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Equality Isn’t Cool, it’s Consistent

Source: Aveda Instagram

Source: Aveda Instagram

After the murder of George Floyd, white Americans are learning a painful lesson on systematic racism and just how wide and deep it runs through the country.

Floyd’s death triggered conversations about racism and equality all across the country. Social media has exploded with dedicated hashtags and organized campaigns, and protesters are marching across cities big and small. But these conversations are also happening in businesses. From the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies to the back rooms of salons, business owners, managers and CEOs are talking, and even more importantly—listening.

Neill Corporation is no different. As a company that prides itself on progressiveness and inclusion, top management and company principals have hit pause to really listen to the Black educators and stylists within their network.

Lauren Williams, educator at Aveda Arts & Sciences Institutes of Baton Rouge and owner of GlamRUs Hair Studio, has long been an advocate for Black and civil rights in the beauty industry.

“The statements on anti-racism from big companies have been everywhere,” she says. “But we don’t want the message to become tone-deaf or just another trend because it’s the cool thing today. We’ve been screaming this forever.”

On a recent Neill Salon Owners’ call, company principals asked how they could do better, and Williams was quick to respond with a request for more Black instructors and curriculum.

Williams added, “I don’t want our Blackness to be a trend. It should be consistent. We are here—use us.”

More Than a Trend

Williams’ statement resonated with everyone on that call, and the conversation has continued and broadened within the Neill network.

“They asked Black and brown leaders in our network to share our stories,” Williams says. “And from that, came up with the Amplify Black Voices campaign.”

This social media campaign uses #amplifyblackvoices and highlights a Black educator or stylist within Neill/Aveda. This not only puts the spotlight on Black artists, but also sends the message that Aveda and Neill want to diversify their creative teams and leadership roles.

“I became an educator because there aren’t a lot us,” Williams says. “People need to see reflections of themselves when they’re in school. We’re in the minority, which is why it’s time to diversify more.”

Williams wants to normalize Black creatives and educators, in particular at a higher level, and feels hopeful with Neill and the Amplify Black Voices campaign behind her.

“Edwin (Neill) is progressive, and a conduit of equal rights—a message he wanted to ring out all over our company,” she says.

But Williams is well aware that like everything else that cycles through the news, it’s easy to get pushed aside when the next hot topic rolls around.

“You have to make a conscious decision that this won’t be lost in the sauce, and it’s an issue you really want to tackle,” she says.

Fortunately, Aveda and Neill have experience and an impressive track record when it comes to accountability to their causes like clean water and equal rights for the LGBTQ community.

“They talk about these causes year-round,” Williams says. “And the same will apply to Amplify Black Voices. You make a conscious decision and decide it’s a principle you want the company to reflect. But you need accountability, which is why they’ve chosen people like me to hold their feet to the fire.”

Creating Diversity in Salons: What You Can Do

In 2020, salons are still segregated. A Black woman who walks into a salon full of white stylists knows right away there probably isn’t anyone who can care for her hair. So she turns to a salon that specializes in Black hair and employs Black stylists.

“But hair is hair,” says Williams. “If you can master one technique, you can master all of them. I can do a balayage just as well as I can re-twist locs.”

It all starts in schools, so that’s where the change must begin as well. Neill now includes texture in its curriculum, and Williams says it opens up more avenues for stylists.

“We’re not just teaching students how to smooth textured hair,” she says. “They learn to braid, twist and all the other techniques to enhance natural texture.”

Williams has had white stylists send clients to her because they simply don’t know the techniques to work with Black hair, and she wants to see that change.

“I’ve also been at photo shoots and had to switch models with white stylists when they see 20 inches of natural Black hair and get intimidated.”

Williams says there are many documentaries and books on textured hair where stylists can pursue education as well. But the learning doesn’t end with the technical aspect of hair.

Salon owners also need to do better at diversifying their staffs.

“This goes for both Black and white salon owners,” Williams says. “Step outside of the box, but know it’s going to take a little extra care.”

Here are a few of Williams’ tips for hiring a Black stylist in a white salon.

  • Make it a safe space for them to work.
    Stand behind not being racially biased with your actions and words.
  • Be vulnerable.
    When you’re vetting and interviewing Black stylists, don’t be afraid to say, “Our salon doesn’t look the way we want it to, but we can get there with what you plan on offering us.” Be humble enough to acknowledge what you don’t know.
  • Take ownership.
    When a client sees a Black stylist and says no, they can’t do my hair, let the client know you stand behind the quality of work ALL your stylists put out.
  • Stand your ground.
    Not every client is going to be on board with your vision. Don’t be afraid to lose some business. Continue to ask clients to trust your quality of work.
  • There is opportunity.
    With Black stylists in your salon, Black clients will come. And Williams says, “We’re in business to make money—and Black women spend a lot of money in the beauty industry.” She also points out there are many bi-racial families or families who have adopted Black children who need help doing their children’s hair.

Get Uncomfortable. Create Change.

As we learn more about systematic racism in America and how it has trickled down into our culture, white Americans are forced to ask themselves some uncomfortable questions about the roles they have played.

“There’s no shame in saying, ‘I don’t know, but I’m willing to learn,’” Williams says. “It’s ok to be vulnerable and ask questions.”

In fact, it’s more than ok—it’s the only way to make progress.

“I don’t expect things to change overnight,” Williams says. “Black stylists and creatives will need to hold companies accountable for years.”

“We need to see different ad campaigns—not just light-skinned Black women with pretty curls anymore. I want to see a woman with natural hair and a deep complexion in MAJOR campaigns.”

Williams has been having these uncomfortable conversations with people for years, and she’s embracing the opportunity to do it now with her colleagues and executives at Neill and Aveda.

For those new to these conversations, she offers this advice:

“Go into it with sincerity. You have to be willing to say, ‘I’m coming from a place of ignorance,’ and then be vulnerable in that ignorance,” she says. “Let them know you aren’t being patronizing or disingenuous.”

Right now, Williams is optimistic for the future of Blacks in beauty careers.

“Neil and Aveda have been open to giving us a platform to be heard and understood,” she says. “And that makes us feel good.”

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