Feb. 1, 2018
The demographics of the American workforce are changing, and business aviation must keep up.
As business aviation companies search for answers on how to develop the workforce of the future, one solution may be adapting to new demographic realities.
As recently as 1994, nearly three-quarters of the American labor force defined itself as “white non-Hispanic.” By 2024, Deloitte estimates that this number will fall below 60 percent. Self-identified Hispanics are estimated to comprise a fifth of the labor force by 2024, with the proportion of African-American and Asian workforce participants rising nearly a percentage point from their 2014 estimates.
Ethnicity will not be the only shift in the labor force. Women continue to comprise a larger proportion of employed Americans, particularly those aged 25 to 54, whose labor force participation rate is expected to rise to 75 percent by 2024. The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) population also continues to emerge, as an estimated 10 million adults now openly identify themselves as LGBT in the U.S. today – an increase of nearly two million since 2012, according to the results of a Gallup study.
The statistics lay out a stark reality for business aviation, which has a workforce disproportionately (compared to the American population) consisting of heterosexual white males. However, the changing face of American labor also provides opportunities for companies that embrace diversity initiatives.
Challenges and Opportunities
A more inclusive hiring process can assist companies facing stiff hiring challenges from the airlines and foreign operators.
“Aviation companies are competing in a global market, so we have to become more open-minded about our approach to hiring,” said Charles Copeland, chief flight instructor for Flex Air and a member of the National Gay Pilots Association’s data team. He noted that it’s never a question of lowering standards, especially in safety-critical jobs, but removing obstacles that have historically hindered women, people of color and openly identifying LGBT persons during the hiring process.
One such obstacle to inclusivity is unconscious bias. An example of this is the similar-to-me bias, described in a 2015 Pennsylvania State University study as behavioral patterns reflecting that individuals get along with people who tend to look and think like they do. Even if people in hiring positions are not cognizant of any bias or preference, they’re statistically more likely to select applicants with whom they share cultural and social identities.
“It’s important to understand that biases exist for a variety of reasons and situations, against many types of people,” said Jonathan Ulrich, a former Part 135 operation manager and chair of the National Gay Pilots Association’s Business Aviation Advocacy Subcommittee. “Combatting this can be as simple as including additional people in your interview process, even if it’s just bringing them into the room when speaking to the interviewees. Their input can help check our individual biases, whether they are intentional or not.”
For individuals in leadership positions, simply recognizing the potential for bias can go a long way toward leveling the playing field, explained Bruno Rwayitare, senior diversity specialist for Rockwell Collins, adding that it’s perfectly natural for there to be some friction as people from different backgrounds and perspectives interact in the workplace.
“But it’s important to make a conscious effort to ensure that we are receptive to different beliefs or ideas,” Rwayitare said.
Benefit from Inclusivity
Diversity isn’t just an ethical consideration – there can be tangible benefits from expanding the breadth of perspectives within your organization.
A 2013 Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OCED) study of 24,000 research and development institutes found that more diverse research teams (defined as teams with higher percentages of women and people of foreign backgrounds) on average submitted more patent applications and were more likely to succeed with these applications, bringing increased revenue and product innovation to their organizations.
A practical application of this principle within business aviation organizations is the establishment and prominent messaging of a policy prohibiting discrimination and harassment of any employee or applicant for employment.
“The millennial workforce – nearly a third of our current workforce – very much looks at discrimination policies when they’re looking at prospective employers, and considers general inclusiveness in the workplace as a key driver of whether they’re going to stay in that company,” said Ulrich.
Creating a non-discrimination policy toward ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, as 83 percent of Fortune 500 companies have already done, is a simple but effective way to demonstrate consideration for employees of different backgrounds.
Ulrich advises that this policy should be effectively broadcast both within the organization and in external communications, such as job descriptions.
Aviation companies are competing in a global market, so we have to become more open-minded about our approach to hiring.
“We frequently hear from our members that when they’re unsure about a company’s culture because it hasn’t been messaged to the external world, they may hesitate to ask about it because they aren’t sure if they’ll inadvertently cause harm to their [hiring] chances,” Ulrich said. “Making that policy available to those on the outside is preferable to having that discussion during an interview.”
Beyond explicit policies, creating a culture of openness and tolerance from the top-down will result in a healthier workplace – one where talented employees are more likely to stay. A Center for Work-Life Policy study found that LGBT employees who didn’t feel comfortable being “out” in the workplace are 73 percent more likely to leave their companies within three years.
This culture must begin at the company’s highest levels through behavior and actions, including providing opportunities for people of different backgrounds to rise to leadership positions.
Vanessa Blacknall-Jamison, board chair of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), recalls the struggles she faced early in her career at a time when black women were rarely represented in C-level positions. It was defeating, she remembered, to feel as if you’re excluded from the highest ranks of leadership.
“Inclusion should mean that the door is open for everybody to participate,” she said. “It always starts at the top. If the leadership doesn’t truly embrace differences, they’re not being authentic, and the company culture will never change.”
In addition to establishing a culture of inclusivity, aviation organizations can also offer quality-of-life benefits to help attract potential employees, particularly younger women who are balancing careers with starting families.
“When measured 50 years ago, the female pilot population was 5 percent. In a study taken last year, the female pilot population was still at 5 percent,” said Ashley Buuck, a Part 91 pilot.
“Women aren’t getting into the industry, and one of the root problems is that the quality of life for raising a family is not ideal.”
Buuck notes that her company provided six weeks of paid maternity leave during her pregnancy – a benefit that is not standard in the airline industry. It’s policies like that, she says, that can make a business aviation career more appealing to young women who wish to start families.
Another consideration is offering more flexible schedules. Buuck acknowledges that this won’t always be a possibility, but even small gestures, such as being understanding when a parent has to take care of a sick child, can go a long way toward building goodwill.
Sheryl Barden, president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, agrees that quality of life is an area where business aviation organizations can provide meaningful advantages, compared to the airlines, as well as make business aviation more appealing for young people of both sexes.
This article originally appeared in the January/Feburary 2018 issue of Business Aviation Insider.