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Tui's 'sexist' stickers: proof that brand purpose has to work inside out

I don’t feel great for the team at Tui airlines this morning. They tried to do a good thing, which was to give stickers to kids. More specifically, gender neutral stickers that said either ‘future cabin crew’ or ‘future pilot’.

Simple, right? Great meeting. Let’s do it. Signed off. Sent to print.

Unfortunately, when the stickers were handed out, all the ‘future cabin crew’ stickers ended up on the girls. And all the ‘future pilot’ stickers ended up on the boys. That could be because kids and parents chose to assign gendered roles. But the implication is that it was the airline’s own staff who decided that a seven-year old girl was already unequipped to take the controls.

That’s a real problem. Obviously it’s a negative PR story this week, which won’t help Tui’s reputation. But it will blow over.

But it’s not about the stickers. It’s about what the whole episode says. Gender is already a real problem for the airline industry. After all, easyjet and Ryanair both reported some of the worst gender pay gaps in business this year, driven by the fact that nearly all their pilots are men (often earning over £90,000), while a majority of cabin crew (earning under £25,000) are women. That’s a problem that only training and recruiting more female pilots can fix – starting with inspiring that seven-year old girl.

Recruiting female pilots isn’t just better for equality, it may well be better for safety culture too. There are numerous reports of crashes caused by entitled pilots refusing to listen to subordinates. And plenty of research that shows that women, while still a tiny minority of pilots, may be better at it.

So, these stickers matter. Getting a better gender balance in the airline industry matters.

And that’s something that Tui should have briefed its staff on.

Because while social purpose and sustainability (yes, gender equality is a sustainability issue) are often discussed in the boardroom or in CSR departments, it’s the staff who make them real.

Staff shouldn’t just be told to hand out stickers. They should be properly briefed on why they matter.

Better still, they should play active role in deciding what matters in the first place – which happens when purpose is embedded into the corporate culture, not owned and handed down by a siloed and under-resourced team at head office.

That’s the shift that needs to happen so that a simple set of stickers doesn’t become a PR disaster for a brand trying to do good.

Reuben Turner is creative partner at The Good Agency. He tweets at @reubenturner