17 March 2018

Ethiopian's Conspicuous Flaw

Photo: Dominic Bukenya/Daily Monitor
Passengers alight from an Ethiopian Airlines Airbus A350 at Entebbe International Airport.
opinion

From the expansion project of Bole International Airport to the various purchases of aeroplanes, Ethiopian Airlines, a.k.a. Ethiopian, has been the talk of the town for long. Its ambitiousness has led some observers to christen it the "Emirates of Africa".

This success, primarily measured in terms of profitability and experience, is worth noting. For instance, Flight Global, which provides data and analytics on the global aviation industry, identified it as an African carrier with the most capacity.

But its corporate culture has long been worrying. The recent episode of a flight operated by an all-women crew brought that to the fore. From the cockpit and cabin crew to flight dispatchers, a team comprised of only women flew from Addis Abeba to Bueno Aires, Argentina. A flight that was not the first of its kind, it may have indirectly revealed the Airline's outlook on gender.

Society evolves and addresses its shortcoming at different levels. This is a part of the process of human evolution. Companies then must follow suit.

We all know that great female crews have served Ethiopian over the years. I recall seeing, in my early years, that women dominated the cabin crew. But at different levels of its operational activities, gender representation has been unbalanced. It is nice that there was a female captain on the plane, but it makes one wonder why more flights do not have them.

The Airline is infamous for its selection of female crew members based on what society has deemed to be beautiful physical features. It is no secret that the hostesses are usually slender and have straight teeth and clear skin. It may be right for a company to require its employees to dress right and be neat, but demanding particular physical attributes is just wrong.

To make progress, one must acknowledge mistakes and learn from them. Ethiopian, much like many companies of the world, has failed to empower women. It is unfortunate to see the Airline congratulate itself over a public relations campaign that was made to look like a recognition of the abilities of women. Ethiopian is barking up the wrong tree.

The Airline still demands female crews to be dressed in a specific outfit and fit a particular physical standard. It is laudable that it feels they can improve its labour force by empowering women. But that will not happen if it continues to recognise and seek women for their physical appearances and not for their merits.

How many females are there at the senior levels of the carrier, and what is its comprehensive plan to enhance inclusivity other than an annual all-female operated flight?

The lack of equality between the sexes is a problem that bedevils even developed liberal countries. The realisation of this and the recognition of the gross misconduct that affects female employees in the workplace have led towards movements that are likely to bring change.

I work in a technology company in the United States that is trying to address the same issues. But the company had to first learn about the crux of the problem, which was that technology companies have less female technologists than men.

They do not defend this by saying that, "Oh, our night shifts are all run by females".

They owned up to the problem, a problem that was systemic. They support advocacy groups, be it those run by employees or not, to encourage what the industry calls Women in Technology (WIP), where men are involved too. The budget comes out of the employer's pocket, and strong corporate policies against harassment have been put in place.

Ethiopian must support such initiatives at all levels of its operations. All discriminatory employment criteria must be gotten rid of. This will not hurt profitability, as passengers choose an airline for the sake of excellent service. Policies against harassment in the air and on land must be put in place to ensure equality. There must be training for all employees, and the human resources department must be open enough that all claims of harassment are heard.

Inclusivity will level the playing field for all to be able to serve one of Africa's biggest airlines to the best of their abilities. Ethiopian does indeed serve as a source of pride for me, but once it has addressed such challenges, it will be able to reach great heights.

With the sort of technology that exists today, with a recording device at everyone's fingertips, no company can hide its secrets forever. It will not be long before Ethiopian falls into the same trap that the American United Airlines fell into when they had a passenger forcefully dragged out of one of their aeroplanes last year, an incident that was recorded on video and made public.

Getahun Alemu Is an Engineer. He Can Be Reached At Galemu@yahoo.com.

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