Sexism in the Airline Industry

It’s no secret that flight attendant recruitment was notoriously sexist back in the day, favouring conventionally pretty and thin women to serve travellers. Since most of the people reading this are too young to remember such ads, brace yourself for a blast to the past.

To get the job, some airlines stated the basic “pretty” requirement, but others took it further, requesting fresh lingerie daily, a well fitted girdle, soft skin, jewellery, and makeup. Most disturbing to me is the necessity of lingerie and soft skin—who would ever know otherwise? While many companies have reversed sexist policies regarding expectations of their flight attendants (I’m sure the girdle requirement is long gone), one company has managed to fly under the radar.

Emirates, based out of Dubai, is widely considered one of the largest airlines in the world. They recruit flight attendants in Canada, often via Facebook ads—this is how I found out about them. Boredom and curiosity got the best of me so I meandered around their site. I was appalled at what I discovered.

Most notably, their assessment day dress code and grooming guidelines for women include the following: wear heels, wear “visible” makeup and have a manicure. They go as far to list the makeup items required—concealer, foundation, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, blush and lipstick—and prohibit lipgloss. As for manicures, only red, french or clear polish is acceptable. The men’s requirements explicitly state no makeup, minimal hair product, and “clean” hands. Sounds like women have to invest a shockingly higher amount of time and money to get the job—makeup and manicures don’t come cheap, nor are they quick to do. Assuming this upkeep must be maintained throughout employment, these costs are continuous. Worst of all, I’m willing to bet that women don’t make a higher salary to compensate for this.

I’m not saying we should boycott Emirates, but personally, I would never work there and I would choose an alternative airline if I had the choice. The purpose of this article was simply to draw attention to the pervasive ways sexism still affects women today. Is it necessary to have heels and a full face of makeup to be a good flight attendant? Absolutely not. Yet, women are forced to shell out more time, effort and money than men to gain access to the same opportunity. If Emirates wants to rectify this (although I doubt they care), they should drop the unnecessary requirements or compensate women appropriately.

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