March 25, 2021

A 2021 NBAA GO Leadership Summit microsession examined the relationship between diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and an effective safety culture in the flight department environment.

Hunter Watson, an operations specialist with NBAA, pointed to findings from the investigation into the 1986 loss of the space shuttle Challenger as evidence of how these two areas are intertwined. “That safety culture was not there [at NASA] and people weren’t allowed to freely speak up and be their authentic selves, and say ‘Hey, there’s an issue here,'” he said.

That awareness led to a greater understanding of the importance of DEI throughout the aviation and aerospace communities, including the formation of the Safety Management International Collaboration Group composed of regulatory members from around the world.

Sonnie Bates, CEO of safety risk management firm Wyvern, emphasized a study conducted by the group that identified attributes of a diverse, equitable and inclusive operation. Those include commitment, justice and information.

“Commitment is seeing [a written policy] in action across all levels of the organization … from the very top down to the newest hire on the front line,” said Bates, who also is a member of NBAA’s DEI Working Group. “They are all committed to behaving a certain way that values safety.”

Watson recalled his experiences with just culture during his time at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, noting it was “something that you rolled by right into. It was very interesting to see there was a label to it, an actual title of focus.”

Information is another key aspect to DEI that also stems from a desire to find common ground with all members of an organization. “We want to learn from each other, but there’s a lot of context to that open dialogue and sharing that information,” Watson said.

“We need to be continually learning as an organization,” Bates agreed. “We can’t do that unless there’s a free flow of information that everybody has access to, which means we value transparency. Maybe the newest person can say, I have an idea, because they have the information and maybe that’s the best solution.”

Review NBAA’s articles on diversity, equity and inclusion.