Skillsoft Blog

International Women’s Day – We’re Flying High

International Women’s Day - We’re flying high

I grew up and still live in a little village called Malahide which is about 8km/5 miles from Dublin airport. As you can imagine, the place is home to an overwhelming number of pilots, cabin crew and other airport employees. Many of my neighbors and friends work for either our national airline Aer Lingus or the Dublin Airport Authority.  This significant concentration of airline staff means that as a child I grew up hearing stories about what it was really like to work in such a supposedly glamorous career.

One time I remember hearing a rumor that the cabin crew was weighed every month, similar to a boxer weigh-in, and if the scales tipped a certain way, you were not allowed to fly.  I was horrified at the idea that simply gaining a few pounds meant you would be not allowed to do your job.

Virgin Atlantic just announced that it no longer requires female cabin crew members to wear make-up. They also announced the women could wear trousers as part of the uniform. Mark Anderson, the airline’s EVP of Customer Service (not the HR person), commented on the story and said that this came from customers and staff. Aer Lingus just followed suit and announced that they too are no longer requiring female crew members to wear make-up.

The changes come from feedback from employees and in a statement the company said this reflects “changing dress norms and to better meet the need of our guest-facing colleagues.” Furthermore, not only will the new uniform code drop the mandatory make-up rule, but they also plan to introduce trouser options for female staff.

Great, job done?

Not quite.

Last year Emirates was accused of running a secret appearance management program for overweight cabin crew, where the staff was grounded if they didn’t lose weight. In 2009, Air India fired nine hostesses for being overweight on safety grounds; the airline also does not allow any marks on the faces of cabin crew – like scars or acne.

Pakistan International Airlines issued a memo to staff: “Any crew found above 30lbs from the desired weight after 31 January 2019 will be grounded and referred to Air Crew Medical Center for medical evaluation and treatment until weight is reduced up to desired standard/BMI.”

Is there an allowance for make-up?

In 2016 Fortune reported on just how much a woman’s earning potential is impacted by the cost of make-up. The research found that the average woman spends a staggering $15,000 on make-up over her lifetime. The researchers looked at how physical attractiveness impacts earnings and they took into account the impact of grooming versus looks. Here’s what they discovered:

“In practical terms, that means women who spend time and money on hair and makeup might actually fare better financially than those who do not. For example, a well-groomed woman of average attractiveness makes about $6,000 more annually than an average-looking, averagely-groomed woman. She also makes about $4,000 more than her better-looking, but less put-together coworker.”

Commenting on the research, Cosmopolitan said, “Men, however? It seems they can wear all the hair gel and nice cologne they won’t, but it won’t make a damn bit of difference, because they’re rewarded on their merit, funnily enough.” completed some research, and they unearthed even more data evidence that displays the naked biases women are subjected to:

  1. In one study, people were shown photos of the same women wearing no makeup, wearing some makeup, and wearing a lot of makeup. In general, research participants preferred the pictures of women in some makeup. According to Dr. Tara Well, a psychology professor at Barnard College of Columbia University, “We may make the inference that if a woman wears some makeup, she takes care of herself and, therefore she’ll take care of other people, projects, etc., [w]hile no makeup may signal self-neglect and a lot of makeup might make a sign of an extreme self-focus that can negatively impact one’s working relationships.”
  2. In one survey, 49% of employers said a woman’s makeup would be a factor in their hiring decision if the woman was applying for a public-facing role with the company.
  3. More than two-thirds of employers in the same survey said they would be less likely to hire a female job applicant who didn’t wear makeup to an interview.

So, there we are. Women are still being judged on appearances and men on merit.

Happy International Women’s Day.


Tara O’Sullivan is the Chief Marketing Officer at Skillsoft. 

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