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No. 140 – While the executives fly business, I’m crammed in economy. Is that fair?

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31 January 2024

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: a business class dream, an uncomfortable number of compliments and a question about new headshots.

I work in a role responsible for managing overseas delegations of senior executive staff. I manage the calendar and am often required to travel. The senior executives travel business class, while I travel in economy. Is this reasonable? I understand they’re more senior than me. However, I have a demanding role to fulfil when I arrive at our destination and I find that travelling in economy for 12 to 16 hours in uncomfortable conditions is not ideal for hitting the ground running. What do you think?

The reason your company gives to explain why they offer business class to senior leaders will be revealing. Do you have a company policy that explains why some fly business and others fly economy? And if the reason for the difference isn’t stated, is there someone you can ask?

Many companies now have a travel policy that allows business class to be booked for anyone travelling over a certain number of hours. This kind of policy is fair to all and covers situations like you describe.

It sounds like your senior executives are receiving business class as a perk due to their seniority, although I’m sure the reason given publicly will be to ensure they are ready to work when they arrive. If that is the reason given, I think you are well within your rights to explain that you also need to work as soon as you arrive and ask whether the company feels it is fair to expect you to do so when everyone else is up the front of the plane. It will be difficult for them justify their approach other than acknowledging they think the senior executives deserve it, and somehow you don’t, so definitely worth seeing if the travel policy can be updated.

This will sound like a ridiculous complaint. I’m a young woman at a large organisation and I wish my fellow female colleagues would stop commenting on my looks. It often happens in front of an audience, including in meetings with senior stakeholders. I find it incredibly embarrassing. I’m there to do my job, not be eye candy. If a man did this, it would be frowned upon. How can I make it stop?

This is not a ridiculous complaint at all. Unwelcome remarks about our appearance are not acceptable, regardless of the gender making them. I think you need to have a conversation with your colleagues and let them know how these comments make you feel. You can say how you feel embarrassed and let them know you are working hard to establish your credibility as a younger member of the team and their comments are making that harder.

If the women ignore your request, I would speak to your boss or someone you trust about how you are best to have this behaviour stopped. While there may not be a sexual undertone to their comments (from the way you describe it), their comments are still unwelcome and need to be dealt with similarly.

I just received a promotion and when it was announced, some trade publications covered it using an old photo of me, taken by my kids, from LinkedIn. I’ve since discovered that my workplace offers headshots, which others in my role have taken. I feel way too uncomfortable asking for such a thing. Is it really OK to ask my workplace to take a new photo of me just because I’m getting a promotion? Do professional photos really matter?

If your workplace is offering professional photos, then you should ask to have one taken – any time – not just because you are getting promoted. And yes, professional photos really do matter. They are an extension of your personal brand (and in your case, your company’s brand as well). If you have customers or clients, most of them are going to look you up online before meeting with you and your photo will be one of the factors that gives them an impression about you.

If your workplace is offering professional headshots, take them up on the offer. You will use a professional photo frequently – on your social media profiles, in articles you write, on your company’s website, at speeches you give. You may as well make sure it is the best photo you have and remember, don’t wait so long until the next one.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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