Ever worked in a salon, realised it was toxic and unhealthy, left for another salon… only to find that they were toxic and unhealthy too? It becomes a vicious, exhausting cycle and it can make working in hair and beauty really bleak. So what can we do to fix this?
One of the founders of Hair Stylists Australia, Adrienne (on the right), is sharing her experience to help others starting out in the industry can find where to go for support.
“I was working as a third-year apprentice in a large salon with about 20 other employees when the workplace revealed itself to be really toxic,” she says. On top of completely neglecting her training, the manager of the salon began bullying Adrienne, calling her names and making really inappropriate comments.
Adrienne was lucky that the senior stylists took her under their wing, “They were very technically brilliant hairdressers, and took it upon themselves to train me.”
“I was working seven days a week, and the manager would change the roster without notifying anyone, so she’d change the start time without telling you, and call you and angrily ask why you’re not there on time, little things like that”.
Then the bullying escalated, and during a meeting one day the manager made a comment about the size of her forehead, “She said it means you have a big vagina. Just ludicrous, right?” Adrienne recalls.
Adrienne turned to the owners of the salon for help and found no support at all. “He told me to stop being a princess.” She was refused a transfer to another salon and felt as though she had nowhere to turn, so put in her resignation. “That was the worst salon I was at,” she says.
But each one left her stressed and burnt-out from the bullying. “I’ve worked in salons where the environment was so toxic that people barely even spoke to me, I’d be given a list of 200 things to do like cleaning brushes, mopping, cleaning basins. I was a first-year apprentice but there was no education at all, not even passing up foils. I was basically a cleaner.”
“On top of that, the owner wasn’t taking out my tax, so at tax time, I received a bill for $2000, when I was only earning $200 a week.”
Adrienne realised that enough was enough, and something needed to change. “I knew it was shit. When you don’t want to go in to work, that’s when you know it’s toxic. It took me leaving hairdressing to realise you don’t have to hate your job; you shouldn’t have trouble getting out of bed in the morning because you don’t want to go to work.”
Adrienne had gone to multiple other unions wanting to start a hairdressing union, with 100 signatures that she collected over 6 months. “I had a conversation with my friends talking about their union, nurses and teachers. I spent six months trying to put together my own union, pitching it around to unions, and it was when I got to AWU, they were like hang on a second, we’ve been thinking about this and have been developing a campaign from there.” she remembers. That was the start of HSA and it’s grown to what it is today.
When asked what advice she has for people starting out in the industry and experiencing similar problems, Adrienne says “Self-care is really important as well when you’re in a tough environment and may not be able to leave. That was my problem, apprentices are paid so little so leaving on a whim isn’t really an option. So take care of yourself and reach for support as much as you can.”
“I wish I had HSA. You do still need to go through the same channels, raising issues with the manager, but when that doesn’t work and you have nowhere to go, HSA can help give you the tools to negotiate better or to fight on your behalf, bring in the muscle.”
Bullying and harassment is the biggest issue we face in the industry, and it is never, ever acceptable. At HSA, we’re working hard to resolve workplace bullying, both by helping individual members with their issues, and by raising the conversation with our #demandrespect campaign, encouraging more hair stylists to speak up and speak out.
Unless we see industry-wide change, stories like Adrienne’s, and Joel’s, and Liz’s, and the other members that we have shared on our website, will keep being retold. We need to break the culture of workplace bullying, of turning the other way, of ‘sucking it up’ and thinking that it will be all right in the end. The more employers we take head-on, as a union and a collective, the stronger we will all be.
Despite this experience, Adrienne still loves hairdressing, “I used to do peoples hair on the floor at lunchtime at school, hairdressing was always what I was going to do, I didn’t have a plan B. At the end of the day the industry needs improving. It deserves to be a better industry”.