Why Are All the Top Hairstylists Men?

IMG_1227I’m getting highlights at the famous Chris McMillan Salon in Beverly Hills.  McMillan, stylist to the stars, is best known for creating Jennifer Aniston’s famous Rachel cut.  He now pockets for $600 for a haircut from those lucky enough to snag an appointment (Just FYI, I’m here to see someone else).   There’s no questioning McMillan’s talent, but I can’t help wonder why the current phenoms of the hair world are all men.  With the exception of a few token female stylists (Sally Hershberger is the only one who comes to mind), lists of the most highly-paid or celebrity stylists are almost exclusively male.  McMillan is joined on these lists with fellow hairstylists like Orlando Pita, Frederic Fekkai, Cristophe, and Jose Eber.  I understand why the top levels of some occupations may be male-dominated, but hairstyling?

Women have so much more experience with hair than men.  Obsession with hair starts at a young age for girls.   Little sisters of the boys on my son’s hockey team fix each other’s hair while their brothers slam into one another on the ice.  As a teenager, I spent hours with curling irons, hot rollers and blow dryers.  In fact, when it comes to hair, I have certainly exceeded the 10,000 hours rule.  No doubt, most of my female friends have as well (In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that after roughly 10,000 hours of practice you will achieve mastery in a field.) It’s not that women aren’t entering the profession,   The Bureau of Labor Statistics  reports that 85% of employees in “personal appearance” occupations are female.  What’s keeping these women from reaching  the top?

I asked world-famous Cristophe why so few women made it to the very top of his profession.  Cristophe told me that women are the primary consumers of expensive haircuts, and they’re not just paying for a good cut.  They want to feel beautiful, and a man is more naturally able to provide this experience to women.

That makes sense, but I can’t help think there’s more to it.  After all, men beating women at their own game isn’t limited to hairstyling.  Men outearn women in other female-dominated areas as well.   Look at secretaries and nurses, two of the most female-dominated professions.  Female secretaries earn only 90.6% as much as male secretaries, and female nurses earn just 86.5% as much as male nurses.   In other words, for every dollar earned, male secretaries earn about ten cents more than female secretaries, and male nurses earn almost 14 cents more than female nurses.

Perhaps it’s the ol’ boy network in action.  Maybe male hairstylists have more access to funds to open their own salons, networks to promote their business, and contacts to get them that celebrity client who will put them on the map.  At least that’s the theory as to why male nurses get ahead.  They’re able to befriend the male-dominated senior management, and use these connections for promotions and pay raises.

In the case of hairstylists, I get that women (myself included) perpetuate this problem by laying out big bucks for beauty – but why women do that is a subject for a future blog post.   This one’s about why men are beating women in professions that should be a slam-dunk for women.

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