There’s no question that gender inclusion continues to be a challenge in the beauty industry. Considering it’s
a field that employs a wide range of creative talents, it’s almost archaic for salons
to continue to adhere to traditional men’s and women’s pricing models.
“The very notion of having gendered pricing always struck me as odd,” says Jenn Ghaney, owner of The Seahorse Salon in St. John’s, Nfld. “Why do we have this industry standard set around men’s and barber cuts versus women’s cuts, when people will often ask for the same haircut?”
Making a Difference
Working in the beauty industry for more than 20 years, Ghaney decided to open her salon five years ago to make changes she wasn’t seeing in other salons. “We initially wanted to offer gender-neutral haircutting in order to create a safer environment for everyone, especially within the LGBTQ+ youth community,” she says. “But for stylists, a pricing structure that moves away from gender inequities just makes more sense. Rather than have a day filled with only men’s or barber cuts—and staff who are requesting to do more women’s cuts [because they are priced higher]—strip all of that away and charge based on time.”
For those who haven’t heard of gender-neutral pricing, it’s based on the length of hair and the time it takes to cut it rather than on the client’s gender. For example, a short haircut would be priced around how long it takes to complete the cut or style, which can often range between 15 to 30 minutes, while a cut for longer hair would take closer to one hour to complete.
“Now that we’ve been doing it for five years, I can’t imagine not doing it,” says Ghaney. “It’s such a simple process; it’s so easy to lay out the guidelines for how you charge based on length and time, and to include this info in your point-of- sale (POS) system and on your website, which makes it easy to discuss with clients. And in the end, it helps everyone make more money.”
With many clients having grown out their hair during the pandemic’s lockdowns, Ghaney says having a pricing structure that bases the cost on length and time rather than gender seems to be timelier than ever. “I think people are valuing stylists’ time more than ever.”
While offering a gender-neutral pricing structure is one step, it’s also important to think about providing clients with a more inclusive salon experience. “Always keep your verbiage in mind,” says Ghaney. “Keep your entire team educated on the correct verbiage to use when you’re speaking to clients because even if you’re creating a safer space or you’re trying to suggest that someone have a longer hairstyle, if you say to a woman, ‘Would you like something more like a man’s style?’ it may insinuate to a woman who might simply want shorter hair, that she wants something that’s more ‘masculine.’ Proper verbiage is important, as is instilling awareness in your team members, which will help everyone better communicate with clients.”
And when it comes to working with clients who identify as non-binary (people with they/them pronouns), Ghaney says it’s paramount to not put them in a box. “Some non-binary people want to present a more feminine look one day and a more masculine look the next, so consider haircuts with fluid styles so they can still be transitionary for however they want to look.”
“FOR OWNERS WHO AREN’T SURROUNDED BY AS MUCH DIVERSITY, IT’S ABOUT HAVING A MENTALITY THAT’S OPEN AND FREE, AND MAKING SURE YOU DON’T STEREOTYPE ANYBODY.”
— JOSHUA BELAIR, OWNER, STUDIO COIFFURE PA, MONTREAL
Taking a Stance
Joshua Belair, owner of Montreal-based Studio Coiffure PA, decided to purchase his salon in 2017 to create an integrated, welcoming space that enables his staff to have a voice.
“By creating that environment in the salon, we noticed our philosophy started to attract clients that were more open and diversified,” says Belair, who introduced gender-neutral pricing in 2019. “We were starting to feel uncomfortable about asking a man with long hair to pay women’s pricing. That’s when we started to have the discussion together as a team to create a plan.”
He says it wasn’t as simple as changing pricing from men’s and women’s to short, medium and long. In fact, Belair and his team spent six months analyzing and categorizing their clientele based on hair length. The result: Six categories ranging from XXC to XL.
“We noticed that we have a lot of barber cuts in the salon, as well as clients with super-long hair, so we needed to have two more categories,” says Belair. “For example, we need categories for fades and extensions because they take more time. We decided to go with a pricing model that’s more like clothing sizes.”
