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How tourism companies and organisations celebrated International Women’s Day through purple-washing their claims of gender equality

This International Women’s Day (IWD), the world of business came together as it does every year, to celebrate women’s achievements and raise awareness for gender equality across sectors. However, just like any internationally recognised day for the celebration of the resilience of communities and workers still facing systemic oppression and marginalisation, IWD  has become an opportunity for corporate “purple-washing”, where a simple #BreaktheBias can save a company from the scrutiny of feminist organisations.

In order to investigate the extent to which gender-washing exists within the tourism and hospitality industry, we created an evidence base consisting of IWD tweets from some of the largest companies and organisations in the world, along with smaller women-led companies, to identify whether they have implemented gender policies to affirm their claims of gender equality. Out of the 50 companies/organisations investigated which tweeted their support for IWD, only 20 organisations had concrete public facing gender policies.

Making real moves towards gender equality: Heathrow and IHG Hotels & Resorts

Heathrow Airport, which tweeted about supporting women in aviation to progress in their careers through apprenticeships, not only have a Diversity and Inclusion policy focusing on gender, sexuality, disability and ethnicity but they also have a range of programmes and networks to empower women in aviation.

IHG Hotels and Resorts, which also showed their support for IWD, not only have a policy statement on equal employment but are also named the best hospitality place to work for LGBTQ equality for 6 years in a row.

Puple-Washing: Companies lacking concrete, public-facing gender policies

The 30 companies and organisations who tweeted on IWD but have no concrete public facing gender policies included Ryanair, Princes Cruises, IBT Berlin and WTM London.

Some organisations had initiatives and measures to address gender imbalances and pay gaps, such as EasyJet, TUI, P&O Cruises and Booking.com.

But this is not enough to prove that active work to resolve gender inequality is being done, or that a set target is being worked towards. Without an external gender/diversity and inclusivity policy or committee, it’s easy for companies and organisations to jump on the gender-washing bandwagon by either showing support for holidays like IWD or investing into projects which show no evidence for real sustainable change (such as the infamous “Plant a tree with every purchase” green-washing corporate strategy).

Whilst our findings will be followed up with a more thorough research report, the issue of “purple-washing” when there are no public facing gender policies needs to be addressed. Corporations must be more transparent about their commitment to addressing gender imbalance working with women  to address gender imbalances in their workspaces and beyond, but also working with gender equality focused organisations to establish a culture of corporate accountability and transparency.

Agrita Dandriyal, Research Assistant for Equality in Tourism
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