Fair Go: Should hair salons charge a woman more for a no-frills trim than a man?

Liz Winterbee wants a haircut. But there's a problem. She just wants a trim, with no extras. The kind of service a man might be able to get for $20-30.

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Liz Winterbee of Richmond, near Nelson, told Fair Go it shouldn’t be. And she’s not alone. The nation of Denmark, for one, agrees with her. Source: Fair Go

But in her home town of Richmond, near Nelson, every salon she's checked will charge her considerably more. All the local salons have price lists based on gender. She thinks it's a system that's out of date, and she wants that system to end.

"It's one of the last industries to change," Liz says.

"They need to catch up with the times but they say we've always done it like that and no-one's challenged it."

Not so in Denmark. There, in 2013, it was ruled illegal for salons to charge women more than men.

Liz would like to see that rule brought in here.

She describes herself as a no-fuss person wanting a simple trim without the extras. She's aware that in many towns and cities there are salons like Just Cuts.

These salons determine price according to the service offered, with no differentiation based on gender.

But there isn't one in Richmond. There, without fail, the salons charge more for women.

For example, one local salon charges women $62 for a basic cut, while men would pay $35. Another offers razor cuts to women for $54, while men pay between $18-22.

Liz believes this is discrimination. While many women do have more complicated hair styles and like all the extras, there will be some like her who don't. She also thinks it discriminates against customers who don't identify as male or female.

"What are hairdressers going to do or say? 'What's beneath your clothes?'"

Liz took her arguments to the Human Rights Commission but was told they could only help if she had proof of being financially or emotionally affected.

So she came to Fair Go, asking for help to get a fair deal.

Fair Go wanted to arrange for Liz to speak to a couple of salon owners and contacted more than 20 local salons in Richmond. Only three were happy to be filmed. Fair Go opted for the first two to reply.

Other salons said they felt uncomfortable or were too busy, but several did provide their thoughts.

One hairdresser who'd been working for 40 years said when she started in 1974 men were wanting perms and mullet cuts. So hair salons tried to lure them from the traditional barbers into the world of ladies' hairstyling by offering services at lower prices than those for women. She says it's always stayed that way.

Another said basing price on gender was for ease of understanding. While a few put it down to the fact it's "just something we've always done".

The first appointment for Liz to speak to a stylist in person was at Ursula's. The owner Ursula Wyss was clearly passionate about hairdressing.

On arrival, she greeted Liz by saying, "My job is to make you feel incredible, amazing, so you walk down the street with bouncy hair."

She offered products and styling tips, and wanted to Liz to get the best out of her style. But Liz is the first to admit she's "probably a hairdressers' worst nightmare". Liz has no desire for any extras, or restyling. She just wants a trim.

When questioned on why she'd still charge Liz more than a man for this basic service, Ursula explained that it was appropriate because overall, women did tend to have more complex styles, require more product and would take up extra time.

Ursula added that stylists who are able to perform all the services a woman may want, from colouring to texturing, do require extra training, and that's expensive and has to be included in the general pricing structure.

Ursula agreed non-gender pricing would be more welcoming but felt that it wasn't workable with the way salons currently operate. She also feels confident she has numerous happy clients who are comfortable with the way things are.

Liz took her comments on board but still felt there was some room for change.

"Even if 95 per cent of women want a traditional type of service, there are still five per cent that don't," Liz said.

She also believes there are men who want a more complex style or colour, and who may have long thick hair, and yet they are still charged less.

The other salon visited was Vivo. Janus Oberholzer-Synman runs the Richmond branch.

Unexpectedly for Liz, Janus did agree it's time for change. He says greater sensitivity around gender is vital, adding "half the time you don't know how people identify".

Janus followed up by saying that Vivo would no longer have gender-based pricing, but rather would "work on individual needs".

He went on to say that "part of that is looking at individuals holistically, not just as a head of hair .. or what's underneath their clothes".

The plan is for Vivo to incorporate this across all their salons in New Zealand.

The change is something Vivo had been considering and doing on an ad hoc basis. However, Janus thanked Liz for bringing the matter to the nation's attention and said if it wasn't for her, they might have gone on with their old pricing structure indefinitely.

Despite this welcome change, the New Zealand Association of Registered Hairdressers, which is a member organisation, says legally there's no way the industry can get together and charge a standard price.

It believes they do try to charge costs that are fair by basing prices on the time a haircut takes.