Belair says taking the time to analyze the needs of his clientele was not only helpful in developing a gender-neutral pricing structure, but it also helped his entire team better understand their clients.
“When we were first creating the categories, we noticed some had fewer clients, which was an indicator for us to do more marketing around those cuts to get more clients in. For example, in one of the short-hair categories—a cut that’s done with scissors—I know there are a lot of women who still go to a salon with women’s and men’s pricing, and are paying more as a result. Since it takes less time for us to do shorter hair, which in turn makes the service cost less, we factored this into our marketing plan to attract more women.”
Like many salon owners who are apprehensive about changing (or raising) their prices, Belair was concerned about how men would adapt to the new prices. “Some men are so used to paying less for haircuts, but educating them about the amount of time it takes and how and why we’re doing this has resulted in them being very understanding of the pricing changes.”
Adapting a gender-neutral pricing model has also helped his salon better serve more of their community.
“With our salon being located in Montreal’s Gay Village, we’re surrounded by many different types of people, including transgender or non-binary people, so our pricing model is something that attracts a lot of that clientele,” he says. “We don’t judge based on what a client wants; it’s all about their inspiration and what they’re looking for as a style.”
When it comes to consultations, words and actions matter. Here are some things to keep in mind (and avoid) when offering more gender-inclusive consultations.
Ask questions about their hair history and preferences
Ask for photos as style references
Assume your client’s pronouns or preferences
Ask personal questions about themselves (or their coming-out story)
Judge based on physical appearance, gender stereotypes or personal opinion/biases
Speaking From Experience
For Jen Storey, owner of Adara Hair and Body Studio in Edmonton, offering gender-neutral pricing has been an important part of her business for more than eight years.
“My wife has short hair and she would complain about having to pay for a full, hour-long haircut for something that would only takes 20 minutes,” she says. “It was just something that was not sitting right with me. I later realized my front-end person and I had the same length of hair and we would have paid different prices for our cuts. It was a no-brainer to me that there should be consistent prices for set lengths, and it prompted me to take the time to think about our prices and menus.”
Storey also reached out to The Pride Centre of Edmonton for Safer Space Training—a program that educates businesses about pronouns and language to use.
“A lot of salons will do the price change but not follow up to make sure everyone uses the proper language that makes people feel comfortable and safe,” she says. “Changing the language in general and not talking about hair as a men’s or women’s haircut is a really good way to start. It goes back to hair schools; they should be changing the verbiage that we use right from the very beginning.”
During the pandemic, Storey took things one step further by offering “silent cuts,” an option that enables clients to have a service without talking.
“I noticed a lot of people were constantly talking about the pandemic and COVID, and there was just a lot of negativity going on,” she says. “Some people don’t want to hear about it anymore or talk about it anymore, and not everybody likes to make small talk while they’re getting their haircuts. We want everyone to feel comfortable and safe while they’re here, so if they’d like a silent cut, as soon as the consultation is done, we no longer make small talk.”
CONSIDER PARTICIPATING IN PRIDE-RELATED EVENTS TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT FOR THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY AND LEARN MORE ABOUT WAYS TO BECOME AN ALLY.
Breaking the Mold
While there continues to be a divide in the industry between salons and barbershops, there’s been an emergence of new spaces and studios now offering a gender-neutral experience.
For Daniela Perez and Nancy Haddad, co-owners of LES Studio in Toronto, which opened in July of last year, they wanted to create a space that was more inclusive. “We decided to open a genderless studio because we’ve had difficulties with our own hair journeys,” says Haddad. “I remember that when I got my first short haircut it was so liberating to chop off all the hair, but it wasn’t exactly how I wanted to it to look and there weren’t a lot of people I could go to and get the kind of style I wanted.” Perez says that while she has always liked a more feminine style, her affinity for undercuts would have her visiting a barbershop for the undercut and a salon for the haircut. “Finding a person or place where you can go, sit down and know that they’re going to give you what exactly what you want is super important for me. I always felt like I never really belonged when I worked in a salon or barbershop, so I wanted to create a place of belonging and acceptance for ourselves and other people.”
