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Diversity In Aviation Essays

As summer vacation season winds down – only to be replaced by fall conference season – it’s discouraging to note that it’s entirely possible to for you book your journey, give the pilot a perfunctory once-over, get settled into to your aisle seat, and check-in to your hotel – and never encounter a travel professional of color.

Although the travel sector made modest diversity gains in 2015, the entire industry – from airline pilots and flight attendants to reservation takers, hotel clerks and tour guides – remains overwhelmingly white.

Skift, an analyst firm covering the travel industry, has published their annual review of diversity in the travel business. The tale of the tape: Some 91% of airline pilots are white, as are 73% of flight attendants, 70% of travel agents and 81% of tour and travel guides. The best news came in the hotel and motel desk clerk category, which is now 52% white. “And that took a long time to get there,” the report explains. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

“When one considers the rapidly increasing buying power of women and people of color, the opportunity costs for a lack of diversity can be massive,” says Genhi Bailey, Director of Diversity and Inclusion from the law firm DLA Piper. (Just one example: African American vacation spending grew 52% from 2015 to 2016, says MMGY Global, a global travel marketing firm.)

“Of course diversity is not the only factor to success – the product or service must be a quality one, but diversity can help organizations gain and maintain market share.” As someone who travels a lot for business she says, “I ALWAYS notice when there is a person of color behind the desk – especially at high-end hotels and facilities. And I remember those places.”

Diversity, even behind the scenes, leads to a better customer experience in a world where everyone travels. “We have built out the diversity of our product teams and we saw the caliber of our testing and experimentation improve significantly,” says Gillian Tans, CEO of She says the company employs people from 100 different nationalities, 50% of whom are women. “We found we were able to create better, customer-centric product features more quickly with a more diverse product team.”

For the face-to-face world, Bailey says that focusing on the pipeline is key. “Target diverse students studying hospitality at places like Cornell University and UW-Stout,” she says. Smart companies offer targeted internships and fellowships even for high schoolers, but, she cautions, “be sure to hire more than one diverse candidate at a time – being the “lonely only” can lead to feelings of isolation and attrition.”

But with the airline industry facing a fairly significant labor shortage for pilots, why are they still so stunningly white and male? We’ll dig into that in a separate column. But one air carrier, the regional Republic Airlines, is trying some interesting things. We’ll peek into their cockpit.




Professionalism is an important quality to nurture in any industry or business, but in our world of aviation, it takes on even more critical significance.

It’s a long-standing topic in our industry, but the idea of professionalism in aviation has been on my mind recently.

That’s after a former API candidate alerted me to a new American Airlines newsletter that had picked up and recirculated a 2014 article on the topic. That article, published in Aero Safety World, was entitled “Parsing Professionalism.”

In it, author Heather Baldwin asked me to share my thoughts on the issue of aviation professionalism.

“Among people who work in aviation, casual definitions of professionalism typically touch on two components: technical proficiency and emotional/relational proficiency,” I explained.

The resurgence of that article got us thinking about why “professionalism” is still so widely discussed and covered in aviation circles. Beyond the more obvious reasons of the need for it in a work world where competency and character sometimes appear to have slipped their moorings, we asked ourselves why is it still so important?


Professionalism in Recruitment

Of course, at API, we look at professionalism through the lens of recruiting job fulfillment and, as such, the 2014 article stated that “aviation is a very precise career, demanding excellence and the ability to follow a lot of rules. You can’t make it up as you go along or just decide you’ll do it later, as we are seeing in many of our millennials.”

But sparked as I was by this reminder of the importance of professionalism, I recently began an excellent book on the topic. It’s entitled Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett.

In it, the author lays out a clear case for how performance, hard work and sponsors get top talent recognized and promoted. But “leadership potential” alone, as she says, isn’t enough to leverage men and women into the executive suite. Leadership roles are given to those who also look and act the part.

How one presents oneself has a lot to do with professionalism, I would say. How candidates (and incumbent employees) dress, what their demeanors reflect, how much confidence they appear to have—all these aspects of professionalism play a role in their attractiveness to companies, as well as their success in getting a job offer.


The Experts Speak

So, with all of this in mind, I reached out to two trusted industry colleagues to ask them for their definition of professionalism in business aviation, how they see it in their roles in our industry.

William Baldwin, a Director of Aviation, said:

“Great success is rarely produced from mediocre efforts. The very successful individuals or companies we support would expect and deserve nothing less than our absolute best efforts. And he also said: “We are all ambassadors for our companies. We must never forget this important fact. What do they say about first impressions?”

Richard Walsh, NBAA board member and former Chairman of its Safety Committee, defines professionals as those who pursue “continuous improvement to excel in their role” and people “committed to sharing and developing the talent around them.”

“This works in two directions,” he notes. A professional must have the expertise to mentor and the humility to be willing to be developed. Walsh says he has observed “a real paradigm shift” over the last several years in this area, with growing numbers of intern programs, value-sharing across different corporations, job shadowing and other human development initiatives.

The NBAA Safety Committee itself has identified professionalism as:

“The cornerstone focus area of any Safety Management System in which professional behaviors rule and safe actions become a byproduct. Professionalism in aviation is the pursuit of excellence through discipline, ethical behavior and continuous improvement.”

Following are a few other notable viewpoints on aviation professionalism:


Your Turn

With the idea and practice of professionalism so deeply rooted in aviation culture, I’d love to know what your experience with it has been, and how you define it. Please let me know your thoughts on this critical topic in the comments section below.



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