American Airlines Harnesses Diversity And Change As A Force For Good

On several metrics, American Airlines is one of the world’s biggest airlines. The airline flies a lot of passengers, has a lot of planes, and employs an enormous number of people. It is easy to imagine American Airlines as a corporate behemoth focused on the bottom line.

American Airlines prides itself on stakeholder diversity and inclusion. Photo: American Airlines via Facebook.

American Airlines says it is diverse and inclusive

Last week, I wrote an article about an American Airlines flight from Jamaica that was crewed exclusively by Jamaicans. American Airlines has been flying to Jamaica for 43 years and I asked why it had taken that long for a flight to have an all-Jamaican crew.

I criticised American Airlines for not walking the talk when it came to diversity and inclusion.

American Airlines all-jamaican
The all-Jamaican crew came about by coincidence. Photo: American Airlines via Twitter

The airline got in touch. It said that the all-Jamaican crew was a rostering coincidence, albeit one it liked. It does not schedule crews based on nationality.

American Airlines stressed the value it places on diversity and inclusion. Not just amongst its 130,000 odd employees, but across suppliers and passengers as well. This got me digging and here’s what I found.

American Airlines on the watch for trafficked children

To a very large extent, an airline cannot pick its passengers. Passengers are the buyers and they pick their preferred airline. But American Airlines flies to over 50 countries so it is going to see a broad range of nationalities, creeds, cultures, likes and dislikes in its cabins.

On a busy day, American Airlines will fly over half a million passengers. I could talk about how great AA is at culturally specific catering but instead, I’ll talk about what American Airlines is doing to help kids at acute risk.

Two years ago, American Airlines signed ECPAT-USA’s Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct. It aims to prevent child sex tourism and trafficking of children. To that end, American Airlines put mandatory human trafficking awareness training in place for their frontline customer-facing team members, including pilots, flight attendants and airport agents.

The intention was and is to recognize and stop suspected and real cases of trafficking. The airline has since been recognized for its commitment to this cause.

It isn’t a diversity issue, but stepping up to help stop this practice is a nice move for inclusivity for some of the planet’s most vulnerable kids.

American Airlines targets small business as potential suppliers

A stakeholder in any business that often gets overlooked when it comes to diversity and inclusion are the suppliers. According to American Airlines,

“American Airlines is committed to working with a diverse group of suppliers to provide you with the best products and services. Through our Supplier Diversity Program, we build relationships with small, minority, women, disability, veteran, service-disabled veteran and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) – owned companies that perform at the industry’s highest standards.”

The airline promises to evaluate products and services on their merits, giving fair and impartial consideration to all suppliers. I know on a lot of American Airlines‘ long haul flights, they use local suppliers at their outstation airports to supply many of their products and services. On a flight back from say, New Zealand, you might see local lamb or seafood on the menu.

Local suppliers can pick up contracts at various AA airport outstations. Often in-flight food reflects this. Photo: American Airlines via Facebook

For bigger picture supply deals, American Airlines has an interesting program called the Small Business Program. It is North American centric, which is fine as American Airlines is a North American centric airline. The program targets suppliers who might otherwise be cut out of the loop when it comes to grabbing a lucrative supply contract with an airline.

Under this program, the supplying business must be 51% controlled and operated by either a small business (as defined by the North America Industry Classification Systems standards), a small disadvantaged business, a federal HUBZone business, a veteran-owned small business, a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, or a female-owned small business.

Framework in place to harness and benefit from employee diversity

The area where diversity and inclusion are most noticed (or not noticed) is amongst its employees. American Airlines employs nearly 130,000 people, including approximately 26,000 flight attendants, 15,000 pilots and 18,000 airport agents

It was around this area I took a swing at American Airlines last week. Here’s what I’ve found out since.

The airline has a Diversity Advisory Council (DAC) that focuses and advises on company-wide educational, community service and personal enrichment opportunities. Also, American Airlines has what it calls Employee Business Resource Groups. There are 20 of these groups, ranging from an Asian Pacific Islander Employee Group to a Christian Employee Business Resource Group. Their role is to represent specific employees and their beliefs, nationalities and backgrounds.

AA employees in a photo promoting breast cancer awareness and research. Photo: American Airlines via Facebook.

Diversity and inclusion are pretty broad terms. But to take one example; in terms of recognizing and valuing LGBT employees, customers and suppliers, American Airlines received a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.

American Airlines CEO, Doug Parker, has said;

“We’re working to restore our company as the greatest airline in the world and can only do that with employees that are as diverse as the customers we serve. So we must work to recruit, develop, retain and engage the very best people – those with unique perspectives and ways of thinking who can help us become the global leader we’re poised to be.”All Posts

No business is perfect but AA having a decent go at it

No business is ever going to be perfect when it comes to dealing with people. But considering its size, American Airlines is making a pretty good fist of it. And, importantly, it is trying. I especially like how the airline targets small businesses as potential suppliers and actively tries to help really vulnerable kids.

So I’ll probably cut the airline some slack when next trying to eat a dry in-flight AA burrito.