With growing calls for beauty pros to create a more diverse and inclusive environment for their staff and clients, we spoke with two industry experts to gain insight into how salon owners and managers can incorporate more inclusive business practices to help attract new staff and clientele—all the while maintaining a safe space for all.
Offering a diverse and inclusive environment extends far beyond the services offered in your salon. From consultations and appointments to hiring and training, addressing your challenges from within is the first real step to creating meaningful change. “We don’t just want diversity; we want safety, growth and inclusivity,” says Allison Hill, owner of Hill Studio in Toronto. “We want people to have access to different levels of things and to be able to learn from one another, and that requires that we really open up.”
When it comes to appointments, clients value not only the overall service experience but also the importance of feeling safe and comfortable within the salon environment. While that includes having trust in their service provider, it’s also about feeling welcome in the salon space. “Different people bring different perspectives,” says Hill. “They bring different cultures, ideas and energy. If you want to switch up the environment you have, the best way to do that is to change up the people that come into the space. If you’re always with one group that has one culture, one look and one aesthetic, then that eventually is what that salon will breed and attract. If you can bring different voices, stories and cultures into the space, then you will invite in those same things.”
While it can be difficult for some salon owners and managers to recognize aspects of their business that are most challenging and require the most amount of work, it’s about having the self-awareness to identify and address areas in need of change. “There are some serious questions that owners and managers should ask themselves to understand how we got here in the first place,” says Orinthia Babb, a curly-hair consultant based in Winnipeg. “Diversity is a hot topic right now across any industry. More importantly, ask yourselves some hard questions like, ‘What is your motive? Is it because diversity is trendy right now?’” Although news and current events may have sparked the change for some, it’s important to see the benefits of these changes and address them from within on an ongoing basis. “Is the potential to make more money your motive?” asks Babb. “Curly and Black hair is a huge industry on its own. Do you honestly want to be able to properly service all clients and all hair types that walk through your door? It’s important to look at what your motive is and why the ones that are interested want to do it because it’s not as simple as throwing a person of colour in there. You can’t explore the idea of creating a more ‘diverse and inclusive salon’ without advocating.”
“IF YOU’RE ALWAYS WITH ONE GROUP WITH ONE CULTURE, LOOK AND ESTHETIC THEN THAT IS EVENTUALLY WHAT THAT SALON WILL BREED AND THAT’S WHAT THE SALON WILL ATTRACT. IF YOU CAN BRING IN DIFFERENT VOICES, STORIES AND CULTURES INTO THE SPACE, THEN YOU WILL INVITE IN THOSE SAME THINGS.” —ALLISON HILL, OWNER OF HILL STUDIO, TORONTO
Diversifying Your Skills
According to Babb, creating a safe and inclusive environment for everyone involves ensuring that your staff includes hairstylists who have been educated in—and are comfortable working with—different hair textures. “If a person with textured, curly or Afro hair walks into a salon, oftentimes the stylist freaks out because they didn’t get proper training (or any training) in this and don’t know what to do,” she says. “It’s preposterous that this is still going on in 2023. Curly hair is still considered a specialty, and Afro hair is even more of a niche market, so all these people are left behind.” “What you can do is have more training in curly hair by bringing in experts,” adds Babb. “For those interested in learning about all hair types and having the full skill set to manage Afro and curly hair, support them with the training and education they need.”
Transparency Is Key
When it comes to promoting diversity and inclusion in salons, it’s important for salon owners and managers to ensure that it’s a place where clients and staff feel that there’s an open-door policy. “We have to make sure that we’re opening our doors to different people and taking the time to respect and understand how different cultures relate to their hair,” says Hill. “We have to be specific about making sure that hairstylists are trained to manage different textures. By the time a salon owner hires somebody, they’re hiring them with the best skills they have. Diversity needs to start at the base of education, and that will make it much easier for salons to be diverse. I’m not going into a salon that doesn’t understand how to manage my texture. We don’t expect clients to do that, so if we don’t teach hairstylists how to manage different textures and understand different cultures and how those different cultures relate to hair, then we will never be able to create diversity.” “It’s not a matter of just putting somebody in there that is a person of colour,” adds Babb. “They need training and education. If you want your salon to look more diverse within the next five years, you need a plan and you need to look forward and be willing to take the steps to get there.”
Allison Hill is a Toronto based hairstylist and owner of Hill Studio, a salon and wellness hub for Black women. She’s been working in the industry for more than 14 years and is an Afro-hair specialist for Cityline.
Orinthia Babb is a Winnipeg-based hairstylist and owner of Naturally Gorgeous Curls, an ecommerce platform and hub for textured hair.