It’s Tuesday morning and I’m sitting in a very comfortable seat at London City airport – one out of five airports located in and around London. I’m flying out and into City every week due to work commitments and my regular morning outbound flight is boarding soon. I’m killing the time till then with an overpriced coffee and fruit salad from a local cafe. I’m looking around and what I see is more than a little bit frustrating – just like it was last week and the week before that, and the week before that.
I see men. Many of them! In suits and with suitcases more expensive than the entire contents of my suitcase combined. They hold Financial Times or City AM newspapers, chat to each other (they seem to be here in groups or pairs at least) and discuss the latest football match from the weekend and/ or their golf plans for the bank holiday coming up. And there I am – tired of seeing middle aged (mostly white) men in expensive suits chatting about boys’ stuff while women are nowhere to be seen. I’m literally counting and out of the 17 people immediately in my surroundings, there are myself and 3 other women. That’s all.
The airport website proudly explains that the average traveler from London City airport earns 115,000 GBP a year – that’s very high even by Financial district measures, where the airport is located. It also has more expensive flights than other airports, it doesn’t host many low-cost airlines, and you won’t see a Starbucks when you walk in – instead you see a fancy bar/restaurant with high price tags.
Because it’s a convenient airport for well-paid travelers, it reflects the employee base at banks and at financial and business services companies (63% of all passengers work in these sectors). More specifically, it shows the echelons of those who go on business trips – their lower-ranking colleagues mostly stay in the office. A study has shown that 41% of travelers from City hold the position of Chairman, MD, Director or other senior manager. Those higher echelons are largely male dominated, and so, you guessed it – women are pretty much rare species around here.
I’m frustrated because I hear a lot of talk that women have equal opportunities at work and they can get promoted based on merit, just like men do. However, looking around this morning I don’t see those women, where are they? Yes, on paper we are equals in a country with an advanced legal system, but in reality the numbers of women in senior positions are still low. We make up barely 30% of boards of UK companies, let alone the full 50/50 parity we so desire. And while many say promotions should be based on merit and I agree with that completely, I also find it very hard to believe that for the 13 men around me there are just 4 women who match them on merit. It’s just not convincing.
One may think this is a one-off, but I count every week. So yes, I feel a little frustrated when people tell me Britain is equal. If that’s really the case, why do I feel like a rare gem in a sea of city travelers?
Fly safe, ladies and gents, and remember that what you hear is not always true – question it and fight to change it. One seat at a time.
Cover photo credit: Francois Van