What is gender bias? Gender bias is prejudice shown against a person because of their gender. Recently, gender has become a heightened topic. When googled, “gender bias” results in over 154,000,000 results. Often, the links relate to gender bias in the workplace. Many of these articles involve cases in which females are paid less than their male coworkers and are passed over for promotions.
However, less commonly discussed is gender bias as it occurs with service providers in the skin care and beauty industries. Why, when it comes to receiving a facial by a licensed aesthetician or receiving a massage by a licensed massage therapist, is it okay for clients to be gender biased? Professionals of both genders receive some form of education and skilled training for their licensure. Neither female nor male aestheticians or massage therapists should have to worry about their gender when it comes to providing a service, but the unfortunate truth is, they do.
In both fields, aesthetics and massage therapy, women dominate when it comes to the number of licensed professionals. Although within the last 20 years there has been a slow increase in the number of males acquiring licensure, these two professions have consistently been primarily occupied by women. With more males entering the industry, clients who have only received treatments by females are becoming exposed to a new energy. Some clients welcome this new shift and others retreat to archaic ideology, thinking that only a female aesthetician or female massage therapist can give them their treatment.
In many establishments, upon booking, a client is asked if they want a female or male provider. Why is that? These businesses have learned through experience that the “surprise” gender element costs them and their providers when clients are not prepared for the specific gender that will be giving their treatment. There is usually an awkward greeting when the client realizes their provider is a gender they were not expecting and, typically, the client responds in one of three ways:
- “Oh, I thought I was having a (insert specific gender) therapist.” Then, the client accepts the gender of their provider and receives their treatment. This is the most hopeful and best response.
- “Oh, I thought I was having a (insert specific gender) therapist. I’m sorry, I’d prefer (insert opposite gender).” They wait for the specific gender provider they feel comfortable with and receive their treatment. Although that provider lost out on a treatment, the establishment did not lose out on a client.
- “Oh, I thought I was having a (insert specific gender) therapist. I can’t do this. I don’t want to be here. I want my money back.” The business and provider lose out on servicing a client and, more than likely, the client will not return.
The fact is, male aestheticians and male massage therapists are less likely to be booked for a treatment. Thus, these two professions are generally better for women than men, in regard to treatments performed and money earned. This gender bias among clients leaves licensed male professionals to sit patiently, waiting for a client who will accept them for a treatment. Not only is it unfair, but it may even result in some animosity between coworkers, simply because of gender.
How do professionals overcome this gender bias – by being a facilitator. Just like aestheticians tell clients the importance of a homecare routine to keep their skin glowing, or massage therapists tell their clients the importance of drinking plenty of water after a massage so they can flush out toxins released during the massage, these professionals can tell clients the importance of receiving a treatment based on a provider’s skill, because it will best suit their needs. They should emphasize what the provider specializes in, what they perform best, what they like to perform, and what they least like to perform. By knowing these simple facts about the aesthetician or the massage therapist, clients will be equipped to book a treatment based off skill and not gender.
Each aesthetician and massage therapist is unique in the sense that they have their own touch. Touch is the word to describe an experience. It is an art crafted by the skilled licensed professional that only he or she can provide the client. It is this touch that the facilitator should sell to the client. Once the client is sold on the experience, the gender of the provider will be an after-thought.
For example, imagine a client calls to book a treatment with a facilitator for a facial. The client explains that their skin is breaking out and they could really use a thorough pore cleansing facial. The facilitator explains that they have just the aesthetician that has a certain technique to extract the whiteheads and blackheads from the skin that will not leave it inflamed or irritated afterwards. Extractions are known to leave the skin irritated; if the client hears that their aesthetician has a certain technique that will eliminate this irritation, the last thing on their mind will be the gender of the provider. They will book with the provider that has the capability to aid them in their needs.
Then, imagine that while the client is receiving the facial, they begin talking about that “one spot” on their back that keeps them up at night. The aesthetician, then, has the opportunity to become the facilitator and tell the client that they have a massage therapist at their establishment that is trained in sports massage and can work out that “one spot” with their sports massage technique so the client can sleep better. The client, trusting the aesthetician because he or she has been providing an amazing facial experience, will not want to miss out on an opportunity to make that “one spot” go away and will book an appointment, regardless of the gender of the provider.
Anyone that works in the establishment can be a facilitator – from the receptionist to the professional. Each person should be able to facilitate a healthy way to promote a non-gender-biased treatment opportunity. Licensed professionals should trade amongst each other and give a treatment to a non-licensed coworker, so they can experience each skilled professional’s touch. Overcoming gender bias will not happen through telling clients to get over it, but rather letting them become aware of the opportunity to experience a treatment that can benefit their needs.
There are those clients that, for religious purposes or traumatic experiences, cannot and do not want a certain gender and those desires must be respected and booked accordingly. Facials and massages are a very intimate experience. Skin upon skin sends a lot of messages and sensations to a client and it is important that the messages and sensations they are experiencing are healthy and comfortable. For this reason, the provider will need to exercise careful judgement. For those clients who are biased against a certain gender simply because they are not used to the opposite gender providing their service, be a facilitator and help them to book based on experience, touch, and skill of the licensed aesthetician or massage therapist.
Amra Lear is a licensed massage therapist and aesthetician. She has been working in the spa industry for 16 years, working for two of the most prestigious spas in the world. Her clientele consists of stars, moguls, and people alike. She has been trained by Japanese shiatsu masters and the founders who pioneered such modalities as ashiatsu, mother massage, and lulur. Skin is her ultimate passion. She has dedicated the last six years to research and education of biochemistry to better understand the biochemical response to products used on the skin.