inclusion before diversity - group of diverse work employees hands

These days, we hear a lot about hiring for diversity. After all, it’s a big part of the larger Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) movement—not only in business aviation but around the globe. But we often overlook the most important partnering component of that issue. And that’s to focus on inclusion.

Despite “inclusion” landing at the end of the DE&I acronym, I believe we need to focus on it first and foremost. After all, organizations that create a welcoming, safe space for diverse aviation professionals are more successful and innovative. (There are data to prove it).

What is Inclusion in DE&I?

So, what is “inclusion” as a subset of DE&I? Inclusion in the workplace describes a collaborative, supportive and respectful environment. One that values the participation and contribution of all employees—contract employees as well.

Truly inclusive companies remove all barriers that might impede their people. Especially those that denote bigotry, discrimination and intolerance. When applied properly, inclusion helps everyone feel welcome and embraced.

Personal Inclusivity

I’ve been talking about workplace inclusion, but I’d like to share about a time when I observed a lack of inclusion in my own home.

When my youngest was planning her 14th birthday party, I insisted that she invite her cousin. This cousin lives nearby but doesn’t attend the same school as my daughter and her friends. During the party, as the girls were talking about boys, school and sports, I saw my niece sitting off to the side. She wasn’t participating in the conversation, nor was she at all engaged. I could sense she didn’t feel welcome.

I thought to myself, “Wow. This is my fault. I emphasized the importance of the invite, but I didn’t discuss how that invitation might play out. I didn’t talk about the importance of making her cousin feel engaged and included at the party.”

I’m sharing this because we can all relate to being invited but not truly feeling included. It also demonstrates what can happen when we don’t understand the potential consequences of a situation. We all need to learn to make people feel seen, heard and respected.

Workplace Inclusion

So let’s apply that example to the business aviation workplace. Last year, a female maintenance technician came to me for advice. This tech was hired through a diversity initiative for a large, Part 91 flight department, and was thrilled about it. When she arrived for work, she received phenomenal training. The company set her up for initial training on a mid-sized aircraft. She followed that up with training all the way to master tech level in a large cabin aircraft. Great, right?

The challenge occurred, however, when she returned from training, ready to work. She soon discovered that, although she was fully qualified, she wasn’t empowered to practice her craft. Despite her title of crew chief, and contrary to the experience of her male peers, she was never given the reins to work on the aircraft autonomously. There was always someone looking over her shoulder, keeping an eye on her work. Unfortunately, even if her supervisor’s intent to “help” was honest and altruistic, it was counterproductive for both parties.

The impact of this experience came to a head when she was laid off and began looking at prospective employers. She told me that, on paper, she had the “master tech” and “crew chief” titles. But, because of what had occurred on her last job, she lacked the experience that matches those titles. She asked me, “Should I share with potential employers that I have this experiential deficit?”

Bottom line: her flight department didn’t know how to truly include her. And it’s likely that they didn’t receive training to ensure that she was treated with equity. The story illustrates how we’re often laser-focused on bringing in diverse hires, but we forget the inclusion piece. It’s our job to create an environment in which diverse talent can flourish. So, the lesson is to create an inclusion plan before recruiting for your diversity candidate.

Four Ways To Focus on Inclusion

Following are four ways to set the stage for a culture of inclusion:

1. Start at the top

The agreement to establish a company-wide inclusion policy needs to come from the top. There must be a genuine desire to include diverse people in your workforce. And we have to understand and accept it across the board.

For instance, some flight departments express concern about hiring female pilots because it will create “extra logistics.” As a hiring manager, you should ask yourself “What are the barriers to making this happen and how will we overcome them?” And keep in mind that when there’s diversity and inclusion it’s a likely outcome that the companies will also step up their anti-discrimination policies. It’s especially true for large organizations.

2. Educate yourself

As we’ve seen above, understanding what makes up an inclusive environment isn’t always obvious. There’s a learning curve to recognizing the challenges. If we don’t know what inclusion looks like—from the hangar floor to the cockpit—we can’t strive to achieve it. One way to overcome roadblocks and anticipate pitfalls is to find internal stakeholders who have a passion for the topic. Use them and embrace them.

3. Create an employee resource group (ERG)

ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. They usually include employees who share a characteristic, whether it’s gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, lifestyle or interest.

4. Communicate

Communication is the key to understanding and acceptance. Seek out ways to bring up the important issues governing workplace inclusion, and connect people on this and any topic you think might be important to share.

The Important Questions

In your own organization, ask yourself what you can and will do if HR requests that you hire for diversity. The answer is straightforward. Accept the directive, but pose the important question of environment: What atmosphere of inclusivity will my diversity hire(s) be operating in? What does it look like and how do we get there?

It’s important to let your company leaders know that you will enthusiastically hire for diversity. But that, as a first step, everyone in the department or organization needs to be educated. Why are we hiring for diversity? And what does it look like when we’re doing it right? How can we create a safe space for people of color, another gender or sexual orientation?

Remember, the onus for establishing an environment of inclusivity is on the corporation. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask company leaders about inclusion training and policy. Once fundamentals for inclusion are alive and well, the chances of a successful DE&I policy are further enhanced.

Remember, too, that your people are your greatest competitive advantage. And it stands to reason that the most talented and skillful job seekers will seek out those companies with a solid DE&I operational standard in place.

Your Next Step

Is your interest piqued about creating an inclusive aviation organization? If you have questions, I invite you to contact me to discuss this important, aviation-related issue.

Also, if you’d like to share your successful experiences creating an inclusive workforce, please leave a comment below. We are a community and can learn from each other!

Still curious about this topic? Learn various ways to block bias in the hiring process.

About the Author

In addition to serving as the VP of Aviation Personnel International, Jennifer Pickerel is the co-chair of NBAA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Committee. Learn more about Jen.

  • This blog nails it! Prioritizing inclusion first is crucial, as it lays the foundation for building a diverse team that genuinely brings unique perspectives and experiences to the table.

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