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Increasing Diversity in Aviation: Why and How

Today, the aviation industry is grappling with methods to improve inclusion and diversity. 92.3% of aircraft pilots and flight engineers in the U.S. are white, according to Data USA, and 93% are male.

The executive side isn’t much different.

Leadership consulting firm Egon Zehnder found that less than 5% of CEOs and fewer than 13% of top executives are women in the global airline industry. Just 18% of airline executives are a different nationality from their airline.

Now, inclusion is top of mind for many CEOs, with a reported 77% having a diversity and inclusion strategy or intending to put one into place, according to a 2015 PwC report. As the aviation industry strives to address a skills gap and the overall population becomes increasingly diverse, cultivating diversity and a culture of inclusion is likely to remain a key tenant for successful organizations in the coming years.

Benefits of Diversity

Although practicing inclusion and bolstering diversity are good ethical business practices, the aviation industry also stands to benefit from boosting its diversity:

New Ideas and Perspectives

Talent gaps, new ideas and different perspectives are more likely to be well rounded by a diverse workforce. Egon Zehnder connects this broader perspective with commercially successfully airlines, which they found had both a clearly defined business model and vision, and that this stems from more diverse leadership teams. A more diverse team can be a strong defense against groupthink and stale ideas, therefore producing better innovation.

Earn Greater Market Share

According to the Center for Talent Innovation, companies can reap a “diversity dividend” unlocked by better understanding underserved demographics and new areas for service altogether.

Improve the Bottom Line

More diverse teams have been linked to an increase in patent applications, patent success and, ultimately, more products to pull in revenue. And overall, among airlines with a clearly defined business model, Egon Zehnder found a clear link between greater diversity and commercial success.

How to Increase Diversity

Aviation organizations can establish many different practices to grow the diversity at the organization, including:

Remove Recruiting and Hiring Biases

Sometimes, this is as simple as expanding your team of interviewers and decision makers. Often, people unintentionally select those who they feel similar to, so including a more diverse team in the hiring decisions can have a ripple effect. And, diversity should be considered not only regarding personal attributes like age, gender or race, but also industry and international experience. 

Create and Emphasize Non-Discrimination and Inclusion Policies

Organizations should create and communicate a clear non-discrimination and inclusion policy. Not only does this lay the framework for an organization that doesn’t tolerate discrimination or harassment, but it can also help with recruiting, as workplace inclusiveness may play a prominent role in a candidate’s decision. Not only should organizations demand inclusion, but they should also plan to use the differences of employees to build a team of professionals whose skillsets complement one another.

Require Leadership Buy-In

Aviation company leadership teams must pave the path to greater inclusion, both through supporting openness and tolerance and in ensuring diversity across the company’s top jobs. Leaders should be held accountable for competencies in cultivating and managing diverse teams. 

Offer Inclusive Benefits

Organizations that offer benefits that attract a great pool of candidates are more likely to cultivate diversity. For example, challenges in maintaining a quality of life while balancing an aviation career and raising a young family may prevent women from joining the industry. While combatting this issue can take the form of formalized programs like paid maternity leave or a flexible work schedule, efforts can also become part of the organization’s informal culture when the organization is supportive of a parent’s need to care for a sick child. 

Introduce Mentoring Programs

Mentoring programs can help employees from different backgrounds and levels bridge the gap and encourage inclusion. For example, a reverse mentoring program where two employees from different backgrounds mentor the CEO can help the leader understand multiple perspectives, according to senior diversity specialist Bruno Rwayitare. This practice can be applied throughout the company.

Partner With Schools

Minorities are often underrepresented in STEM subjects when obtaining their education. By working with schools to bring more female, black, Asian and other minority speakers to campuses, the industry can inspire more underrepresented groups to pursue an education that equips them for the field – and, ultimately – to join the field.

Use targeted hiring campaigns

Companies can establish hiring campaigns that set hiring benchmarks. For example, EasyJet’s Amy Johnson Flying Initiative strives to boost the number of female pilots from 4% to 12%.

Recognize Minority Leaders

By celebrating the achievements of minority leaders, the aviation industry can begin to shift perceptions. 

Work With the Government on Initiatives

Not only can aviation businesses champion internal issues, but they can also partner with government organizations to offer larger-scale initiatives that encourage minorities to join the aviation industry, often in the form of events or conferences.

Raise Awareness

Aviation companies can ensure their recruiters, managers and employees are aware of both the aviation skills shortage and the need to increase diversity. Making the topic a regular conversation helps foster a culture of inclusion.

Take Advantage of Special Organizations

Organizations can also provide mentorship and training to groups that are underrepresented in aviation, encouraging the next generation to join the industry. For example, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) strives to promote aviation careers through its Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academy, which focuses on teenagers by exposing them to career options they may not have considered. Similarly, Women in Aviation International (WAI) provides scholarships, mentorship opportunities, professional conferences and networking opportunities to help members achieve their aviation career goals.

To learn more about women in aviation management, check out our video here.

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