Debate: does a sisterhood exist in the beauty industry?

Recently, I was asked to go on breakfast TV to participate in a debate on women in the workplace. The subject was, “are women meaner than men?”. And not in the financial stakes, but as bosses – are women harder, less kind, more manipulative, bitchier? 

On items like this you can never be vanilla or try to sit on the fence so they wanted me to fight the women’s corner and say that, from my experience, men were meaner. The trouble is, I’m not sure it’s that black and white. Luckily, the item got pulled because of a breaking news issue, so the media spotlight was turned to something else.

Do women support other women in the beauty industry?

I don’t think that anyone could argue the fact that the beauty industry is predominantly made up of women. From therapists to nail techs, female workers outnumber men in the beauty and spa sector. While the vast majority of women in leadership or managerial roles are hugely nurturing and take the mentoring element of their role extremely seriously, some are not.

Equally, some of the men I worked with before I had my own business were very empowering whereas some were happy to take credit from the powers that be for ideas and results generated by the younger men and women working in their teams, sometimes shamelessly.

My point would have been that such behaviour isn’t necessarily gender specific. It all depends on whether somebody is kind, considerate and views their role of responsibility as an opportunity to praise and motivate younger team members working for them, or whether they are selfish and greedy enough to tread over anybody in order to climb that corporate ladder.  

Some women can be fantastic bosses, as can some men – and both sexes can be utter bullying pigs in the workplace. Trying to stereotype it by gender doesn’t help anyone. Hopefully, karma will out and if you’re an unpleasant boss you won’t keep hold of your staff eventually you’ll get found out.  

How we can strengthen the beauty industry sisterhood?

I was thinking the other day how proud I am that I’m still in touch with Steph, who I met on my first day of infant school, Ali C and Ali P (ditto for junior and secondary schools), Les and Mary, my first bosses, and Heath, my bestie who I met through work in 1988. We’ve all been though all the stuff life chucks at you, and they’re all there for me. Women in general are hugely supportive of other women. 

Sadly, I also know of at least two female executives working at a very high level in our sector who’ve had serious bullying grievances raised against them by younger women working for them (and I can believe it) yet they remain in their jobs. How? 

So, is there such a thing as the sisterhood? Sometimes yes, other times no. Being a tough cookie in business as a woman can label you a “ball breaker” when in reality it’s simply that you don’t take any crap. That sort of stereotyping is sexism at its worst. My business acumen has nothing to do with my gender and hopefully everything to do with my brain. 

Some of the worst ego-fuelled back-stabbing I’ve ever experienced has been from women who have gone on to PR their “sisterhood” credentials. What a shame. Perhaps it was good that programme got cancelled after all.

Hellen WardHellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London, one of the most profitable independent salons in the UK. She is beauty ambassador for the National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF).

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