Airline, Aerospace Make Forbes Diversity List

By Kathryn B. Creedy

15 minute read

  • Population declines increases urgency to create new pipelines including immigration
  • American competitiveness at risk
  • Job seekers exclude companies not meeting their diversity goals and will raise diversity issues in interviews
  • A quarter of global companies do not have diversity programs
  • 30 top employers, including the highly regulated, make compelling business case for including those with criminal records
  • Diversity recruiting experts in high demand
  • New pipeline sources needed, affinity groups recommend partnerships
  • Retention of diverse workforce remains a challenge
Source: Hey Lagos Techie via Unsplash

Twenty five aviation and aerospace companies made the list of the Forbes America’s Best Employers for Diversity 2021 and top among them was Delta at 112 but besting the Atlanta-based carrier was Raytheon Technologies at 78.

Raytheon Technologies78
Delta Airlines112
JetBlue Airlines126
Alaska Airlines209
Lockheed Martin233
BAE Systems246
General Dynamics330
Southwest Airlines321
Spirit Airlines322
Motorola Solutions344
CACI Int’l375
Expeditors International396
Northrop Grumman402
Huntington Ingalls Industry418
L3 Harris Technologies439
United Airlines474
American Airlines478

Source: Forbes Best American Employers for Diversity

The publication considered thousands of companies for inclusion on its fourth annual list and reported not only did these companies receive the most recommendations, but also had the most diverse boards and executive ranks as well as the most proactive diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The story validates efforts by companies actively working with schools, an effort outlined in a recent Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News analysis of industry programs.

Raytheon topping the list of aerospace companies is no surprise given its strong emphasis on education programs designed to increase those pursuing aviation careers including its recent funding of cybersecurity high school programs. In addition, its subsidiary, Collins Aerospace, is heavily involved in educating the next generation including a mobile STEM lab and generous grants to get computer science curriculum into elementary schools. (See FA/AW News’ Education and Workforce Development Resources for Aviation/Aerospace for details and other corporate programs.)

Population Declines Create New Urgency

Lost in the entire diversity debate is the impact on population declines on fulfilling workforce needs in the future. The Center for Disease Control reports US population fell for the sixth consecutive year in 2020.

“Without raising immigration levels now, the US will no longer be the world’s largest economy,” said a new report from George Mason University. “Expanded immigration will ensure the US workforce can continue to outperform global competitors. [Otherwise], the US will sacrifice its position as the world’s largest economy by 2030. In fact, if current US population trends continue, the US economy will fall behind China’s by 2030 and be only three-quarters of China’s economy by 2050.”

The study projects doubling immigration could expand the economy in 2050 to more than twice its current size growing GDP to as much as $47 trillion, compared with $37 trillion if recent immigration levels continue.

“In other words, if the US does not double our immigration levels, we risk losing out on 25% of additional economic growth by 2050,” said the report.

Social Justice Movement Effective

Most organizations are actively recruiting for diversity although only 40% of all employees of all races think their companies have effective diversity and inclusion programs.

Companies without such programs risk losing qualified candidates, according to Boston Consulting Group, which reported more than half of all US job seekers exclude companies where DE&I beliefs do not match their own. The global workforce study showed they also list remote working and flexibility among their top priorities.

Indeed, as Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News has reported here and here on industry diversity programs, it is not only prospective employees but consumers and stockholders who are watching corporate social policies closely and using the power of the purse to reward or punish companies who don’t align with their beliefs.

Aviation Week’s 2020 workforce study reported on industry demographics showing a stubborn lack of meaningful change over time, despite the results of the Forbes list.

Employees Seek Diversity During Hiring

“Now, more than ever, job seekers want to work for companies that take a stand on important issues and whose values, mission and culture align with their own beliefs,” said BCG, who partnered with The Network and Appcast in the study.

Numerous studies, including those from ZipRecruiter show job seekers place a high priority on working for employers with a strong DE&I commitment. In new research, Yello found the same thing as 64% said diversity and inclusion is an important factor in their decision to accept a job offer.

Candidates are also asking about a company’s DE&I commitment in interviews and are seeking exposure to a diverse group of employees during the hiring process.

In State of Diversity in Recruiting, Gem recommends examining that process which is the most likely place for bias to appear.

“Having a diverse top-of-funnel won’t mean much if you haven’t optimized and de-biased your middle- and bottom-of-funnel practices,” it said. “Moving underrepresented candidates through the funnel is the second-most-anticipated barrier to diversity hiring and using metrics help teams understand the pipelines they’re building.”

Given media attention to pay equity, candidates will probably be asking about the company’s record on that as well. Having metrics in place to communicate corporate goals and the progress being made on these two issues will be important.

“Dig deeper than company-level metrics,” Gem recommended. “It’s one thing for your organization to realize a 50/50 split of male and female employees; but if your male employees are all C-levels and your female employees are all in HR, your organization isn’t nearly as equitable as it might appear. Slice your hiring funnels by department, role and seniority level to give yourself the complete view of your landscape. This way you can come up with a strategy for each role you have to fill, based on what that team currently lacks in representation.”

