How to Make it As Female Barber in the Industry
To celebrate International Women’s Day we chatted to Sophie Collins, The Bluebeards Revenge ambassador, and Vivienne Howe, aka The Barberfly, to get their perspective on the barbering industry and the role of women within it.
Do you feel like you work in a male-dominated industry?
Sophie: It did feel like this was the case when I started out in the industry in 2011, but over the last few years I have seen an increasing number of female barbers. This is fantastic as standards have risen as a result.
Vivienne: Yes I do. There are men everywhere! I think maybe 80-90% of barbers I know are men. Traditionally men looked after men’s hair and women looked after women’s hair, but now there’s more and more people entering non-traditional gender roles – I think it’s great!
What do you say to encourage more women to enter the barbering industry?
Sophie: Believe in yourself and your ability and don’t focus too much on your gender. At the end of the day, skill has no gender. Work hard, always be willing to learn and ultimately, believe in yourself. If you follow these basic rules then your success will eventually get noticed.
Vivienne: Don’t be scared. The expectation and demand in women’s hairdressing is so high with social media showcasing work like immediate colour changes. Men are demanding don’t get me wrong, but it’s not on such a large scale.
At the end of the day, skill has no gender. Work hard, always be willing to learn and ultimately, believe in yourself.
What do you think needs to be done on an industry level to encourage more women to enter the barbering industry?
Sophie: It would be great if more barber and hairdressing magazines gave female barbers more exposure. Then more women would see the work of other women and become inspired by it. This would would act as a catalyst. I’m sure I inspired women to enter more competitions with my success at Britain’s Best Shave 2017. This was my primary reason for entering, to show that women can be successful on stage. I’m also an official ambassador for The Bluebeards Revenge male grooming brand and this opens up a number of great opportunities to raise my profile in the industry and to the wider public. It would be fantastic if other grooming brands also showed faith in female barbers in this way.
Vivienne: I think women sometimes feel like they don’t belong in a stereotypical male industry. They may not feel comfortable learning around so many men. It could be personal or cultural. I think female-only classes would be a great way to make women feel more comfortable, but I think having male and female teachers is important so that both genders are contributing to the industry. I also think barbering should be offered along side hairdressing, so the option to learn both starts at the beginning of someone’s career.
Do you think women tend to be less confident on stage or putting themselves forward in competitions? If so, how can we change this narrative?
Sophie: I think some women lack confidence, not only in their work but in themselves. I think you have to be quite bubbly and conversational to perform well on the big stage, as this helps to block out the crowds and calm the nerves. I think sometimes it’s nice to have female educators so women can work together and they can encourage them from the start and help them to focus on competitions and stage work.
Vivienne: I do and I think it’s because we feel like we don’t belong and can be made to feel like it’s only a man’s job and only men can do it well. More women are becoming barbers but unfortunately any acceptance of change to societal norms is a slow process. We need to help society move in that direction quicker. I think the more people see the “unconventional” (like female barbers, gender neutral price lists etc) the easier it will be for us to push ourselves forward and feel like we really belong.
I think the more people see the “unconventional” (like female barbers, gender neutral price lists etc) the easier it will be for us to push ourselves forward and feel like we really belong
What are the benefits of having male clients? Is the conversation different?
Sophie: I think you have to have good banter to get on and interact well with male customers. This helps to build a good long term relationship and will ensure repeat custom. I like motorbikes and I love sports so I can have a great conversation about the football, rugby or cricket. I also think you have to be open as men have started to talk about issues such as mental health issues. It’s encouraging to see that they are talking and not keeping issues bottled up. This is another reason why I enjoy my work with The Bluebeards Revenge as they work very closely with the Lions Barber Collective on preventing male suicide.
Vivienne: One of the main benefits of having male clients is that you can ask their perspective on things. Getting an insight into men’s opinions and thought processes can be helpful. Whether that’s at work or in your private life. The conversations can be different because the service is shorter so you don’t always tend to go into deep conversations because there isn’t the time. It takes a few visits to build up that kind of relationship where you feel you can go into things more deeply.
Have you ever had clients who acted surprised when they’ve realised a female barber will be cutting their hair? If so how do you win them round? If not why do you think that is?Sophie: Yes all the time as I don’t really advertise the fact I’m a female barber. It shouldn’t be any different really, and if anything us female barbers give better haircuts than our male counterparts. I try to put them at ease, and just say if they feel a bit unsure to sit and watch me perform a cut and they can then make a choice on whether they want me to cut their hair or not. I also say that if they don’t like the finished cut then I won’t charge them a penny, but of course this never happens as my cuts are always superb.
Vivienne: Some people act surprised when I call them over. I would say only a few that act surprised continue to behave awkwardly or rudely. I’m just extra polite and almost annoyingly accommodating to people behaving like that. What can they complain about? That I was too nice? That I asked too many questions to ensure they’re happy? Some people won’t change their perspective or opinions. You’ve just got to carry on because if you let people dull your light you won’t shine!
Some people act surprised when I call them over. I would say only a few that act surprised continue to behave awkwardly or rudely. I’m just extra polite and almost annoyingly accommodating to people behaving like that.
Obviously the majority of your clients are men – what advantages / disadvantages do you feel there are to being a female barber in a male environment?
Sophie: The advantages: Men ask you more for styling advice; they are willing to listen to your opinion on what hairstyle would suit them best.
The disadvantages: Some men still turn up and walk in to my barbershop for a cut not expecting a female and can then be put on the spot a little. This can make you feel like you’ve done something wrong and you shouldn’t be doing the job. I also feel relationships can be affected because their partners can sometimes feel threatened due to the fact they have a female cutting their hair.
The advantages: I think being female sometimes you’re not expected to be as good as one of the guys and when a customer holding that opinion is proven wrong that surprise factor is something I don’t think as a man you can get. I think women are more critical of flaws (often mistaken for whinging!) so this can give us an edge when it comes to the details.
The disadvantages: Being in a predominantly male environment can make it hard to comfortably communicate at times. Sometimes things are said as ‘banter’ and other times things said can just be insulting or extremely inappropriate. Depending on the situation you either have to let it slide to remain professional or deal with it calmly another time.