In what could be seen as a major change in policy, Virgin Atlantic has decided that it will no longer make female cabin crew and other frontline female employees wear makeup. The Crawley-based airline says the change came about after listening to its staff who wanted to be given more freedom and choice in how they expressed themselves.
“Our world-famous red uniform is something all of us at Virgin Atlantic are incredibly proud of,” explained Mark Anderson, who is Virgin’s executive vice president of customer.
“As an airline, we have always stood out from the crowd and done things differently to the rest of the industry. We want our uniform to truly reflect who we are as individuals while maintaining that famous Virgin Atlantic style,” he continued. “We have been listening to the views of our people and as a result have announced some changes to our styling and grooming policy that support this.”
This really is quite a shift in policy for Virgin Atlantic. The airline’s cabin crew are generally perceived to be glamorous and highly groomed with big hair and lots of makeup. It’s an image Virgin has long cultivated, prominently using highly made up female cabin crew in its advertising and media events.
The airline celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009 with an advert which pretty much epitomised this style with a bevvy of female cabin crew turning heads as they shimmied through the airport.
Of course, much has changed in the last 10 years although the aviation industry has seemed sluggish at best in adopting policies that actively promote equality in the workplace. The majority of airlines still have mandatory makeup rules for female cabin crew and staffers are expected to follow a strict colour palette or face disciplinary action.
You probably wouldn’t think of Virgin Atlantic as being the most likely airline to introduce such a radical policy change like this but hopefully, Virgin’s example will convince other carrier’s to review and amend their existing rules.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that cabin crew shouldn’t be well groomed – that’s perfectly acceptable and applies equally to both male and female crew. At Virgin Atlantic, female cabin crew who choose to wear makeup will still need to follow the airline’s colour palette which in the circumstances seems like an acceptable rule. Male crew members are also now free to wear makeup if they choose.
In addition, Virgin will also issue female crew with trousers as a standard option when they join the airline. It was long thought that Virgin banned women from wearing trousers but in reality, the airline forced crew to submit a special request through their manager.
British Airways decided to drop a similar rule in 2016, although the airline does still force its female cabin to wear makeup. Some have likened the policy to a discriminatory tax on being female because crew have no option but to spend their own hard earned money on makeup, whereas their male counterparts have no such requirement.
There’s no doubt that this is a really welcome change. Let’s be clear – this is about choice. There’s nothing stopping female crew members from wearing makeup but it will also open up the industry to people who don’t want to express themselves like that. Well done Virgin Atlantic.