Young Professionals Will Shape the Future Workforce

The BCG study and others provide insight into how younger generations will shape the workplace.

“Employers committed to diversity and inclusion and offer flexible work arrangements are likely to attract top talent and emerge stronger post-pandemic” said Heather Salerno, senior vice president of marketing at Appcast.

Lynette Darnell, senior manager of DE&I and Development at Piedmont Airlines, agrees, reporting her company’s DE&I efforts made Piedmont more competitive.

“What would your employees and customers say if they walked into your office and saw you still used a flip phone,” she asked. “It would say you are stagnant and do not respond to new demands. It is the same with diversity. We must embrace and adapt as demand continues to shift. We must decide to move into the future or stagnate. It is a process that takes time, but the goal is to ensure everyone can grow and be their best selves.”

Opportunity for Meaningful Change

Employers have an unprecedented opportunity to drive meaningful change quickly by creating not only policies but metrics for success.

Gem, which helps companies forge workplace and recruiting policies, said its survey of talent professionals across the leadership and HR spectrum at global companies, found just over a quarter of companies had no DE&I goals in place. Only 17% had teams dedicated to sourcing diverse talent and another 7% plan to hire diversity recruiting specialists this year. However, ZipRecruiter reported a 40% increase in demand for diversity, equity and inclusion experts last year. 

“We all know the dismal statistics about diversity in C-level and executive roles; and diversity hiring efforts have shown us, again and again, that underrepresented talent is unlikely to accept offers from companies in which they don’t see themselves reflected at the leadership level,” the study concluded. “Executive heterogeneity suggests that promotion opportunities simply won’t be available to them at those organizations. Leadership diversity is a virtuous circle.”

More Than Race & Gender

What is included in your diversity recruiting initiative?

Yello also reported almost half of respondents defined diversity as race/ethnicity but coming in second was personality with age and gender third and fourth. For talent teams it is much broader including neurodiversity, disabled, formerly incarcerated and age. FA/AW News covered the importance National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency puts on hiring the neurodiverse.

Including those with criminal records is part of a new movement to make meaningful opportunities available to everyone. Aviation/Aerospace are notably absent from the nearly 30 largest employers in the US already in a newly created program championed by JP Morgan Chase Chair & CEO Jamie Dimon and Eaton Chair & CEO Craig Arnold. Joined by representatives from the Business Roundtable, they created Second Chance Business Coalition to create employment programs to capture the 70 million Americans with criminal records – one in three US adults – who face significant employment barriers after release.

The coalition works to lower barriers to employment for people with a criminal record by promoting the benefits and providing employers with tools, relationships and expertise to successfully hire and provide career advancement. In addition, the program is seen as a powerful tool to break the poverty cycle, strengthen local economics and improve the business climate.

“According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 82% of managers report the value second chance employees bring to their organization is as high as, or higher than, that of workers without records,” said Arnold and Dimon in a recent CNN article. “And 66% of managers at companies that have hired people with criminal backgrounds rated these employees’ quality of work as comparable to those without criminal records. They also experience higher retention rates. Companies across a range of industries, including complex and highly regulated sectors, have established programs giving these job seekers a chance at meaningful employment. There’s a compelling business case for companies to embrace second chance employment practices.”

Reaching Out to New Sources

The biggest barrier to diversity hiring is finding underrepresented candidates.

“Searching for underrepresented talent demands different strategies – different sources, different keywords, even a different mindset – than [HR professionals are] used to using,” the report advised. “[They] may need to learn to value non-linear experiences, or to spot (or infer) skills acquired in non-traditional ways. You might have to employ a ‘distance traveled’ metric, taking into account how much harder underrepresented talent may have had to work to get where they are, based on privileges they did not have. You might have to leverage your employee resource groups (ERGs) or partner with organizations that represent the communities you want to reach.”

Connecting the Dots

That is exactly why the University Aviation Association aired a webinar to connect the dots between aviation/aerospace efforts to increase diversity and the resources they can tap to make them more successful. These included the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), the Latino Pilots Association (LPA) and The National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA).

The Gem study showed 60% were seeking diversity for leadership as well. Interestingly, 60% of those with DE&I goals in place set new goals after Black Lives Matter forced a new urgency. They created new initiatives – supporting ERGs, improving referral programs and building out DE&I teams to be more aggressive.

What hiring technologies do you plan to invest in for diversity?

Adopting Tech in DE&I Recruiting

“The earliest stage of the funnel is really the only place where recruitment can influence the makeup of its pipelines, since channels like referrals are inherently less diverse,” it explained. “So, if teams aren’t actively sourcing diverse talent pools, they won’t see a diverse pipeline, a diverse set of interviews, or a diverse team. Talent leaders know this – which is why nearly 80% of them said they’d be investing in tools that allow them to search, source, attract and nurture underrepresented talent at the very top of the funnel.”

OBAP Chair Joel Webley, who is also a first officer at FedEx, rejected the old trope that hiring should focus on the “best candidate” noting the disparity in traditional versus non-traditional pipelines.

