Reflections from a Barber: The Prevalence of DEI in the Hair Industry

A Latino male barber with tatoo body art visible on hands and neck trims the hair of a Black man sitting in front of him wearing a black barber's cape.

Step into the vibrant world of the hair industry, where every snip and clip tells a story of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The aroma of Clippercide disinfectant fills the air, catching the early morning light in its path. Every Barber chair has a unique person sitting in it, sharing their life experiences or stories in some form or another. The Barber to the right of me speaks their first language with their client, laughing about stories from their countries of origin. The Barber to the left of me, a son of two Immigrant parents, performs a hot shave on an older adult who has been getting hot shaves routinely since well before I was born. More times than not, the vibrant diversity of Canadian culture feels showcased in a busy Barbershop. Despite retiring from being a Barber, the Hair Industry undoubtedly has showcased different aspects of DEI, or lack thereof, to me time and time again.

As of 2021, almost a quarter of the Canadian population are, or at some point have been, an Immigrant or Permanent Resident, according to Statistics Canada. As such, Barbershops and Hair Salons inherently deal with diverse clientele. In 2021 to 2023, the market size, measured by revenue, of the hair care industry alone was between 1.62 to 1.76 billion CAD, according to Statistics Canada. So, with such a diverse population, and a consistently growing market size, what is the prevalence of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the hair industry? Here are some industry reflections from a retired Barber:

DEI Gaps in Barber Training

Have you ever walked into a Barbershop to see if there was time for a haircut, but were turned away due to the texture of your hair, and the lack of experienced Barbers who can cut it? This is a troubling truth in the Hair Industry that doesn’t gain much attention. The gap between what is being taught in hair schools or training courses doesn’t match the needs of many people. Those who have coily or curly hair generally can’t just walk-into any Barbershop, they have to seek out specialized shops that deal primarily with coiled hair. This gap between education and real-world practice needs to be addressed and changed, as the harm and exclusion it causes is unacceptable and damaging to many.

Diversity in Clientele

Barbershops are generally very culturally vibrant and diverse places, with a wide variety of different folks passing through. Whether it be immigrants, newcomers, or refugees, or those who identify as 2SLGTBQI+, the relaxing yet social experience of a good haircut is truly for all. Because of the daily diverse clientele, Barbers generally are mindful of cross-cultural interactions in their daily practice and utilize Cultural Competency. In our previous blog post, we defined Cultural Competency as the ability to be aware of your own culture, that others have a culture that is as vast and complex as your own, and ultimately how these cultures interact with each other. More and more Barbershops promote themselves as diverse and/or safe spaces, while an increasing number of “old school” shops that promote toxic stereotypes or practices are closing their doors. Seeing Barbershops and Hair Salons increasingly promote their inclusivity is not only great for both employee and client morale, but it nurtures the ever-growing DEI movement, and the rise of Culturally Competent professionals.

Positive Changes for the Future

although there are inherent problems in the Hair Industry that need to be addressed, positive changes are occurring. The rise in different hair education courses to cut all types of hair, the inclusion of 2SLGTBQI+ flags and safe space indicators, and the overall cultural shift in hair care spaces becoming more diverse, equitable, and inclusive rings a positive tone for the days to come, that will ultimately benefit employer, employee, and clients alike.

If you want to consider expanding your knowledge on how important DEI related topics are to a workplace, be sure to consider Basecamp: DEI Foundations Certificate for a safe environment to not only learn but to grow.

Noah Hobbs, a Settlement Studies student at Norquest College, is an intern with MT Consulting Group, writing about intercultural competence and DEI in industry.

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