Which US Airlines Have The Most Diverse Executive Teams?

Across the United States and other parts of the world, diversity seems to be the hot topic of the hour. It is widely accepted that while a lot has been done in recent years to remedy underrepresentation, more could be achieved. We take a look at how some US airlines stack up and what more can be done to foster inclusion.

Delta and United Airlines
What can US airlines do to make themselves more diverse? Photo: Getty Images

Diversity in US aviation

The word ‘diversity’ can often be a loaded term representing a plethora of sectors within society. Speaking about diversity in the aviation industry means having airlines that employ a wide range of staff. That could mean teams comprised of different ages, races, nationalities, and genders.

The decision to create a more diverse workforce encompasses lots of different pockets within the labor force. It’s not only pilots and cabin crew that should offer a diverse representation of people and backgrounds but senior leadership teams too.

When an airline is diverse from the top-down, decisions are made that foster even better inclusion. This can broaden horizons and, in turn, develop growth.

Diverse employees
Diversity can create a more effective airline. Photo: JetBlue

Why is diversity so important?

Having a diverse workforce is not just about looking good on paper. It’s about driving equality, and that brings unique opportunities. With every fresh employee comes a fresh perspective, and when a staff unit is diverse, many new ideas come to the forefront.

It’s everything to do with squeezing the best potential out of people, and that’s why becoming a diverse employer matters.

Many airlines the world over are already striving to achieve better inclusion and equality. Some of the largest airlines in the United States have been highlighted for their success in delivering equality.

United and American Airlines
Some of the major US airlines have been highlighted for successful equality. Photo: Getty Images

That said, a recent survey from FlightGlobal suggested that we are far off reaching an equilibrium in some areas of the industry. The survey indicated that it would not be for another 30 years before gender equality in US airlines is a reality.

It goes without saying that achieving equality is not an easy fix. Naturally, it will take a few years to iron out imbalances. Here are some of the US airlines taking the lead on employee diversity.

How diverse are the US’ Big Three’?

When it comes to diversity for the US Big Three, each airline has been praised for its efforts. Let’s start with Delta Air Lines.

Delta Air Lines take-off
Delta is one of Forbes’ top diverse employers. Photo: Getty Images

This year, Delta Air Lines was ranked as one of the US’ top 100 companies for diversity, according to Forbes’ America’s Best Employer For Diversity 2020. It came in at 96th place behind Southwest Airlines and JetBlue but far ahead of American Airlines. The list looks at diversity within the company as a whole and considers age, race, disability, and gender diversity among other areas of interest.

Despite Delta’s success in this area, its leadership team could still benefit from some changes. According to Forbes, 91% of Delta’s executive board is white, and 91% is male. That said, its Board of Directors is closer to achieving equality. 85% of the Board is male and 69% white.

American Airlines on the 2020 Inclusion Index

American Airlines has also been praised for its interest in having a diverse workforce. It was featured on the Diversity Best Practices 2020 Inclusion Index for the first time this year. The airline took to its newsroom to celebrate the news.

American Airlines queue
American was featured on the DBP for the first time. Photo: Getty Images

The Chief Diversity Officer at American Airlines, Ken Charles, shared,

“We are proud and grateful for this recognition of our inclusion and diversity efforts, as we continue in our commitment to create a workplace where everyone feels valued and respected. We take tremendous pride in being an airline that cares for and welcomes people from all backgrounds. We know employing a diverse workforce allows us to meet the needs of the diverse populations we serve around the world.”

Thanks to its inclusion in the index, American is now able to recognize gaps where it can do even more for its employees. One place might be in its leadership. The American Airlines executive board is made up of just 11% POC (people of color) and 33% women.

It’s Board of Directors also underrepresents POC and women.

American Airlines crew line up
American Airlines could do more for an even equality split. Photo: American Airlines

United Airlines’ diversity

United Airlines did not do well on Forbes’ Employer Diversity list. It did not make the cut, which suggests it could do a lot more to champion equality. That said, it is somewhat making headway towards racial and gendered equality at a leadership level.

According to Forbes’ survey, the United Airlines Board of Directors is the most diverse within the airline. 23% of the Board is represented by POC and 16% by women. Its executive board is nearly exclusively white, and only 27% are women. There is undoubtedly more work to be done to create equality at these levels and beyond.

Two female employees outside
According to Forbes, United is not a recognized diverse employer. Photo: United Airlines

Special mention to JetBlue

JetBlue came 76th place in America’s Best Employer For Diversity 2020 by Forbes. It was only two places behind Southwest Airlines. A glance at JetBlue’s leadership team does show that it has done more than the Big Three at being inclusive.

Though 88% of its executive board is white, 45% of those members are female – just 5% an even gendered split. Its Board of Directors is again under representative of ethnic minorities. However, 40% of members are female.

JetBlue take-off
JetBlue was ranked highest by Forbes for its diversity. Photo: Getty Images

How can airlines be more inclusive in their workforces?

The very first step that airlines can do to remedy inequality within their staff is to assess how representative their team is. This goes beyond race and gender but should also consider disability, sexuality, and other, more generalized inclusion areas.

Once it has gathered information on its people, an airline will be better placed to target areas where it can grow. Some have suggested that good ways for airlines to become more diverse would be:

  • having a diverse recruiting panel at interviews;
  • creating inclusion policies which make people feel comfortable and not as though they may be discriminated against; and
  • providing benefits, such as maternity leave, that would otherwise put women off applying for more senior roles.

Over the coming years, the industry will likely experience a lot of change. Once the equality ball starts rolling, it becomes a lot easier to maintain diverse practices.

How do you react to this story? Should US airlines do more for diversity? Do you know of any diverse airlines outside of the US? Let us know in the comments. 

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