“That’s easier said than done,” he explained. “The best people from what pool? In the country? In the room? It is really on the organization to do what it takes to find those candidates. You need to seek out affinity groups. You have to work to build the culture of inclusion not just tolerance and you need to seek partnership with these groups.”

Which practices do you plan to include in your hiring process in 2021 to make it more equitable?

Recruiters also said that they are rethinking qualifications in order to attract talent from non-traditional backgrounds which is tricky. This is already happening since many larger organizations such as IBM, Apple and Google no longer require college degrees.

Changing requirements is a delicate topic in aviation circles given blowback by Republican media against United Airlines’ announcement it aimed to hire 5,000 pilots in the next decade and its effort would emphasize diversifying its ranks.

Fox News suggested United no longer cared about safety, was putting diversity before safety and was risking the lives of passengers.

For that reason, the message from Webley could not be more important and speaks to the sensitivity of changing standards.

“It is ridiculous that whatever candidates they recruit will be unqualified,” said Webley. “It is insulting and offensive to suggest the only way you can have diversity is to lower standards. This not at all about lowering standards. It is about casting a wider net to find talent and making sure you have organizations people want to be part of. To reap the benefits of diversity you need to genuinely commit to a diversity strategy.

“There is value in diversity,” he continued. “There is not enough emphasis on the tangible benefits. Instead, companies focus on altruism or doing the right thing. In fact, an investment in diversity is good business. No one questions bringing in expertise to make a product better. But they question it when it comes to diversity. In fact, diverse teams are smarter. They are focused more on facts and they process those facts more clearly. They are more innovative and ask more questions. A 2020 McKinsey analysis showed diverse teams are 25% more likely to outperform their non-diverse counterparts. What are the costs? Just time and resources. The reward is employees participating in a shared experience, beating challenges and the hard work of succeeding on a shared goal.”

Leadership, Pay Goals for 2021

Priorities for 2021 include increasing diversity in leadership and addressing pay equity, perks and benefits.

Getting a diverse workforce is one thing. Keeping it is another. Webley cited studies showing that the lack of inclusion affects retention. This is as true for women as it is for people of color when workforce practices do not uphold DE&I policies and when opportunities to work with clients and promotions are missing.

What, if any, organizational practices/internal policies do you plan initiating in 2021 to support DE&I?

In fact, survey results show millennial job seekers are likely to double their average tenure at a given company if it is committed to DE&I.  

Webley agrees companies should analyze retention and promotion data, citing a 2019 study on black professional experience in the workforce.

Noting micro aggressions, assaults and invalidation of diverse individuals are now more subtle, Webley advised companies to determine what the actual experience is within their companies and its impact on morale, not just of the diverse individuals but of the entire workforce and how it affects company goals.

“Black professions leave for smaller organizations or to start their own business,” he reported. “It’s surprising that this is not obvious to business leaders. They, too, want the ability to get in front of customers to share their ideas. That’s part of what it takes to fully participate in the company goals.”

Coqual found in Being Black in Corporate America, black professionals are more likely to encounter prejudice and microaggressions than any other racial or ethnic group. They are less likely than their white counterparts to have access to senior leaders and to have support from their managers. Yet few white professionals see what their black colleagues are up against. 

“Nearly half of black professionals experienced racially insensitive language and [suffered from diminished expectations for advancement],” concluded the report. “In addition, black women were less likely to have the same support from colleagues advocating for their ideas and skills as white women. Black full-time professionals are also more likely than white full-time professionals to say white women are the primary beneficiaries of diversity and inclusion efforts.” That is definitely playing out in aviation/aerospace.  


The fact aviation/aerospace companies were recommended for the Forbes list by employees means it is clear industry is making progress but AvWeek’s demographics show that progress is far too slow. The fact is failure to address DE&I risks being left behind, especially given the impact of population declines on workforce development. Aviation/aerospace must join with their non-aviation counterparts to ensure government initiatives on workforce development, education and training and immigration support workforce efforts by expanding the pool beyond what we have had historically.

Published by Kathryn B. Creedy

Kathryn B. Creedy is a veteran aviation journalist and communications strategist. My byline has appeared in CNN Travel, The Points Guy, BBC Capital, Los Angeles Times, Forbes Online, The Washington Post, Flyer Talk, Business Traveler, Business Travel Executive, Afar, Flightglobal, Centre for Aviation, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Low Fare & Regional Airlines, Inflight, Business Airports International, Airports, Centerlines, Regional Gateway, Runway Girl Network and Metropolitan Airport News among others. In 2018, I was cited for the Sapphire Pegasus Business Aviation Award for her work as a business aviation journalist. Created four newsletters, including two web publications Author: Time Flies - The History of SkyWest Airlines. Consistently received bonuses or commendations throughout my career. Founded Commuter/Regional Airline News, building it to become the bible of the industry. Co-founded C/R Airline News International to cover Europe. Founding editor of Aviation Today's Daily Brief, VLJ Report. Founding Senior Analyst North America for Centre for Aviation and North American Editor for Low Fare & Regional Airlines and Inflight. Key Words: Aviation, travel, business jets, commercial, aircraft, airlines, publishing, public relations, corporate communications, media specialist,

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