IWD 2023: ‘Change is slow’ on pay, childcare, progression and stereotypes

By Kristiane Sherry |

There is a ‘historical imbalance’ when it comes to gender representation in travel retail. IMAGE: Blackjack Promotions

To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we spoke to Blackjack Promotions’ head of client services Kim De Vito about some of the biggest structural challenges faced by women working in travel retail, and what businesses can do to move towards meaningful equity.

Every year on 8 March people across travel retail and beyond mark International Women’s Day. The global campaign exists to celebrate the progress made when it comes to gender equality, and to shine a light on the challenges that remain.

The 2023 theme is #EmbraceEquity. It serves as a reminder that to move forward, marginalised individuals and groups will need different resources and opportunities to reach an equal outcome. This isn’t just about giving everyone the same opportunities, it’s about concentrating efforts on those with the least so that all ships rise together. It’s especially important to consider the differing needs and challenges of women of colour, disabled women, trans and gender diverse people, neurodiverse women, and other groups when writing policies to achieve equality.

With that in mind, we take five minutes with Kim De Vito, Head of Client Services at Blackjack Promotions, to explore how travel retail and duty free employers can #EmbraceEquity and keep moving to a more equal future this International Women’s Day.

Outline for our readers what the biggest challenges are when it comes to gender representation and equity in travel retail. How are you working to counter these at Blackjack?

Broadly speaking, travel retail has been a much more diverse industry than many others, however, there has been historical imbalance when you look at women on the shop floor versus the board room. I think this is still a challenge throughout the sector. 

The view has perhaps been that women are best equipped to sell beauty, fragrance and fashion to other women. Likewise, travel retail was once seen as casual work rather than the career it is in reality today. These are dusty perceptions all travel retail businesses need to continue to change. 

In my opinion, we’ve already seen an enormous shift. We have numerous team members at Blackjack Promotions who have started on the shop floor and worked their way to the leadership team – demonstrating the trajectory that the industry offers. We’re also proud that our business is female led and that our group regional stations are 90% female led. 

There is still a long way to go in all sectors of course, and we are committed to continual progress for women at work.  

What policy areas need urgently addressing? How would you advise businesses in TR/DF to address this?

Kim De Vito: Breaking down heteronormative gender roles makes a better world for all

There are many policy areas that need to be addressed urgently, be it childcare costs, maternity and paternity leave or how we approach menopause in the workplace. These are all areas with campaigns behind them, but change is slow. 

For me I think the most urgent focus, and where I believe the most change can be made in travel retail, is the evolution of workplace culture, representation and gender bias when it comes to pay. All of these issues influence each other of course, which is why it takes time to move the goal posts. 

According to Trade Union Congress in February 2023, the average woman in paid employment effectively works for free for nearly two months of the year compared to the average man in paid employment, due to gender pay gaps. We need to show that by supporting women and breaking down heteronormative gender roles and stereotypes men not only make a better world for woman but also themselves and future generations.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policies are at the heart of making these changes. Blackjack Promotions is part of the ABM family and so we operate under the group’s diversity and inclusion policies and goals. Our pledge to diversity and inclusion encompasses our commitment to equal employment opportunity and affirmative action including training and recruitment outreach. We won’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, age, colour, creed, sexual orientation, disability, ancestry, marital or veteran status, or any other protected status covered by law.

These policies need to become part of the culture in travel retail – and I think the nature of our industry makes us agile and open enough to evolve more rapidly than some other sectors. It is so encouraging to see things changing but we have a long way to go to support women. 

Many TR/DF categories have a legacy of gendered marketing/positioning (for example, Scotch whisky, beauty…). How through your work are harmful stereotypes being challenged?

This is about focussing on skill not gender. Providing talented people to represent brands at the point of sale is a big part of our business.  We want the most diverse range of individuals to work for us because we know that a diverse workforce is not only representative but provides the best combination of skillset and experience. 

Regardless of the category, be it in liquor or cosmetics, gender is never a consideration when it comes to helping a brand find the right person for the role. Some of our finest whisky specialists are female and some of our best skin care specialists are male, just as it should be. 

This evening (8 March), Women in Travel Retail and TUMI are joining forces to host a motivational networking event in celebration of International Women’s Day at the luggage brand’s Regent Street store in London.

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