American Airlines: A history of diversity
American Airlines understands the rich mixture of cultures and backgrounds represented by its employees, customers and suppliers – as well as the growing number of international destinations it serves. Diversity and corporate citizenship initiatives are woven into the fabric of the business and are seen as a way of life. Each employee is responsible for implementing American’s diversity philosophy of promoting inclusion, and creating an environment where all differences are valued, and where employees can develop to their full potential.
Diversity has long been embraced at American Airlines, which has pioneered a number of diversity-based initiatives over its 80-year history. In fact, American’s diversity philosophy has been overwhelming beneficial to its business and its employees, customers, suppliers and the communities it serves.
Given American’s operations around the world, its workforce is quite diverse, and this includes different perspectives, ideas and various cultures and beliefs. While most companies make a distinction between their diversity and corporate citizenship initiatives, American has developed an innovative strategy that leverages its diversity, corporate citizenship and community involvement company-wide to enhance the work environment, procurement, advertising, sales and marketing. Consistently recognized as a leader in its employee policies for inclusiveness and fairness, American’s policies have helped the company attract and retain high performing, creative employees.
At American, diversity is recognized as a strategic business imperative and philosophy that is strongly embraced. Diversity engagement is reflected across the company in Specialty Sales, Advertising/Promotion, Corporate Communications, in Purchasing’s Diversified Supplier Program, through Employee Resource Groups, the Diversity Advisory Council and the Minority Legal Counsel Program.
Diversity best practices at American Airlines include leadership hiring targets, diversity training, the development of Employee Resource Group networks, and discussions of diversity at the highest levels of the company. Today, American Airlines has several African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and female mid-level and senior executives.
American also has the distinction of being the first major airline to hire a female pilot, in 1973, and the first to have a female captain, in1986. In fact, the company’s first Women in Aviation Employee Resource Group was established in 1996 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Its mission is to promote hiring, professional development and promotional opportunities for women in aviation.
For more than a decade, American Airlines has been a pioneer in implementing fair-minded policies and practices for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) customers and employees. American was the first major airline to implement same-sex domestic partner benefits, offering equal health, pension and travel benefits to same-sex partners of gay and lesbian employees. American was also the first major airline to add both sexual orientation and gender identity into its workplace nondiscrimination policies, and the first major airline to have a recognized LGBT Employee Resource Group. Formed in 1994, the group’s mission is to engage management and reach out to allies in other employee groups and integrate the principles of fairness, acceptance and diversity into all company policies and programs. American publicly supports the Employment Non Discrimination Act.
American currently has 16 Employee Resource Groups that engage diverse employees and create avenues for bringing their ideas into the business. These groups assist in developing business strategies, serve as consultants and help implement business initiatives. For example, American’s Indian Employee Resource Group acted as subject-matter experts for service between Chicago and Delhi, helping to devise culturally relevant in-flight meal menus and advising on other service aspects.
American also embraces to better understand its customers, suppliers and the community as a whole. By utilizing the perspectives of various ERGs and the large number of diverse employees, American is able to successfully enhance the customer experience given the different expectations, experiences, and backgrounds of its customers. This is to maintaining global competitiveness. A number of initiatives are in progress to enhance the overall customer experience for travelers who fly with American, and a series of marketing programs are under way that are tailored specifically to appeal to key diverse customer segments. In January 2008, American developed an industry first robust diversity and inclusion page on AA.com. The link promotes American’s diversity efforts in supplier diversity, employees, diversity leadership, awards and recognition, corporate citizenship and on-going marketing initiatives. American also has products tailored for small businesses and aa.com web pages specifically focused on women and the gay and lesbian segment.
Small and medium businesses benefit from products and services tailored to their needs, such as American’s Business ExtrAA. This no-cost travel award and incentive program gives small and medium businesses the ability to lower their travel costs by earning points for their travel on American Airlines, American Eagle and AmericanConnection. These points can be redeemed for flights and other exciting awards – and those awards may be transferred to clients, employees or friends. The program also allows companies to manage their American Airlines business travel details online.
American has dedicated sales teams that focus solely on diverse customer groups, such as the African-American, Hispanic, and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender communities. These sales teams support and partner with many community organizations such as the NAACP the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Foundation, and Paul Quinn College. Student sponsorships are provided to a number of organizations including the National Black MBA Association; The Dallas Black Academy of Arts and Letters; and The Boys Choir of Harlem. In the Hispanic community, American supports the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas; the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) National Conventions; and the Latina Style 50 Best Practices on Diversity Conference. The LGBT team supports organizations such as Human Rights Campaign, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Lambda Legal, and amfAR. American Airlines uses specialized and diverse advertising, marketing, and public relations agencies to develop insightful programs that best serve its needs.
