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The Business Case for DE&I

Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives can help meet business aviation’s workforce challenges and improve organizational profitability and productivity.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) gets a lot of media coverage these days. Are these just the latest management buzzwords? What do those terms mean? (See sidebar #1.) Why should you care about DE&I?

A recent White House executive order demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to DE&I: “As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government must be a model for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, where all employees are treated with dignity and respect.”

Similarly, NBAA and its board of directors are dedicated to increasing DE&I in business aviation. Why? Promoting DE&I is not only the right thing to do; doing so increases safety, facilitates workforce development and increases profitability, productivity and innovation.

“Diversity in an organization creates diversity of thought,” explained Jo Damato, CAM, senior vice president of education, training and workforce development at NBAA. “When you only have the perspective of people who have the same backgrounds and experiences, you’re missing other perspectives that could spark creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial ideas.”

The Benefits of DE&I

The tangible benefits of DE&I can sometimes be difficult to quantify, but there are indications that DE&I has a positive impact on profitability, safety, innovation and productivity.

For example, a 2019 McKinsey study found:

  • Companies in the top quartile in ethnic and cultural diversity outperform companies in the bottom quartile by 36% in terms of profitability.
  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.
  • Gender diversity has been increasing over a recent five-year period, up from 15% in 2014 to 25% in 2019.
  • Ethnic and cultural diversity has moved up from 35% in 2014 to 36% in 2019.

Defining DE&I

  • “Diversity” is the practice of hiring, including and involving people from different social and ethnic backgrounds, beliefs and genders, ages, sexual orientations and disabilities. This includes neurodiverse individuals who experience variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention and mood. “Neurodivergent” is most often used in reference to autistic individuals.
  • “Equity” is the practice and stated policy of being equal, fair, impartial and transparent regarding hiring and evaluation practices, promotions and pay, with all members of the organization having equal access to resources, opportunity and support to succeed and grow.
  • “Inclusion” refers to the formal and informal activities of a company or organization, and the behavior of each of us toward one another that enables participation by all. Essentially, inclusion results in a feeling of belonging and making all feel valued and connected to those around them.

In addition, diversity helps organizations identify ways to save money, attract new audiences and build new business lines.

Josh Mesinger, vice president of Mesinger Jet Sales and co-chair of NBAA’s DE&I Working Group, said, “Research and experience show that consistently having more perspectives from people of different backgrounds and experiences leads to better business outcomes.”

Jennifer Pickerel, vice president of Aviation Personnel International and co-chair of NBAA’s DE&I Working Group, encourages managers to recognize diversity as a solution to workforce shortages.

“The workforce is potentially the biggest issue impacted by diversity,” said Pickerel. “We can’t address our workforce challenges without addressing the fact that we need to include talent beyond our historical scope. Diversity, equity and inclusion can help organizations meet workforce development needs and improve retention.”

DE&I is important to safety, too. A positive safety culture relies on an inclusive culture. Pilots and other business aviation professionals who believe their opinions are valued will speak to authority. The trust and vulnerability critical to a positive safety culture is impossible without inclusion and equity. Individuals who feel excluded or as though their opinions aren’t valued often feel a sense of resignation.

Changing Workforce Demographics

As aviation seeks to meet its current and future workforce needs, consider this:

  • Gen Z is being called the most diverse generation in American history. Only 43% of Gen Z identify as non-Hispanic/white. One in six Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ+.
  • Some 80% of United Airlines workers are expected to retire over the next 20 years. The carrier has launched United Aviate to mindfully bring more diversity into its workforce and address upcoming workforce needs.

“We need to reach into additional demographics and identify the reasons they don’t get into the industry, then address those challenges and make the industry attractive for them to join and stay,” said Pickerel.

In fact, committing to an equitable and inclusive workplace can be a smart business move, suggests Pickerel. “Flight departments and all aerospace organizations would be wise to consider diversity as a competitive advantage.”

“Bright minds and new talent are coming into the pipeline from universities, colleges and trade schools, developing outstanding professionals who business aviation should aim to attract,” said Hunter Watson, NBAA’s operations manager. “The question is: Are companies willing to make the necessary changes to enable these new professionals to feel included and a part of the business aviation community, so they not only take positions in business aviation, but feel invested in the industry’s future?

“People need to feel safe to be authentically who they are,” added Watson. “That’s inclusion. Without it, you stand to lose good people or miss out on important ideas. Cultivating an inclusive work culture is essential for all to feel comfortable doing their jobs.”

NBAA’s DE&I Working Group

The mission of NBAA’s DE&I Working Group, a committee of volunteers focused on promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in business aviation, is to:

  • Create an awareness about the need for diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry and help demonstrate the potential and positive impact it can have on our community.
  • Create a desire within the community to proactively become more diverse, equitable and inclusive and to identify and mitigate bias.
  • Share industry success stories, best practices and resources to affect DE&I.
  • Reinforce the need for DE&I to be a constant and ongoing effort.

The working group’s subgroups focus on the potential for DE&I, biases, caregiver issues, workforce and related best practices. The working group will continue to produce resources, including HR best practices, articles on DE&I and live and virtual education sessions. Also, the group will soon recommend significant revisions to the NBAA Management Guide.

“Integrating DE&I into the NBAA Management Guide is part of the Working Group’s objectives,” said Josh Mesinger, vice president of Mesinger Jet Sales and co-chair of NBAA’s DE&I Working Group. “Incorporating DE&I principles in the NBAA Management Guide shows the association’s sincere support and strong belief in these concepts. It will help initiate DE&I discussions in every part of a flight department and create structural change in the industry.”

NBAA’s Commitment to DE&I

NBAA’s commitment to DE&I relies on top-down leadership, starting with association executives and the board of directors.

“From an association perspective, we recognize the value of fostering DE&I,” said Damato. “It’s visible in our association goals, which have been approved by the board of directors, and reflected in both our core values and our five-year strategic action plan. Our culture of care respects the tenets of DE&I.”

In practice, this means NBAA prominently features DE&I content frequently across all its media channels, raising awareness about the importance of DE&I in business aviation and providing industry organizations of all sizes with the tools and best practices to increase diversity, equity and inclusion.

Recognizing the importance of “see it, be it,” NBAA strives to reflect the demographics of the U.S., in the hopes that the aviation workforce, as a whole, will one day better reflect that diversity. NBAA’s educational content also is focused on diversity of thought, reflecting as many different perspectives as possible. While youth are not the primary audience for NBAA media and education materials, these initiatives can help inspire those considering business aviation as a career path.

“We try to include new voices and new faces, while recognizing the important role of our long-term volunteers,” said Damato.

Review NBAA’s DE&I resources at

Actions You Can Take Now

If you’re asking what you can do to foster DE&I, consider taking the following actions:

  • Discuss DE&I – Talk about these issues within your own company, with other NBAA member companies and industry colleagues. “You have to be uncomfortable sometimes to become comfortable,” said Jessica McClintock, vice president of global account management at FuelerLinx. “We have to be willing to talk openly, even if it feels awkward.”
  • Seek DE&I Resources and Education – Research leading companies that have embraced DE&I, including Procter & Gamble and Disney, and integrate some of their best practices into your own organization. “We need to look at organizations that are doing DE&I well, then model best practices after those organizations,” said Hunter Watson, NBAA’s operations manager.

“These little steps might not seem to be the sea change we need now, but together we will move the DE&I needle in business aviation,” declared Jennifer Pickerel, vice president of Aviation Personnel International and co-chair of NBAA’s DE&I Working Group.

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