Sexism | Strict dress code relaxed at Virgin Atlanic - should other companies follow suit?

Strict dress code relaxed at Virgin Atlanic - should other companies follow suit?

Female flight attendants under the employment of Virgin Atlantic will no longer be required to wear makeup whilst working and will be given the choice of wearing trousers or a skirt, the airline announced today.

As an industry well known for its traditionally sexist rhetoric, the decision to relax the female-only dress code has been widely praised by the company’s vocal critics. Under the new employee guidelines, historic cases of employees being reprimanded for wearing the wrong shade of ‘Virgin-red’ lipstick or being daring enough to wear no lipstick at all may be a thing of the past.

Virgin Atlantic’s iconic, yet sexist, image of its flight attendants in tight red uniforms, quaffed hair and red lipstick was the product of the process that its candidates must go through before taking on the role.

Female Virgin Atlantic employees have historically been required to attend what it calls a ‘groom school’ before they’re deemed worthy to serve customers on one of the 20,000 flights that take to the skies each year.

Whilst it’s debatable whether the new rules can undo the damage that it has previously inflicted upon women looking to work in aviation, Virgin’s Vice President of Customer Mark Anderson thinks that the new rules represent a key shift in the brand’s image that will allow workers to “be themselves”.

"Not only do the new guidelines offer an increased level of comfort, but they also provide our team with more choice on how they want to express themselves at work," Anderson told USA TODAY in a statement. "Helping people to be themselves is core to our desire to be the most loved travel company." 

"Our world-famous red uniform is something all of us at Virgin Atlantic are incredibly proud of," Anderson continued. "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."

Some firms are finding an even more relaxed approached to dress codes helps their staff to work their best.

Jo Taylor, Managing Director of Let’s Talk Talent, previously told HR Grapevine that it feels like some employers are stuck in the past when it comes to dress codes. “I think we need to allow people to be themselves and bring themselves wholeheartedly to work," she explained.

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"If we really want people to feel empowered, engaged and authentic, then you must allow people to be themselves and if that means them having purple hair and a piercing, then they should be able to have purple hair and a piercing.

"Companies should be focused around creating an environment that makes people comfortable, rather than the rules and procedures that are stuck around it.”

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