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The Prejudice Problem: Businesses Fighting Beauty Career Stereotypes

Published April 23, 2023
Published April 23, 2023
Hair Spies via Unsplash

The beauty industry plays a huge part in the way the world works. In the present day, the sector provides over two million jobs worldwide, with 167,730 people employed directly and 1.63 million indirectly through the cosmetic supply chain. Throughout the pandemic, beauty and personal care became a sanctuary for countless individuals, with 88% of consumers reporting an increase in self-care during lockdown, as searches for the term saw a 250% increase year over year, with the self-care industry predicted to be worth $13 billion by 2026. However, despite such growth figures and so many depending on the industry, stigma and prejudice surrounding careers in the beauty space have been deeply rooted in society for several decades and very much still exist today.

The perception of beauty-based jobs has held a negative connotation for a long stretch of time, with many associating jobs including cosmetics to be for those with low levels of academic comprehension. The stigmatization runs so deeply that pop-culture references surrounding the topic date back to the 1970s and 1980s, including Frenchy, the "beauty school dropout" in the movie Grease, Dolly Parton's dumbfounded beautician character in Steel Magnolias, and Educating Rita, a movie that suggests a woman in a beauty career is never fully satisfied, and should seek a more "typically academic" career path. While these films cannot be solely to blame for prejudice towards beauty-focused careers, the examples show that the pessimistic view is prominent enough in society for it to become a recurring theme.

While it may be argued that these are just outdated films and not an accurate reflection of the world's view on beauty careers today, several real-life examples of the stereotype are still surfacing. Negative opinions surrounding beauty careers were confirmed to exist in a study conducted by Oonagh M. Harness at  Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, UK, which focused on the stigma surrounding beauty careers. One tutor told Harness, "I think one of the main challenges is the stereotype. I think sometimes students who would be brilliant in the beauty industry, who maybe have really good grades at school, are dissuaded from going into vocational areas because educators in school see it as something people do who aren't very clever."

Countless examples of firsthand experiences have also been documented across social media, of which many can be found under the search term "beauty career stigma" on TikTok. In one video, the founder of the independent salon Faith Beauty Studio highlights the stigma she faced when expressing her desire to pursue beauty professionally. The beginning of the clip begins with judgmental comments the beautician has heard all too often. "Beauty therapy isn't a career; you'll be on minimum wage. It's the easy option," one reads. The video then reveals that the young professional spent four years studying toward a diploma in beauty therapy, became a spa manager at 19, and began her own business at 21, owning her own salon studio by 23.

The stigma is not only surrounding careers in beauty therapy. It also has a significant hold over STEM beauty careers. Speaking on the My Best Friend's An Engineer podcast, cosmetic chemist and MUA Asia Fee discussed her challenges when pursuing her career, which led her to delay becoming a cosmetics chemist. "The reason why I went into chemistry directly as opposed to cosmetic chemistry is because a lot of us are judged by our appearance … wearing full lashes or bright lipsticks causes association with being vapid or unintelligent. It's seen as not necessarily professional," she states. Fee explains that she did not want to be assigned to this perception, which led her to put off pursuing her dream. "The best way to support and push yourself to follow your dreams if you are behind barriers is to continue being you, keep wearing that bright lipstick, keep talking with like-minded people, and don't let anything or anyone else hold you back," she concludes.

Despite endless examples of judgment towards those choosing a career in the beauty sector, industry professionals worldwide are refusing to back down and are instead responding with educational grants and programs to aid young talents in achieving their dreams. The British Beauty Council is one organization tackling the issue at its core. Its Future Talent Program is committed to helping young people enter a career in beauty. As part of the initiative, industry leaders are visiting schools and hosting lessons surrounding opportunities in beauty, including more typically recognized roles such as beauty therapy, as well as to less public-facing positions in beauty STEM, such as cosmetic science and scent technology.

"As a young person, I never knew of the abundant and fulfilling careers available in the beauty and cosmetics industry."
By Millie Kendall OBE, CEO, British Beauty Council

The program highlights beauty's importance in everyday life, asking questions in marketing films such as "Not sure beauty is relevant to you? Did you brush your teeth this morning? Apply sunscreen?" The clever and concise way of communicating with the program's intended audience highlights the benefits of such a career and is sure to etch away at the stigma surrounding the sector.

"As a young person, I never knew of the abundant and fulfilling careers available in the beauty and cosmetics industry. I worked as a hairdresser, and only by trial and error did I end up with the colorful career I have managed to create. We want this program to fast-track young people towards suitable career options, thus ensuring we have a seamless flow of talent," says Millie Kendall OBE, CEO of the British Beauty Council.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Italian fashion school Istituto Marangoni launched courses dedicated to the cosmetics industry for its 2023 academic year. The courses are set to take place on campuses in Paris, Milan, and Florence. They include a bachelor's degree in Perfume and Cosmetics Management, focusing on merchandising, product development, marketing, and branding, a master's  degree in Perfume and Cosmetics Management, a master's degree in Olfactory Experience Management, and an annual intensive course in Product Management for Fragrances and Cosmetics.

"Projections show that the cosmetics and fragrance industry will grow from generating $500 billion in sales to $700 billion by 2027. Istituto Marangoni, which has always supported talents in the world of fashion, design, and luxury, couldn't miss the opportunity to grasp the potential of such a strategic market that is so close to the DNA of its educational offer. There's a huge need for training as the industry is rapidly changing," says Istituto Marangoni's Managing Director, Stefania Valenti.

In the US, Southern California's Genesis Bank announced its Beauty Industry Professional Advisors (BIPA) consortium in mid-April. The collective of professionals is focused on providing comprehensive support for businesses in the nail and beauty industry. Clients of BIPA will be granted access to financial and business education, technical assistance to resources, and pathways to capital. The program was created to uplift independent beauty businesses, which the company believes are often pushed to the side when it comes to business education.

"On behalf of Genesis Bank and the Genesis Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship, we are thrilled to announce the formation of the Beauty Industry Professional Advisors partnership. As one of only two diverse, multiracial Minority Depository Institutions in the US, our mission has always been to lead first and foremost with ideas and brain power through a consultative and advisory approach that is committed to prioritizing the needs of clients and the broader minority communities we serve across Southern California," says Stephen H. Gordon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Genesis Bank.

While it would be impossible to eradicate all stigma surrounding careers in the beauty industry, actively working towards more respect and resources for such jobs is set to have many benefits. Through initiatives such as the Future Talent Program, new educational degrees in beauty, and BIPA, thousands of individuals hoping to enter the industry, who have been put off due to lack of knowledge, resources, and stigma, are sure to thrive. The beauty industry is not the only sector facing such a fate, and of course other industries face prejudice and discrimination. Still, as businesses pioneer more acceptance, this influence can infiltrate other industries, creating a more accepting working society for all. Ultimately, consistency, passion, and striving towards one’s personal and professional goals will always pay off in the end.


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