Why the beauty profession deserves respect

Did you know our sector is worth almost £7 billion a year in the UK? Or that hair and beauty salons are among the largest employers of apprentices in the country? And that we are mainly made up of SMEs (small and medium size enterprises) and, as such, are very entrepreneurial?

So, why are we so negatively portrayed as a profession? Why are we still tainted with the “hair and beauty is what you do if you’re thick” mind-set?

I always say I am bright in all the wrong ways. Not an academic, I couldn’t wait to leave school and start earning money. I was driven to climb the corporate career ladder into management and think I can hold my own among any group of entrepreneurs. Just because what I do is hair and beauty, that does not make me stupid. I am not a radical feminist but an “equalist” and have never felt discriminated against. I’m of Eleanor Roosevelt’s school of thought that the only person that can make you feel intimidated is yourself.

But, sadly, as a profession, our industry is not seen like that by others. At a recent dinner, I was talking to a banker. We were both guests of a famous restauranteur. I asked the banker about his job (hedge funds) but got quite a dismissive response when querying what his day entailed, akin to, “don’t worry, you wouldn’t understand”.

I’d spent all evening telling him about my various responsibilities across my company directorships (HR, PR and marketing, finance, operations) and even shared our turnover and volume of business (40 countries), so I was horrified when he said, “So, are you in the salon cutting hair tomorrow?”

Maybe too much Bombay Sapphire had kicked in by then, but he got a fiery retort from me. “Would you ask our restaurateur host if he’ll be flipping burgers in his restaurants tomorrow night?”, I asked. “No, of course you wouldn’t, so why say that to me?” Not that there is anything wrong in cutting hair or working a column in a beauty room, but why did he assume that what he does is so complex, and what I do so farcical? What makes one of us a businessperson and the other "just a hairdresser"?

Once I pointed this out, he was mortified and spent the rest of the night apologising, but it was too late. He assured me he wasn’t sexist and I believed him, but he was missing the point. He was being elitist and as such he still experienced my wrath.

It’s sadly all too common. My children board at one of the most expensive schools in the country and yet they still suffer the question, “How can your parents afford to send you here if they’re just hairdressers?”. People don’t seem to compute that some seriously successful professionals made their money out of our sector. Maybe we aren’t academic in the conventional Oxbridge sense, but we can certainly be proud of the business nous we have in our industry.

We all have a responsibility to ensure our profession is given the respect it deserves, especially in the age of artificial intelligence, where experts believe we will end up outlasting all manner of other careers. I hope I’m around to be laughing the loudest when the robots replace those who dare to belittle us now.

Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London’s Sloane Square and chair of Trailblazers for the hairdressing sector. Send your feedback to hellen@professionalbeauty.co.uk