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Hair Industry Sexism: How This Exists In a Female Dominated Industry

The hair and beauty industry is made up statistically of 77% female, and 19% male. So why do men still make 2% more than women? I’ve worked in this industry for over 30 years and as much as I love what I do, we are still subjected to sexism in this female-dominated industry. I know it’s shocking. Let’s unpack.

The Zohan In a Salon Near You

Ever see the movie Don’t Mess With the Zohan? Adam Sandler plays Zohan, a toxic male, Israeli soldier and defender against terrorism, who flees to New York to live his dream of being a hairstylist. Although it wasn’t a best-rated film, it’s an exaggerated portrayal of male hairstylists, sexism and their relationship to women, is somewhat accurate. After viewing this hilarious comedy film, I began referring to some of my male chauvinist coworkers from time to time, by the nickname Zohan. If you haven’t seen it, give it a view for some insight.

Where Is Salon HR Department?

We often pay rent to privately owned salons. There is a quantitative lack of HR departments to protect salon professionals. One of the salon owners I booth rented from rudely advised me that I better find me a man because otherwise my “Pussy will dry up.” He voiced this opinion of my single status in the backroom full of young stylists who all laughed at my expense. I felt embarrassed, uncomfortable and humiliated. He continued to repeat these sexist comments. Then one day, when I was thoroughly fed up, I snapped back with an equally humiliating misandry comment where the laugh was on him.

From then on he never made a sexist comment like that again. However, I was targeted, blamed, called in for meetings on multiple benign “issues” and never supported by the leadership or funneled one new client. With no HR department to protect my rights, I kept my head low, paid my rent and used my workspace to continue earning my livelihood to support my kids. I worked hard to build my business on my own until I finally found the right time and opportunity to successfully exit that toxic environment.

Debunking Sexist Stereotypes of Salon Professionals

Stereotypes of hair industry professionals are real and within them, sexism also exists. Where men are valued as talented, amazing and lead professionals, women are viewed as party girls, hobby hairstylists having no other options professionally for lack of intelligence and education. Statistically, this is far from the truth. In fact, a higher percentage of people in the hair and beauty industry have some level of college education outside of trade education.

I completed my cosmetology education a year after graduating high school. After a couple of years of industry work, I enrolled in college. Many individuals I know also carry degrees in other areas of study. It’s very common. Many of us enjoy and choose this work. In fact, other areas of study bring more well-rounded connections in our professionalism.

The median age also debunks the stereotype that we age out of our profession. Usually, men spend less time in the industry than women. The average age is actually 39 for all hairstylists. I’m 52 and have even been subjected to age discrimination already. Some salons say they prefer a “younger” demographic. But plenty of parents and mature adult clients, spend plenty of money and gravitate to a quiet, soothing experienced demographic environment.

Sexist Double Standards Within Dress Codes

Dress code double standards are also a factor of sexism. Where men perform work duties in jeans, comfortable shoes, and t-shirts, women in salon culture are often expected to dress up and wear “stylish” and “trendy” fashion. This often includes less than supportive shoes, dresses and fabrics that will be exposed to hair and color staining, and hair that’s completely styled, makeup, etc. This requires way more time and expense for women than the men. All this to appear professional and attractive. All because we’re in a grooming industry and have to model we know how to groom ourselves.

Professionally I agree we attract clients based on our appearance. However, what clothes are deemed as professional? We attract clients who also like what we like. Not all clients want to compete with fancy dress-up salon environments. In fact, most people enjoy not having the pressure.

Because of these sexist double standards, many women leave the salon environment and choose self-employment. In fact, over 80% of our pros work for private salons or freelance. Potters and artists, painters and health care workers all wear clothing that fits the environment where clothing can be exposed to mess. It’s why we robe or drape clients to protect their clothing. If what men wear is less of a concern, then it should be no different for women. And yes women are part of the shame game towards other women based on male standards of what’s attractive in our industry. So much competition.

The Client Perspective on Sexism

As I observe the salon environment from a client perspective, I have been exposed to sexism. Yes, when men have done my hair, and I say “I part my hair here.” The response being, “No, that isn’t how you part your hair.” I have literally been told I’m wrong about doing my own hair. Here are my personal thoughts on this subject.

Who’s The Boss Of My Hair?

