59% of Black Candidates Worry That Wearing Their Hair “Naturally” Will Lead to Discrimination at Work

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Photo Credits - Christina at Wocintechchat via Unsplash

Discrimination at work remains an issue in UK workplaces as a recent study by Creative Access highlighted that 59% of black candidates worry about wearing their hair “naturally” and “dressing like themselves”. Although many companies have made strides in their diversity, equity and inclusivity (DEI) initiatives to combat discrimination in the workplace, more can be done to accommodate employees from different backgrounds.

It is important to remember that a workplace with a workforce of a diverse cultural background will require adequate workplace diversity management to ensure that ethnic minorities are not marginalised at work.

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The research shows that employees who come from historically marginalised communities still experience discrimination at work to this day.

Discrimination at Work – Creative Access Report

Creative Access in collaboration with Red Consultancy conducted a survey of 2,000 people to gain insights on hair and clothing codes in UK workplaces. The research explores the respondents’ experiences of work interviews and workplaces of varying ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.

43% or nearly half of the respondents admit they have never received guidance or dress codes for interviews or their first day at a new job. Yet this should be more common practice as 82% feel that clear guidance on this would be helpful.

Further, 55% feel that the usual “smart casual” requirement is confusing.

As mentioned before, black candidates have concerns about wearing their natural hair in the workplace. A further 27% of individuals from ethnic minority groups have felt pressured to change their hair.

In terms of socio-economic differences, 48% of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds face challenges when dressing or styling their hair for work. The number is lower for individuals of wealthier backgrounds at 36%

The report highlighted that ethnic minorities, who historically have been marginalised, still face discrimination at work. Among individuals with afro-textured hair, 1 in 10 or 14% of them believe that their hair will negatively affect their career.

This sentiment is not reflected in individuals with naturally straight hair.

Of those with afro/curly hair, 31% of them have felt the need to change their hair texture. The figures are similar for those with curly hair at 32% but vastly different for straight hair as a majority (86%) never felt the need to do so. Further, 15% of those with afro-textured hair textures admit to wearing wigs for job interviews.

Cultural Diversity in UK Workplaces

According to data from the UK Government, the employment rate for ethnic minorities stands at 67%, lower than their white counterparts at 76%

The current trends of cultural diversity in UK workplaces were recently discussed in Dial Global’s 2023 UK Diversity Review. Within their report, 90% of UK firms advocate the advantages of having a culturally diverse workforce, with 74% providing training on fostering inclusivity in a culturally diverse work environment.

Currently, 84% of organisations have appointed a Chief Diversity Officer or a similar role. There’s also been an increase in the number of senior leaders from ethnic minority backgrounds. However, the average ratio of ethnic minority leaders to white leaders still stands at 1:4.

Overall, the report discusses how more can be done by UK workplaces to eliminate discrimination at work. The research acknowledges that UK companies have created impactful initiatives for DEI yet there is an unequal distribution of attention between different demographics, risking some groups to be left behind.

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Recommendations for Employers and Employees

1. Unconscious Bias Training: Train interviewers to recognise and combat unconscious bias in hiring, promoting fairer processes.

2. Focus on Skills, Not Style: Assess candidates based on qualifications and skills, not appearance or style, fostering diversity and individuality.

3. Clear Dress Codes: Provide specific dress code guidelines when needed, like for client meetings, ensuring transparent communication.

4. Visual References: Share company social media for attire examples and create visual guides for diverse dressings.

5. Clear Expectations: Communicate clear conduct guidelines for an inclusive and discrimination-free workplace.

People Co-ordinator at Red Consultancy, Nargis Choudhury, advises that giving a “smart casual” dress code is no use as it translates differently for each person. “(…) We have had instances of people turning up in suits in a bid to look professional but then felt too ‘corporate’ as they are interviewed by people dressed more casually. I usually direct people to our company Instagram page to show that we have, and we welcome a very broad range of looks.”

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