We asked a series of salon owners, freelancers and LGBTQIA2S+ advocates for their advice when it comes to gender inclusivity. Here, they answer some of the most common questions hair professionals face as they take the first steps to making their business more open and welcoming to everyone, no matter how they identify.
Providing tips based on their expertise and their own experiences are:
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT:
Keri Blue (they/them) – barber and founder of HAIR HAS NO GENDER UK
Murray McRae (he/him) and Bridget Bridget Honan (she/her) – owners of Stag in Edinburgh
Marcus Short (he/him) – a stylist at Laundry in Sheffield
Francys Frear (they/them) – a freelance stylist working in Bournemouth
Kristin Rankin (they/them) – owner of Fox & Jane in Toronto and founder of The Dresscode Project
How do I get started making my hair business more gender inclusive?“I would say adding gender-neutral pronouns and titles (they/them, Mx) to your booking systems is a good place to start,” says Keri. “Then you can change your price list ensure services are gender neutral, for example charging by time rather than gender.”
“I agree. Gender-neutral pricing just makes sense, it’s really logical,” adds Murray.
“It’s great to show varied representation in your marketing too, like Laundry has done,” adds Keri. “Check your business socials – are all your pictures the same? Remember the clients’ journey spans from searching online to sitting in your chair.”
“It’s really not that hard, and by doing so not only are you being more supportive, better humans, you’re also opening up to potential new clients from a business side,” adds Marcus. “We’ve had clients come from Manchester and other cities after seeing ‘they/them and ‘inclusive’ on the Laundry website.”
“Absolutely. Pricing based solely on hair length, density and intricacy of cut or colour, will actually broaden income,” says Francys.
“And it’s super-important to educate and train your staff,” adds Keri. “You may even have a trans or non-binary staff member that comes out to you as a result.”
What do I do if I (or a member of staff) accidentally misgenders someone or uses their deadname (the previous name used by those who have since transitioned)?
“If you misgender or mis-name a client or colleague, correct yourself immediately and then just move on,” says Francys. “I personally don’t feel you should apologise as this creates a dialogue for the affected individual to tell you ‘It’s fine’ when in reality, it’s not. It can make the client feel like they are causing conflict by saying they don’t accept the apology and could also increase anxiety in that individual.”
“People like to linger in an apology,” agrees Kristin. “It’s most likely because it makes them feel like they are explaining why they accidentally made the mistake. But as Francys highlights, in doing some thing like that you can actually further make the person you misgendered feel more uncomfortable. So a simple ‘Sorry’ and continuing on with the conversation is the best route to take.”
“Yes, saying sorry is fine, but it’s about acknowledging your mistake and learning from it,” says Keri.
“If you misgender someone and you didn’t realise, they will often correct you,” Francys explains. “If this happens, simply thank them, use the correct language and move the conversation on. For example, this is how it should play out at the backwash:
Stylist: ‘Please may you shampoo my client with a repairing shampoo, her hair is a little damaged towards the ends.’
Client: ‘Oh, my pronouns are they/them.’
Stylist: ‘Whoops, thank you for correcting me. Please use the repairing shampoo as their hair is damaged towards the ends.’
“It’s good to always repeatedly use someone’s correct pronouns a few times in situations to ensure it engrains in your brain for the future,” they add. “Remember, it’s ok to make mistakes! We all slip up and as long as you are making the effort and are looking to improve, then everyone will be able to get there.”
How do you ask someone for their pronouns or communicate them to another member of salon or barbershop staff?“Be aware, someone’s pronouns are not ‘preferred’,” Kristin explains. ” Their pronouns are there pronouns, so we don’t use that kind of language at the Dresscode Project. I actually like to put myself out there first so the way that I will ask someone for their pronouns is by offering mine first. It can really make someone feel comfortable knowing that you already understand the conversation.”
“I always ask clients for their pronouns and I always presume that they are they/them until informed otherwise,” says Francys. “This stops there being any chance of me misgendering a client and making them feel uncomfortable from the outset. I will also start almost every conversation with a client, new brand or at networking events by explaining that I am GNC and go by they/them pronouns,” they add. “I work a lot with Wella Professionals and as a brand it is really embracing using pronouns in all their staff members’ contact info to insure inclusivity is being pushed to the max.
“I find it really is a great conversation opener as it creates an educational dialogue for many people who aren’t super-informed on the topic,” Francys explains. “Everyone can learn from and embrace one another without having to fear any judgement.”
“At Stag, we ask for pronouns when people book an appointment online and on the phone, and this is saved on a note on the clients appointment that we check before greeting the client so we can ensure no one is accidentally misgendered,” Murray explains. “In general we have a practice of using gender neutral terms in the shop, so for example we would say ‘Your client is ready for you’ rather than ‘The lady at the door is your next appointment’ as well.”
My client has recently come out to me as trans. How can I support them?“The best way to support someone who has recently come out to you as a transgender human is by respecting the fact that they decided to share that information with you,” says Kristin. “Ask them if there is anything that they need from you, but otherwise just carry on treating them just as well as you were treat any other human being.”
“Think about how you would support any client that has had a life changing experience’ Keri agrees. “People change and that’s okay. As barbers and stylists we see our clients go through so much change – from marriage to divorce, birth to death, surgery, depression… all of it – and we manage to support them. This is just another change we can navigate with them, and also an opportunity to give them a haircut to help them look the way they feel.”
“Remember,” Kristin adds, “their trans-ness does not define them. So making everything from that point on about them being trans will actually most likely make them feel uncomfortable. By having a gender inclusive menu, atmosphere and community within your business you will already be supporting them. If they choose to share more about their trans journey with you, follow their lead and ask thoughtful and intentional questions that will help them continue feel as comfortable as possible through their gender journey and their gender expression.”
“We have such a great job that gives us the ability to help people in ways like this” says Keri. “Embrace that!”
How do I communicate allyship in our salon or barbershop?“Allyship is a big one and it’s super important,” says Kristin. “Decor and music cues, as used by Francys in their space, are great and by providing safer more gender-affirming hair spaces in your salon you are supporting the LGBTQIA2S+ communities in their ability to get haircuts that reflect the way they feel and make them feel affirmed.”
“Improving inclusivity on your website and showing varied representation through your socials, like Laundry’s shoot did, is a huge help for anyone seeking our safer salon spaces,” adds Keri. “You can also reach out to local LGBTQIA2S+ communities in your local area, and FaceBook is a great tool for this.”
“At Stag, we create a lot of messaging and promotion on our Instagram and shop floor about the safe space we’re trying to create, which can range from sharing trans awareness information on our stories to reaching out to LGBTQIA2S+ youth charities to invite the young people they work for for a haircut,” says Bridget. “Small things like hanging a pride flag in the window are simple but signify your salon, shop or workplace is an inclusive space.”
“Educating yourself and doing the work is the best way an ally can provide support to clients who identify outside of the typically excepted idea of the gender binary,” Kristin affirms. “That can of course include specialist training with organisations like The Dresscode Project, but there’s a growing amount of info out there.”
“Research, research and more research!” agrees Francys. “There are many online resources about gender inclusivity – simply head to Google and read up on the topic to help yourself make informed decisions on how to improve inclusivity across your services.”