Men aren’t the boss of my hair and how I choose to wear it. I’m a completely capable human knowing where my hair and part gravitate and I’m also in the industry. I know when I’m wanting a length or color change. Suggestions are fine but sometimes men treat women clients as though they don’t have a clue or choice how to wear their hair. Women have literally shared with me experiences of being almost bullied by their male stylists. Men often seem more opinionated as they create, where a stylists tendency should be to listen to clients, think outside the box and collaborate to create desired effects so the client returns because they like the results.

On the flip side of this, I have overheard men in our industry criticize women clients who are too controlling or too picky. I also see women pay for the ambiance of a man who flirts and fakes his way to charging double, next to an equally talented woman in his salon. Why is it those female clients won’t bat an eye paying these rates to men and nickel and dime women for the same services? Are we as women part of the problem?

Truth About The Wage Gap and Price Gap

Just because a male stylist charges more than a female or any gender, doesn’t mean he knows more. I have experienced this power where the men who manage or own the salon seem to set their pricing higher and won’t allow the women to match their price even when the experience and training are equal to theirs. In fact, most of the time, according to statistics, men have way less experience and even spend fewer years in the industry than women.

There are also very few celebrity stylists. I know this makes no sense when women make up the largest percentage and men make up the largest margin of celebrity, editorial, and company brand ownership. Why are women doing the grunt work rather than the lead roles? Forbes article breaks this open, in the Gender Parity problem.

During the shutdowns, there were even discriminating policies in our industry. Barbers were given the okay to perform shaves and beard trims while waxing and facial treatments were not. This gave men industry income and set women back longer. In The Independent article “It’s one rule for men and another for women,” they unpack how the pandemic was handled with sexism.

How Do We Support Women Better and Close the Sexist Gap?

So how do we change these sexist patterns? What are we to do if we want women to thrive in this industry created mostly for women? Here are some great tips for women to help Close The Gap.

Amplify Women Leaders

First of all, as women in our industry, we need to amplify the female leaders in our industry! We have to choose every day to lift each other and boost the confidence of our colleagues. Women have to STOP fashion and beauty shaming each other. STOP comparing ourselves to each other. STOP being envious and jealous.

Compliment Each Other

The best compliment a woman can ever get is from other women. Giving a compliment to another woman takes nothing away from ourselves. And to receive it feels very genuine. We need to be looking for ways to contribute positive feedback to women instead of having a critical eye.

Buy From Women and Support Them With Your Spending

My daughters and I have been on a mission to follow women talent in social media and research diverse women-owned businesses and brands. What we have found is that there are very talented women and few female-owned companies and well-known brands. Buy from female-owned and support with word of mouth women-owned business.

Lift Each Other With Helpful Feedback

Share trade industry and business ideas that get great results. When one of us helps another with guidance and advise, we all grow and win. One small idea or tip can help expand all to elevate women so they can provide better for their families.

Lead Women Lead

Move in closer to industry leaders and create a seat at the table for ourselves. Women gain confidence when they are involved in leadership. Companies need more women leaders to change industry standards and culture. Women also deserve to be credited for their ideas.

Holding Men Accountable

One of the worst experiences I ever had in the workplace was the married salon owner who was not so discreetly having an affair with a much younger salon professional. He not only pissed me off because of the fact that the woman he was married to was a very supportive behind-the-scenes wife and mother of his two small kids, but because he was taking advantage of his position and the admiration of a much younger colleague. His choice also reflected on the reputation of the salon. The discomfort and awkward feelings spread like a virus.

This man is an industry leader who quite frankly lost many stylists as well as the respect of colleagues. With some good female coaching, the young woman finally realized she was being used and cut off the relationship and left. Many, including myself, disgusted with his Christian hypocrisy also left. Holding men accountable by calling out sexism rarely happens when they are in a position of authority. We need to hold these men accountable directly, without fear.

How We Make Women Feel is More Important Than How They Look

Feedback is our friend is my go-to phrase with my clients. I treasure getting feedback on my work from my clients. They are my most important critic. Rather than being hyper-focused on the industry standards, I prefer my focus on giving clients something that resonates personally and is realistic to their grooming skills, and lifestyles.

There is something for everyone that is personalized to what their standard of beauty is. When clients look and feel their best they shine! It’s how we make women feel about themselves rather than setting a standard they must live up to.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, it’s employees, sponsors, or affiliates.

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