Taking Diversity to the Air

With a business based on transporting people and with outposts in different countries rooted in diverse cultures and customs, it’s a given that AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines, should embody a natural predilection for all things diversity and inclusion.

“It’s always been a progressive, global business,” said Denise Lynn, the company’s senior vice president of people.

But that doesn’t mean AMR hasn’t had to strive to develop a set of values that maintain a standard of respect, openness and integrity for its employees and customers necessary for today’s evolving business and social customs.

Despite having a diversity committee at the board level for more than 20 years, AMR still works to tweak its diversity mission and the infrastructure that supports it. Lynn said AMR’s diversity and inclusion values are rooted in creating a “warm and welcoming environment for all our customers and employees,” and a place with “a lot of emphasis on respect for the individual and the dignity and humanity of the individual.”

From a diversity and inclusion point of view, AMR has a simple mission: create a work environment that allows its employees to be “at their best.”

Carrying out this vision for diversity has come in different forms over the years. One constant since the early 1990s, Lynn said, has been the company’s diversity committee. This group is made up of two members from each of AMR’s 17 employee resource groups (ERG) and meets roughly five or six times a year.

The group meets with AMR’s board of directors, aiming to offer guidance on every diversity-related issue. The meetings help ensure that the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts remain effective and fresh.

“We approach succession planning, recruitment [and] development of people,” Lynn said. “We’re constantly looking to make sure that diversity is an important consideration in those conversations and in the progress that we see in the organization.”

Another method AMR uses to maintain its mission of diversity is a training program called “The Value of Respect.” Every employee is required to take the online program, which Lynn said happens roughly every two years. “The purpose is to remind people of the environment that we want to create and why it’s important to our business’ success,” she said.

It also helps ensure that front-line managers lead on a day-to-day basis with the company’s diversity values at heart. Mike Waldron, AMR’s director of diversity and talent development, said there is another in-person version of the course that is used in the field and is more interactive.

The core of AMR’s diversity mission, however, rests with its ERGs. Lynn said the groups — which started with an LGBT group and have expanded and matured since — continue to play an essential role as a prime business resource.
As American Airlines continues to expand with outposts in different parts of the world, its ERGs have played a bigger and more strategic role.

If, for instance, the company expands its presence to South Korea, Lynn said, it is able to tap employees from the appropriate resource group to glean cultural insights and other strategic nuggets.

Still, Lynn said there’s room for AMR’s diversity efforts to continue to mature — both from a mission and values and strategy perspective.

“We’re a global carrier, but we’re still an American company,” she said. “We still have progress to be made in the area of global diversity.”