By Laura Gelder

Gender is currently a hot topic and every industry has to question its commitment to equality. Is the onboard hospitality ready for scrutiny? Laura Gelder takes a look

From fourth wave feminism and the ‘Me too’ movement to the fierce debate over transgender rights, gender has moved up the agenda and it is clear many women still don’t feel their needs are taken as seriously as men’s.

At a less extreme level, many people are simply asking if companies, including travel providers, are catering to women’s specific needs. Kaelis’ chief marketing officer Fernanda Veiga thinks not and believes the addition of sanitary products in aircraft toilets and lounges should be a first step. She says: “We find razors and shaving cream everywhere so why not tampons and female pads especially as menstrual cycles can become irregular when travelling.”

Veiga cites research from the Global Business Travel Association and WWStay which shows nearly 40% of business travellers based in the US are women and asks: “Everybody is talking about women’s empowerment but what has the travel industry done to empower women business travellers? What could we do that would make women feel more comfortable when flying?”
Her own suggestions include amenity kits with make-up remover tissues so women, who often board wearing makeup, can remove it and then make use of the lotions they are offered in the kits.

Aside from functional needs which aren’t being met, Veiga touches on the issue of sexism and style. She says: “Female pilots are still forced to wear the male pilot uniform, including a tie.” And then there’s the wide expectation that female flight attendants will wear heels and make-up at work, unlike their male counterparts.

Design and procurement specialist Matrix helps airlines strengthen their brand messaging and reflect market trends. Its 2019 Trend Magazine, cites 2019 as ‘the year of the woman’. It highlights the ‘new woman’ trend showing a new future for femininity, “where the next generation of girls will witness floods of ambitious, diverse women championed for their femininity, complexity and bravery”. A trend within this trend is intersectional feminism – the idea that sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and other social inequalities are all connected.

Matrix warns brands not to jump on the feminist bandwagon too hastily though. Reporting: “Gen Z audiences can see through an in-genuine message a mile off and many campaigns come across as patronising. Actions speak louder than words. If you want to use a ‘girl power’ slogan in your next campaign, can you also say you pay your female staff members the same as their male equivalents? If not, the internet might come for you.”

Founder of In Air Travel Experience Anne De Hauw is positive for the future too. “Women will benefit from the hyper-personalisation trend, ensuring they’ll only be approached by relevant, interesting offers,” she says. She sees technology is the enabler, leading to an optimised travel experience: “Time is luxury and anything a travelling women can get done before arrival will be a plus: bespoke (branded) amenities and comfort items, inflight yoga programmes, personalised food experiences with healthy options and digitised shopping experiences with customised special offers for example.”

Quite simply, this issue is gathering momentum. Travel companies have to check they are providing all the items women have access to on the ground, the items they consider essentials.