RACHEL BELLE

Alaska Airlines is the first US carrier to introduce gender neutral uniforms

Apr 27, 2022, 8:25 AM | Updated: 8:25 am
(Photo by Ingrid Barrentine, courtesy of Alaska Airlines)...
(Photo by Ingrid Barrentine, courtesy of Alaska Airlines)
(Photo by Ingrid Barrentine, courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines employees now have a lot more freedom to express themselves through personal style.

“We opened it up so that all employees could wear makeup, could wear earrings, could wear fingernail polish,” said James Thomas, director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Alaska Airlines. “We broadened our tattoo policy, allowing more tattoos in different places and in larger sizes.”

Thomas says they’re also introducing new uniform options.

“One of the biggest and most important things that we did is we also committed to creating gender-neutral pieces,” Thomas said. “We are the first airline, first US carrier, to do that. Just in an effort to make sure that we’re showing care for our employees through ensuring that we’ve got inclusive uniform guidelines.”

Alaska is currently surveying employees about what they want in a uniform, then internationally celebrated Seattle couture designer Luly Yang will create them. Thomas says the gender-neutral uniforms are expected to be ready to wear by 2023.

Another new addition to the look are pronoun pins. An employee can choose to wear a small, round pin that says she/her, he/him, or they/them.

“We introduced those towards the end of last year,” Thomas said. “That was something that we heard from our employees that they felt was really important. And our employees were pretty excited about that. So as a part of the new uniform guidelines, employees will be able to wear up to two pins on their lanyards.”

Thomas says they want employees to feel comfortable being themselves at work.

“It’s just about being able to have individuality and being able to feel like you can show up and be your authentic self,” said Thomas. “I think of Isaac, he’s one of our lead CSA agents in our DCA airport, they identify as both he and she and they. I think it’s a number of employees across our organization that have shared that it’s been really great to feel like they don’t now have to think about whether or not they can wear fingernail polish or makeup or whether they can have a nose ring. These are things that now they have access to.”

These changes came about nearly a year after the airline was accused of discriminating against non-binary and gender-nonconforming employees. Flight attendants had to wear traditional “male” and “female” uniforms and there were rules around hairstyles, makeup, and jewelry.

On behalf of a non-binary employee, the ACLU sent a letter to Alaska Airlines saying the policy violated Washington’s Law Against Discrimination, which prohibits discrimination based on “sex or gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression.” They said Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was also in violation.

The ACLU wrote:

“These rigid, binary uniform requirements are more than a mere inconvenience. By forcing our client and countless other employees to adhere to Alaska Airlines’ preferred vision of how men and women should appear, the uniform policy demeans employees who do not conform to gender stereotypes and materially interferes with their ability to do their jobs under equal terms and conditions as other employees.”

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Alaska Airlines is the first US carrier to introduce gender neutral uniforms