An Illusory March towards Equality between Women and Men

“ Biographical Availability ” and Career Inequalities Among Flight Attendants

This article offers a comparative analysis of the careers of men and women flight attendants in air transport.

Using personnel records, collective agreements and interviews with flight attendants, we show that the picture of improvements in career equality in the airline studied here is illusory. For earlier cohorts, the massive prevalence of women as flight attendants has been accompanied by growing access to positions of in-flight responsibility (cabin manager) and on the ground (base manager), while repeated cross-sectional data indicate a narrowing of the gap between men and women in entry and exit conditions over time. However, our longitudinal analysis of a cohort of flight attendants who entered the company more recently (between 1998 and 2001) reveals gender inequalities in the likelihood of promotion, to the disadvantage of women. Career models are also highly gendered, with women notably more likely to work part-time. Rather than countering this tendency, the shift from a system of promotion based on seniority to one based more “on choice” reinforces gender inequalities, contrary to the claims associated with the equal-opportunity policy implemented by the airline, as of the early 2000s. This is because the new system is more heavily based on employees’ investment in the company throughout their careers, and thus on “biographical availability”, which is greater among men than women.

Traduction : Nicholas Sowels
Keywords: career, gender inequalities, promotions, organizations, biographical availability, personnel files, mixed methods
JEL: J16, L93, M51