Becoming Entrepreneurs: Black Women Hair Salon Owners

The number of Black women entrepreneurs has increased in the past few years according to the 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. In 2005 Adia Harvey Wingfield published a Gender & Society article that uses intersectionality as a conceptual framework to underscore how race and gender work together to shape the labor market outcomes of Black women with working-class backgrounds.

According to Wingfield, Black women entrepreneurs turn to the hair industry due to gendered racism that creates constraints in the broader labor market. These structural barriers also shape access to the beauty industry, creating an underserved consumer base that Black women entrepreneurs can tap into with relative ease.

Wingfield collected data through interviews with 11 Black women salon owners based in the Mid-Atlantic. Her findings centered on how and why they became entrepreneurs, their relationships with other stylists, and the challenges they experience as Black women business owners.

Becoming Entrepreneurs

Wingfield found gender motivated the reasons why the women she interviewed became salon owners. For example, many of them felt this work enabled them to raise their children and work full-time. Wingfield points out that this matters for class reasons as well as working-class women tend to have limited access to childcare. According to Wingfield, the class background of the women she interviewed also motivated their desires to own salons. For them, entrepreneurship put them on the path toward upward mobility and enabled them to meet familial responsibilities.

Gender also matters as it shapes the norms that motivate the pursuit of entrepreneurship in the beauty industry among the women she interviewed. Black women salon owners profit from a group excluded from mainstream ideals of beauty due to gendered racism. Despite this exclusion, the use of beauty and fashion also empowers Black women to challenge these biases, making salons that cater to Black women an important resource.

Relationships with Stylists

The interviews Wingfield conducted yielded insights on what she describes as the helping ideology. Through this ideology, Black women salon owners impart professional development and growth to the stylists they hire. Wingfield contends the motivation to support other Black women stylists results from a race-gender solidarity and to some extent, class solidarity. This solidarity matters given how gendered racism leads Black women to have less access to support for launching businesses than their white women peers. While these salon owners used the helping ideology as a tool to fill these gaps, they did not always engage in this solidarity because of mistrust and skepticism toward stylists they perceived as unprofessional or unreliable.

Challenges of Entrepreneurship

Wingfield’s interviews with Black women salon owners also revealed the obstacles they dealt with on their journey as entrepreneurs. Not only did they struggle to get access to capital to start their businesses up, but they also dealt with limited social capital. Since people tend to have networks of people with backgrounds similar to themselves, these working-class Black women could not turn to friends or families for substantial financial support. Additionally, the ghettoization of their labor as women of color into the service sector meant they did not receive as much of a financial return as entrepreneurs in male-dominated fields.