As of Monday, November 14th, British Airways staff that are required to wear uniforms are now allowed to have piercings and makeup on – regardless of their gender. This update was done to their guidelines on dress codes, which are now non-gender specific.
Previously, male pilots and cabin crew were not able to wear makeup or have piercings at work. With the updated guidelines, mascara, false eyelashes and earrings – as well as handbags – are now permitted for them. Although they are encouraging staff to opt for natural makeup looks.
This effort supports the airline’s aim to embrace all their staff – regardless of gender identity, background, culture, sexual orientation or otherwise. They have stated that they are striving for an inclusive working environment that allows their staff to be their best, most authentic version of themselves every day.
Earlier, in September of this year, Virgin Atlantic implemented a similar policy for their dress code by eliminating gendered workwear. They introduced a line of uniforms designed by Vivienne Westwood that includes blazers and trousers with a tie or blazer and skirt – with the choice of burgundy or bright red. Pilots, cabin crew and ground staff will be able to choose any of those options regardless of gender.
Why the Shift to Genderless Uniforms?
These two airlines represent many businesses that are now shifting towards more inclusive policies. Airlines largely require staff to wear uniforms to represent their brand identity. In such roles, employees must adhere to dress codes which means they are restricted to the choices provided by their employer.
Limitations from gender-based dress codes have caused stress for many individuals. In 2017, Totaljobs surveyed work dress codes and found that 19% of women get stressed about deciding what to wear. This survey was done in an office setting, and it visualises a different issue within the topic of gendered dress codes compared to airlines. Nevertheless, it still highlights that gendered dress codes have negative effects towards employees.
The call for businesses to adopt more gender-inclusive dress codes for their employees may be due to the lack of legal standing that can support this. Although the Equality Act 2010 protects discrimination based on protected characteristics, according to the dress code guidance by the UK Government Equalities Office, employers are allowed to have different dress code requirements for men and women as long as they are of a similar standard.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have implemented these policies to create a better working environment for their employees. Since the introduction in September, it has been reported that job applications for Virgin Atlantic have doubled. This reflects a demand within candidates for more inclusive workplaces which aligns with their values.
What to Consider to Further Inclusivity
Organisations should remember that these efforts in changing policies on dress codes have significant implications. It should be noted that any changes should be done to further support employees and increase inclusivity – not as a performative branding tool. Going forward, nuances in this matter may come up and it should be the priority of employers to ensure that gender-based discrimination, or any other form of discrimination, does not happen in the workplace.