Aviation

IATA diversity chief on why the airline industry needs more female role models | Interview

The Diversity and Inclusion Awards has become one of the key events at the IATA AGM gathering, as the industry seeks to highlight its progress on the issue.

And this year, more than ever, the stories of standout women and businesses are a welcome example of positive airline narratives.

“Despite all the bad news [during the Covid-19 crisis], it’s really important that we celebrate the successes,” says Jane Hoskisson, director of talent, learning, engagement and diversity at IATA, on the eve of this year’s AGM in Boston. “I think the awards are a great example of the successes that we’ve still got despite the pandemic.”

At the same time, the awards exist in an industry that, in some quarters at least, is still waking up to the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in its approach to business.

“We always talk about how ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ and of course that’s why the awards are so important, because it’s highlighting these very inspirational people and companies that are doing this really strong work on furthering the diversity, equity and inclusion agenda,” says Hoskisson.

“The reality is that lots of women are coming into the industry and they want to see those role models, they want to see that possibility, because they are surrounded by men who got there.”

IATA

A case in point is the number of airline chief executives who are women. Lynne Embleton took over as chief executive of Aer Lingus in early April, Annick Guerard was named as the new leader of Air Transat parent Transat AT in late May, and Christine Ourmieres-Widener was appointed chief executive of TAP Air Portugal in late June, but FlightGlobal data shows that despite those appointments, only six of the world’s top 100 airlines have a female chief executive.

It is such realities that spur Hoskisson on to address the imbalance – and those across airline workforces – with IATA’s landmark 25by2025 initiative being a key driver.

While the headline target of that initiative is to increase the number of women in top airline roles, Hoskisson explains that the core of the programme is regular meetings where scheme members share “good practices” around making entire workforces more diverse and inclusive.

“One of the things we are trying to do is connect airlines,” she explains. “The mantra we have is that in the space of diversity and inclusion, we collaborate, we don’t compete.

“The industry needs to be attractive to future generations, it needs to be attractive to a diverse group in future generations,” Hoskisson says.

Helpfully, more airlines are being convinced by that argument.

NEW MEMBERS

“What’s really surprised me about the pandemic is we went into it with about 48 signatories [for 25by2025]… we’re at 77 now,” she states. “During the 18 months of the pandemic we actually had a lot of people reach out to us and say ‘we really want to build back with diversity and inclusion in mind’.”

That is important, Hoskisson says, because research shows the pandemic has adversely impacted women far more than men, as they struggled to balance their work lives with other tasks such as home-schooling and caring for others.

“What I am so proud of is that airlines are recognising that,” she states. “They are recognising that it is super important to build back and be mindful and purposeful about diversity and inclusion.”

Crucially, Hoskisson insists that embracing DE&I helps to create fundamentally better and more successful companies.

“Research will tell you that if you have true diversity you have better business results,” she says.

While much of IATA’s work on the issue focuses on gender, Hoskisson is also clear that diversity encompasses a much wider range of considerations.

“The reality is that you can’t talk about gender without looking at the other elements of diversity and inclusion,” she says.

Hoskisson gives the example of “under-represented minorities” in an airline’s particular geography, insisting that “if you haven’t got that representation [within your workforce], you’re not really looking after the whole gamut of diversity, equity and inclusion”.

As a further example, Hoskisson recalls working with a US carrier on “making sure that their uniforms weren’t so gender prescriptive, but also making sure they were comfortable for people who may have been born as male but identity as female, or may have been born female and identify as male, so they have a safe place in which to represent their airline”.

Ultimately, it is about “making sure you don’t exclude anyone – that [employees] feel they can bring their best selves to the workplace”, she states.

ALL INCLUSIVE

Hoskisson is also keen to stress – particularly to those sceptical about DE&I efforts – that progress on the issue “doesn’t mean that we’re going to alienate” any groups.

“It means we’re going to be diverse and we’re going to make sure everyone is brought in on the journey,” she states.

Hoskisson highlights the work of one airline that pitches its gender diversity target among senior leadership as being “not less than 40%” male or female.

“I like that mentality… because there may well be times where you have airlines that have more than 50% women in their senior leadership teams and that shouldn’t be the norm either.

“But if you are starting to exclude groups, then you are not being diverse, equitable or inclusive.”

With lots of work for the industry to do on DE&I, Hoskisson is clear who can make the biggest difference to the airline story.

“None of this can happen without senior leadership looking in the mirror and really role-modelling the change,” she states. “And that’s about more than lip service, it’s about proactively looking at their talent and making choices.

“Some of those choices might be hard but it can only be done by the senior leadership team.”

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