Who runs the world?

9 Jul 2020

Beauty means big business, but is it all just women’s work?

The UK government’s decision to further delay reopening for spas, nail bars, and beauty salons has been met with an outburst of criticism. “When did getting a beauty treatment suddenly become as risky as a booze-filled trip to a bar?” asked Sonia Haria, Beauty Director for The Telegraph.


• Beauty businesses and eager customers alike had been gearing up for a July 4th reopening. The Guardian reported that Treatwell showed daily bookings for nail treatments rose by “600% compared with the pre-lockdown period.”

• The economic impact is huge. The Value of Beauty – a 2019 report commissioned from Oxford Economics by the British Beauty Council – found the beauty industry contributes £30bn to the country’s GDP (more than motor vehicle manufacturing), and employs and supports 570,000 people (more than the law and social work sector).

• According to the Council, around 90% of the beauty industry workforce is female. “This [Covid-19] recovery has been designed by men for men, and female-led businesses have been left to the back of the pile,” said Caroline Nokes, a Conservative MP.

While we’ve come a long way since WWII – when the U.S. government deemed morale-boosting lipstick a wartime necessity – beauty still has the same vital ability to lift spirits… no matter what you identify as.

Around 1 in 20 British men wear makeup, and the “male grooming” business worldwide is booming. More beauty brands are embracing genderless products. Regardless of where you might fall on the spectrum: self-care is universal. Bring beauty back.


As much as Covid-19 has accelerated many existing trends – from remote-working to cashless transactions – it is also reversing years of advancement in terms of gender parity.

Citigroup analysts found that without government intervention, global GDP stands to lose $1 trillion as women disappear from the workforce. “Many of the policies that promoted female labor force participation pre-coronavirus are even more suitable in a post-pandemic world,” the economists wrote.

• Since the start of England’s lockdown, funding applications from female founders have halved. The Future Fund, the government’s support scheme for start-ups, is helmed by an all-male team. In an open letter last week to Chancellor Sunak, the Women’s Enterprise Policy Group outlined how government policies have “completely forgotten” female entrepreneurs.

Fast Company reported that the crisis in the U.S. has had a disproportionate impact on small businesses owned by women, who represent 45% of the entrepreneurial landscape. In the past few months, they have been losing jobs at higher rates than men, are less likely to be rehired, and have become the default carers when it comes to children.

• Despite the outsized challenges – a McKinsey report found that minority and women-owned American businesses are not only more optimistic about the future, but also more likely to support their local community and employees by adding new services.

While the pandemic has starkly exposed long-standing gender fault lines, the increased visibility is an opportunity to examine – in political, economic, and social terms – what it actually means to return to “normal”. Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore, co-founders of Hello Alice, a virtual accelerator for entrepreneurs, wondered: “In a world where only 2% of VC is going to women, why would we want to go back?”

The future is now. We’ve seen it in government – with female heads of state outleading their male counterparts – and we’ve seen it in start-ups, where female founders outperform their peers.

Girls, we run this motha.

Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.