While the global pandemic has wreaked havoc on nearly every industry, hairdressers and salon owners have endured an excess of trials and tribulations, from weathering financial strain to being forced to shutter completely. It was the latter scenario that ultimately played out for hairstylist Rubi Jones’s young Chinatown outpost This Is Salon, a space that even in its infancy had fostered a small, intimate community of loyal clients and emphasized the holistic experience of getting a haircut. But while Jones had to grieve the physical space she lost due to the bleak circumstances, she turned a setback into a new opportunity; one that would allow her to campaign for change she's long been wanting to see on behalf of the hairstyling community. Last month, Jones debuted Salon Care, a new project rooted in nurturing the important roles that hairdressers have within society, beginning with a new initiative focusing on the need for paid family and medical leave for all workers.
For Jones, the seed of the campaign was planted when she began reflecting on the challenges she faced navigating pregnancy and new motherhood in the editorial hairstyling industry. "I was very strategic about who and when I shared my pregnancy with anyone at work, and I felt a similar hesitancy with sharing that I was a mother when working postpartum," explains Jones, who worked until she was eight and a half months pregnant and went back to work four weeks postpartum before pausing her return when she realized she wasn't physically ready to be on her feet for hours at a time. "I am grateful that as a hairdresser, I was able to pull back on work for a couple more months and take jobs here and there before going back to work full-time, [but] it’s a double-edged sword," she continues. "Hairdressers can take time off to care for a new child, our loved ones, or ourselves when ill, and we can do the math of how many haircuts we need to do when we return to get back on our feet. This is invisible labor that we don’t need to be doing." Between this realization, and having spent a year talking to her clients about the more general struggles of juggling the pandemic and motherhood or caregiving, she became inspired to explore this issue on a national level.
To get a clear grasp on things: The U.S. is the only high-wealth country that doesn’t guarantee workers any type of paid leave, including paid leave for new mothers caring for newborns. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees, but only for businesses with 50 employees or more, which excludes many hair salon workers. "Over the last year, I’ve learned that in attempting to 'professionalize' the industry, we’ve created a culture and hierarchy that has pushed aside mom and pop shops and hairstylists working out of home salons," explains Jones. "These smaller salons with 1-5 employees are the backbone of the hair industry, and they don't even qualify for the job protection provided by the current family leave policy." Paid leave would mean that hairdressers (regardless of salon size), suite owners, booth rental, freelancers, and gig workers would receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year to care for a new child, a loved one, or their own serious health issue at 66% or more of their monthly wages. Of course, through the lens of gender equality, it also must be acknowledged that in the U.S., women hold about 89.6% of professional beauty service jobs. And given that 64.2 percent of mothers are the primary, sole, or co-breadwinners for their families, the loss of wages due to lack of paid leave can be disastrous for their families. "This is especially true for Black and Latina mothers who are disproportionately likely to be primary or sole breadwinners for their families, 67.5 percent and 41.4 percent respectively compared with 37 percent of white mothers," says Jones.
Jones hopes that we are uniquely positioned for a good chance at passing a national paid family and medical leave policy: the pandemic has exposed cracks in the current systems, Congress temporarily passed a paid leave policy during the pandemic, and the new administration has proposed the Biden-Harris American Families Plan, which would provide 12 weeks of paid parental, family and sick leave to virtually all American workers in the next 10 years. "Paid leave would offer mothers in the beauty industry income security that would allow them to make healthy and confident choices about returning to work postpartum, knowing that they aren’t facing a major income loss and without fears of job loss," says Jones. Research shows that paid leave not only correlates with lower infant mortality rates, but also increases the chances of a woman returning to the workplace and staying on board with higher productivity rates.
To encourage forward momentum, Salon Care is urging supporters to talk to their hairstylists, clients, friends, and family members about how the lack of a national paid leave policy has affected their lives. The group offers resources to help capture Congress's attention: Anyone can support by texting GO BEAUTY4PAIDLEAVE to 50409 or going to the Salon Care website to find factsheets, sources, and email templates for contacting their congressional representatives. "The all-encompassing work hairdressers do doesn’t need to live within the structures that have existed in the American hair industry for decades," says Jones. "With Salon, I plan on taking back the original community-building that had historically been synonymous with hair salons. I’m looking to the past and within my community to rebuild the future."
Originally Appeared on Vogue