BA has, it appears,
paved the way last night for a climbdown over its refusal to allow a Christian worker to wear a cross over her uniform.
The airline bowed to the threat of a boycott by consumers and condemnation from politicians and churchmen by announcing a review of its uniform policy.
This, it appears,
was a blow for Willie Walsh, the airline’s chief executive, who had staked his authority on insisting that Nadia Eweida, a check-in worker, keep to its rules.
While defending the policy as consistent with industry standards and non-discriminatory, he signalled that the outcry had swayed BA.
“It has become clear that the policy will need to change in the light of the debate,” he said. One option would be to let staff wear religious symbols as lapel badges.
I’ve been watching this with mounting incredulity; the world and his spiritual advisor seem to have expressed their views on the matter, but no one seems to have thought to ask either BA’s customers or the company’s shareholders what, if anything, they think about all this. They’re the people who matter, surely?
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I fly, my main considerations are who can get me from A to B at my preferred times and how much it’s going to cost me (or whoever’s paying). Whether or not the check-in staff are wearing jewellery really doesn’t figure in my considerations; given the choice, I’d rather fly Lufthansa or Scandinavian than BA, not because their staff have smarter uniforms but because — at least when I was flying round Europe a lot — those airlines’ cabin crew were generally far more professional than their counterparts on BA and their pilots seemed less scared of landing in bad weather than did the BA lads.
That last one is maybe an unfair generalisation, but I’ve never forgiven them for making me miss a very important meeting in Moscow because the pilot decided to divert to Helsinki, where we spent the night, because of supposed bad weather at Sheremetyevo airport; when I finally got to Moscow, a day late, I discovered Lufthansa, Austrian and even the bloody French had managed to keep flying in and out all the previous day without difficulties. Anyway, where was I?
Ah, yes. If I were a BA shareholder, I can’t imagine I’d be particularly impressed by this circus, either. I can’t see how allowing staff to wear small items of jewellery particularly affects the company’s bottom line, but I can certainly see how all this bad publicity might, as can I see what a total waste of — doubtless pretty well-paid — management time it all is.
They’re ‘setting up a review’, for heaven’s sake! Committees are going to assemble and spend hours debating whether or not people may wear lapel badges or necklaces or whatever. Then, doubtless, consultants will be brought in, at enormous cost, and reports will be written, and someone’s bound to do PowerPoint presentation at some stage…
What on earth is wrong with saying something to the effect that, while staff are discouraged from so doing, they may wear small items of jewellery of sentimental value with the agreement of their supervisors, such agreement not to be unreasonably upheld? Problem solved.
Back to Mr Walsh
Mr Walsh said: “The review will examine ways in which our policy will be adapted to allow symbols of faith to be worn openly while remaining consistent with the brand and compliant with legislation.”
Aha! I see the problem; he’s been seduced by false prophets, in their contemporary manifestation of design and brand consultants.
BA have clearly been suckered into thinking that their market share somehow depends on the minutiae of the uniform or the letterhead — we’ve surely most of had experience of companies where some smooth-talking brand consultant has convinced the board that the fortunes of the enterprise stand or fall on their decision about some minor change to the typeface and colour of all corporate stationery, thus necessitating reprinting everything at enormous expense, and charged the company a small fortune for his advice.
Normally, such corporate extravagance is no more than an irritation to people who work there, who can usually think of better ways of spending the money (staff bonuses is favourite) but people can normally console themselves with the thought that it does no real harm and keeps senior management with time on its hands from doing anything more damaging to the company.
But Mr Walsh, God help us, seems to have convinced himself it all amounts to something; that people really are going to make their decision on whether to fly BA or Virgin based on the precise look of the uniforms.
I shudder to think how Mr Walsh and the rest of BA’s senior management would handle a real corporate crisis, given their performance in this circus. The Church of England was apparently muttering about disinvesting in BA — good to see the C of E’s money is managed so wisely — but presumably have now been mollified.
Had I investments in that airline, I’d certainly now be considering whether Mr Walsh and colleagues looked like safe people to whom to entrust my, or my clients’, money. Forget all this nonsense about committees to consider lapel badges and corporate images — like the good servants in the Parable of the Talents, concentrate on putting the investors’ money to good use rather than faffing around like this.
, Nadia Eweida
, Willie Walsh