linked to race, gender, and other identity differences), and her fellow researchers developed the first-ever Hair Implicit Association Test (IAT), which measures whether or not men and women are unconsciously biased against women of color's natural hairstyles. The results of their study, which surveyed more than 4,000 people last year from a national sample as well as a database of subscribers to a natural online hair community, were published today, thus offering a new set of metrics that underscore how bias operates.
"We all hold biases, including against groups we identify with," says Rachel Godsil, director of research at the Perception Institute and co-author on the study. Identifying as a "naturalista" wasn't enough for black women in the national sample to overcome cultural cues, she says. The differentiating factor for the two groups was participation in an online community, thus pointing to a possible method of reducing implicit bias, she says. It shows the power of the association of a strong, positive community, "and the fact that people can counter the barrage of negative stimuli we're receiving from society at large by virtue of self-selecting into a community like this one."
We all hold biases, including against groups we identify with
The implications of this study are huge for women in the workplace. On average, black women earn 11.7 percent less than their white female counterparts. Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that in one part of the country, the courts have held that standards around hair don't constitute racial discrimination. In other words, an employer can refuse to hire a black woman if she refuses to cut off her dreads.How a woman chooses to wear her hair is a personal choice that reflects her style, McGill Johnson says. The fact that this choice can "actually trigger a bias in someone is significant.""Work has to be done in educating a wide array of people who are engaged in the workplace," she continues. "The workplace is an environment in which we as black women want to bring our best selves, who we think we are, into the office, but we also want to make sure when we do so, that neither gender, nor race, nor hair is actually triggering a negative bias that could impact how someone sees us or our performance."