In addition, the Internet is a way of doing business and American uses the web to generate revenue and loyalty among its diverse customers as well as educate and inform them of travel-related or company-related information. AAVacations.com now has a micro site, www.AA.com/rainbow, aimed at serving American’s loyal gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender customers who are eager to explore the vacation destinations on this popular Web site. American was the first U.S. airline to launch a vacation package site for GLBT travelers. Additionally, approximately half of American’s travelers are women, and American was the first airline to publicly state its commitment to female travelers. www.AA.com/women offers safety information, travel tips, lifestyle and business related events for women consumers. AA.com/women aims to educate, entertain and inform female customers on the value of using AA.com/women as a travel resource for travel planning and booking. American has also established two external advisory councils: one focused on women travelers, the other on LGBT travelers. Advisory Council members provide ongoing and ad hoc market feedback on American’s position within their respective communities and offer input on market trends, community concerns and program concepts that promote growth within these customer groups.
By accessing American’s diversity resources, American is able to create multicultural marketing initiatives that tailor various offerings to customers based on their travel history, cultural affinity, sexual orientation and desire to be engaged in specific American initiatives. As a leader in diversity and citizenship, American’s focus on reaching diverse customers as well as employees as a way of doing business is woven into the fabric of the company’s culture.
American Airlines and American Eagle employees – as individuals and as groups – volunteer their time and talents to a wide variety of charitable organizations and causes. American Advocates, a volunteer program launched in 2004, has 10,000 volunteers who participate in various initiatives. Employee volunteerism is important to American employees because it is the right thing to do and because it increases employee loyalty and pride to see American involved in the community. Customer loyalty is also increased, as customers see American as an airline that goes beyond the services it sells to enrich the entire community and promote inclusiveness.
Many employees at American volunteer time to projects ranging from those around the corner to around the world, many of which benefit minority groups. In any given month, American’s employees may be involved in building houses supporting Habit for Humanity, rebuilding an AIDS orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, or participating in a relief mission to Haiti.
American Airlines is also a major contributor to Airline Ambassadors International, a non-profit organization that provides humanitarian aid to children and families in need as well as relief and development to under-privileged communities worldwide.
Employees have also helped raise funds for UNICEF and Red Cross through Disaster Relief Funds and participated in Susan G. Komen® Race for the Cure events around the country. In 2008, American Airlines announced an expanded relationship and the airline’s new role as Komen for the Cure’s inaugural Lifetime Promise Partner. American pledged to raise $8 million and is the first funder of Komen’s new category of grants, Promise Grants. The first American grant is funding a five-year study of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
American Airlines’ Supplier Diversity Program was designed to bring the added value of diversity to its purchasing process by proactively seeking minority- and women-owned enterprises (M/WBEs) and providing the opportunity to participate as potential suppliers of products and services to the airline. Administered from the Corporate Purchasing Department, the program is represented throughout the corporation by supplier diversity advocates, who are responsible for supporting supplier diversity within their respective departments on a day-to-day basis.
Success depends on the supplier’s ability to be price-competitive in the marketplace, to provide a quality product and/or service, and to deliver that product or service in a timely manner. American attempts to match potential suppliers with customers within the organization, to establish a line of communication between the supplier and the customer.
The Supplier Diversity program offers companies and suppliers the opportunity to grow together in a mutually beneficial way. Women and minority-owned businesses are among the fastest growing businesses in the U.S. and based on their size, can frequently offer flexibility and innovation that larger businesses have difficulty providing. American also benefits by using local suppliers, which can sometimes be more environmentally friendly, and incorporates geographical diversity. Diverse suppliers are able to benefit from American’s brand and grow with the company.
Since the Supplier Diversity Program began in 1989, total expenditures with diverse suppliers reached approximately $3.3 billion. American’s philosophy is to concentrate on suppliers located in its key cities, continue to grow the pool of certified M/WBEs, develop a supply base that reflects its customer base, and provide opportunity to that segment of the economy.
American Airlines is proud of its tradition of diversity, the heritage it bespeaks, and the future opportunities it represents. Diversity is among the company’s core values, but it is also viewed as a continuing journey. By benefiting employees, suppliers and engaging customers, American Airlines has developed a diversity and citizenship philosophy that is an everyday part of doing business. It helps us find new opportunities that are exciting and rewarding, and seek ways to enhance existing diversity initiatives and identify new ones. American hopes that their business model is one that inspires and motivates other companies to embrace a new outlook in diversity and corporate citizenship.
DiversityBusiness.com Magazine Article