The Business Lounge, a thermometer of the disparity between men and women

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By Nikita

I remember a time when I was on maternity leave and my children were very young, I would experience the nightly fear of the approaching dusk and everything that brought: tired, grumpy kids, the grinding routine of feeding, washing and changing, and the circus of putting them to bed. One night my routine was split asunder when the phone rang. It was my husband calling to tell me that he had landed (from a plane no doubt), that he was waiting for his connection and that he was about to take a shower. I remember thinking that neither of us were in a good place. How wrong I was! I found this out when we were travelling together and we visited one of these mysterious places where he used to take a shower: the ‘Business Lounge’. Automatic doors, tinted windows that open onto an oasis of peace – a stress-free escape from the hustle and bustle of the main airport terminal. Its quiet atmosphere softened further by smiling hostesses warmly greeting you with complimentary newspapers and glossy magazines, an extensive premium open bar with champagne flutes, a rich selection of wines, delicious aperitifs, hot and cold buffet meals, desserts, coffee tables, sofas, internet workstations, telephones, free wi-fi, television, nap rooms and showers with towels, luxury toiletries and hairdryers. Here, precisely on that day, I swore to myself that to indulge in a business lounge would be my primary goal. 12 years later, I finally reach the status of ‘frequent flyer,’ which gives me access to what is the travel industry’s best-kept secret – the airport lounges. The service is remarkable and understandably so because the most profitable segment of the market for the airline industry is that small slice of plane seats at the front – the business class – whose travellers are rewarded with admission to the ‘all-inclusive lounge’. Finding myself more regularly in the business lounges of Western Europe, something suddenly strikes me – I notice that these are attended almost exclusively by men. How come? The world is full of working women.

The world is full of women travelling. Yes, this is true, but it seems that it is not full of women travelling for work in business. And that suggests only one thing, that there are still very few women in the world who hold top business positions in companies and the sophisticated lounge confirms the statistics. Indeed, the Grant Thornton International Business report 2014, certifies that in Western Europe only 14% of women hold top positions.

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The situation improves a bit in the United States with 22%. Russia with 43% is in first place for the number of women in senior management positions. The report suggests that this percentage reflects the emphasis on ‘equal opportunities for all’ in the Soviet period, where both women and men worked. Why then are Russia’s lounges devoid of women? One answer may lie in the fact that Russian women occupy high positions in service industries such as education, health and accounting; sectors that do not typically lead to travel. All that said, today more and more women are making their way into leadership roles. This trend goes hand in hand with the rapid growth (especially in Asia and South America) of a number of executive women travelling for business. The airlines are still discovering the specific needs of these new customers.

Women typically respond by simply asserting that they don’t have different needs from men and would like the same treatment but when asked specifically which services they would like in the lounge they respond ‘a space where to breastfeed, a fitness center, healthy food and decent wine.’ It is difficult to resist the allure of the lounge, typified by one Chinese customer who purchased a fully refundable first class plane ticket and then re-booked it 300 times to receive free meals at the business lounge and this is not an isolated case.

The moral is: a rallying call to women – gain access to the lounge, not as a temporary privilege, but as a permanent status. Once crossing the threshold of the darkened door, make time for yourself without feeling guilty.