“The Man” Isn’t All Bad

by Ali Davidson, originally printed here

Whether you curse him regularly or have merely been a witness to protests against his unjust doings, we’re all familiar with “The Man.”

He’s a convenient villain and easy scapegoat, particularly since he’s actually no man in particular. The Man is a fictional character, a slang term we use to describe an authority figure that’s making decisions perceived to keep the rest of us, down.

When it comes to minimum wage requirements, employee vs. salon labor laws, and tax classification, the salon industry has historically ignored reason with a quick finger pointed back at The Man in disdain, “There he goes again making decisions for something he knows nothing about.”

We immediately assume The Man is out to hurt our industry. But what if, where it pertains to fair compensation, he’s actually trying to help us? I am well aware this is far from popular opinion, but hear me out.

With few outliers, salons have basically been organizationally set up and run the same way for decades. We are very attached to our many variations of commission models and booth rental agreements. In other industries, however, the ever-changing economy dictates ever-evolving business best practices.

The way an industry to be most profitable (and ethical) conducts business is very rarely stagnant for decades at a time—as it’s been in the salon industry. And though it may feel like a glacial pace, the government changes and evolves laws and regulations to fit the current landscape. These laws and regulations are innovations meant to simultaneously benefit and protect every class of worker (employee, independent, employer). Unfortunately, because the salon industry has not innovated its business structures and practices as quickly as most other industries, it’s no wonder The Man’s new laws and regulations have outgrown us.

Yet we stubbornly hold onto our old commission and booth rental means of operation. We try to look compliant on legal documents and squeeze ourselves into tax classifications that feel like round pegs in square holes because they are. So as beauty professionals, the majority of us are misclassified, leading to us being underpaid and mistreated. We hurt our own by holding onto our archaic business practices in an economy where they’re no longer appropriate, then we blame The Man for “not understanding us.”

So here we are believing The Man is wrong, blaming The Man for the problems in our industry, trying to fight The Man — because it’s easier to assume anything coming from The Man is out to get us rather than taking an honest look at our industry. There’s a huge misconception out there that laws regarding minimum wage requirements and employee vs. salon owner labor law rights are damaging our industry.

Well, sure, they hurt right now, but not in a malicious way. This should be growing pains, leading to an industry prepared to help its workers prosper in today’s era. While others are griping about minimum wage requirements putting salons out of business or labor laws that are cracking traditional salon models, I say, “Thank goodness!”

Thank goodness there are laws that will ensure beauty professionals make at least minimum wage. Thank goodness there are employment classifications that define the benefits available to employees and independents. Thank goodness there are guidelines that give employers the right to create employment rules within their business in order to create the culture they desire. Thank goodness we are all given the opportunity to choose which tax classification, payment structure, and culture we want to work in.

If you’ve followed me this far and feel a comradery “thank goodness” growing in your heart, you may be wondering how our industry can catch up, clean up, and start treating our professionals as the irreplaceably valuable assets they are. Here are three steps to help get your salon moving in a legal, ethical direction that treats everyone fairly:

First, look at the federal tax/employment classifications and all of the stipulations that accompany each. Decide what type of salon culture you want to harvest then choose the classification that will support that culture. Be upfront with all the beauty professionals in your salon about their tax classification, how they will be paid, and the rules and rights they will have access to with their employment classification.

Second, give benefits where benefits are due. Don’t cherry pick; it’s illegal and unethical. Treat your people—our people—as they deserve. It shouldn’t be as hard as we’ve historically set it up to be, to be successful in this industry. Hair professionals are being skimped benefits, simple things they’re entitled to based on their tax classification, left and right. Know your rights, know what your people are entitled to, and just do what’s right.

Third, model your business around what’s right, not what you’re used to or have always done. Set your prices so you can fairly, legally compensate your people. Change your operating procedures to ensure your professionals are receiving all of their labor rights and you’re receiving all your owner rights. Follow business strategies that benefit your business’s number one asset—your professionals.

Years of tradition have brought us here and our entire industry will not change overnight; however, the top salons in our industry have been innovating and adapting with great success we can all strive to emulate. The Man has given us a golden opportunity to innovate the salon industry to benefit all of us. As with any change, it’s a little uncomfortable in thought and heavy in work but the future will thank you.