At LES Studio, not only do they offer gender-neutral pricing that’s based on length and time, but they employ a diverse team of hairstylists, barbers and specialists. “We have a very open and inclusive staff with a range of ethnicities and gender expressions, including non-binary and allies,” says Perez. “For us, it was important to be able to provide our clients with different skill sets. We have people who specialize in colour, dreadlocks and braids, etc. I specialize in curly and textured hair, as well as shags, while Nancy is more on the barbering side.”
“If you have both skill sets and can do short and long, you might as well open your space and promote inclusivity by charging by length and not gender,” adds Haddad. “That way, you can have a variety of people coming in but with the skill sets you’re comfortable with.”
While the idea originated from studios that Perez and Haddad noticed while living and working in New York, they admit it was risky to open up their own space in the middle of the pandemic.
“At first, we weren’t sure how well it was going to do. It’s been done before in Toronto but it’s a newer concept,” says Perez. “We just trusted that our passion project would turn into something that other people would feel happy with and passionate about, and it’s paid off. It started with a lot of word-of-mouth and now we’re really busy. I think the pandemic put things into perspective for a lot of us in the sense that people became more accepting of their hair, style and even sexuality. So, if people are willing to try and discover different things, and you’re charging by length and not gender, you give them the freedom to express themselves a little more.”
“HAVING GENDER-INCLUSIVE PRICING NATURALLY OPENS YOURSELF TO MORE CLIENTS.”
— DANIELA PEREZ, CO-OWNER, LES STUDIO, TORONTO
Ways to Offer a More Gender-Inclusive Experience
- Update booking system to enable clients to include their chosen name and pronouns. Remove gender honorifics (Mr., Mrs., etc.) or add a gender-neutral honorific (Mx.)
- Implement gender-neutral washrooms
- Incorporate gender-neutral interior design elements
- Use products with neutral scents and packaging
- Bring in educators to teach staff about gender-inclusive language and practices
At Album Hair in Toronto, owner Dat Tran introduced gender-neutral pricing more than five years ago.
“I think being a gender-neutral salon is being human and it means that we look at each other beyond our external appearance,” he says. “We’re living in a time where there are binaries and we should be aware and be able to accommodate that. It’s the future of our industry.”
Throughout the past five years, Tran has adjusted pricing to reflect variables, such as extra-long hair, density or for clients who are requesting a major change in length.
Since many owners and stylists are nervous about increasing or changing their prices, Tran says it’s important to know your worth.
“Sometimes we overvalue or undervalue ourselves as hairstylists,” he says. “We want to be fair while keeping in mind that as a professional hairstylist, we want to be paid for our time and experience—and that’s okay. For example, if a client has medium- length hair and it’s thicker, I’ll charge it as a long. Or for someone with medium- length hair getting a short haircut, I still charge a medium because going from medium to short is technically a change. For me, I would still charge because of my experience, which is what creates the value in every service.”
To offer a more gender-inclusive salon experience, Tran says it comes down to education and communication. “If I can understand the client, I can better help them and create what they’re looking for,” he says. “How can I make them feel good about themselves? What are they looking to create? How do they want to be viewed? That’s how I look at things.”
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has impacted the way hairstylists and beauty professionals offer their services and interact with clients. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of how people are treated from the moment they enter your salon or shop.
“Mentally, everyone is exhausted from the pandemic,” says Tran. “People are looking at themselves more harshly than anyone else would. So, as a hairstylist, how can I neutralize that?
People want to be healthy and aware of their mental health. We make people happy with how they look, which offers huge mental benefits. When you can create an aesthetic that someone wears every day and feels good and confident about, you’re positively impacting their lives. And when it comes to beauty, I believe it’s universal and shouldn’t have genders associated with it.”