DeeDee Doke examines how diversity and inclusion initiatives at Air New Zealand are setting the pace for the industry

Every organization faces specific diversity and inclusion (D&I) trends resulting from the country or region in which it is based.

Air New Zealand, for example, must account for the country’s rich and complex culture of New Zealand, the national business and equality conditions, and the greater understanding of the benefits of inclusion.

The New Zealand flag carrier has tackled D&I head on and won IATA’s inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Team Award, presented at the 75th AGM in South Korea.

Jane Hoskisson, IATA’s Director of Learning and Development and a member of the judging panel, says Air New Zealand’s entry stood out for “the tangible adherence to setting aggressive targets” in improving its D&I culture and increasing the number of women and indigenous people in leadership roles.

Other airlines delivering strong entries in the team award category were Air Baltic and Icelandair, adds Hoskisson.

In a hard-hitting speech as he accepted the award, Air New Zealand’s now former CEO Christopher Luxon challenged all IATA member airlines to join in the fight to embed D&I in their organizations and cultures (see box for more).

“Let me put a challenge to everyone in this room, because there’s a big elephant in this room,” he said, “which is that if we are really honest with ourselves and we say it as it is, the diversity track record from IATA and the global aviation industry is pretty abysmal. “And yet,” he continued, “if we don’t want to come back in 12 months’ time and have another embarrassing lip service conversation about it, we actually have to do some action between now and when we regroup in Amsterdam in 12 months’ time.”

Not only has Air New Zealand set aggressive targets for the future, the airline has already achieved significant milestones in the drive to boost its employee diversity & inclusiveness throughout the business.

For instance, the airline increased the number of women in its 80-member senior leadership team from 16% in 2013 to 43% in 2019. It aims to increase that percentage further to 50% in 2020.

With 7.4% of its pilots now women, Air New Zealand already exceeds the 5% global average and has plans to raise its figure even higher. A Women in Leadership program  and the creation of career specialty networks for women (digital, engineering and maintenance, pilots) within the airline also contributed  to its win of the IATA award.

Air New Zealand’s commitment to gender equality has also been recognized by the Gender Tick Accreditation, a New Zealand-specific validation that looks across five key indicators in a company: gender inclusive culture; flexibility and leave; career development; gender pay equality; and ensuring a safe workplace.

“For too long, women have led the charge advocating for gender equality, and I think it’s time for powerful, decent men who have the influence to step up alongside women and advance the case for gender equality,” Luxon noted in his acceptance speech at the IATA AGM.

Aviation is the business of freedom. An example of that is the freedom for 2.7 million women and men to develop exciting careers within this industry, but women are under-represented at senior levels and in some professions within airlines

- Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Director General and CEO

Maori heritage

To build and strengthen all itsD&I components, the airline has introduced seven different networks (see panel) to support a variety of segments in the workforce.

One key component will be greater awareness of the indigenous Maori heritage and also the Pasifika, or Pacific Island, descendants of migrants to New Zealand.

Recognizing that awareness and inclusion must start at the top, senior leaders take part in “deeply immersive cultural fluency workshops” that coach senior leaders in learning Maori protocols and culture. The overnight workshops take place in a marae, a Maori meeting house where important social and ceremonial forums are held. Maori people view the marae as “their place to stand and belong”.

Air New Zealand’s branding uses a Maori symbol known as the Koru. Its basic meaning is a coil or loop while it is also associated with “new life, new beginnings, hope perfection, the spirit of rejuvenation, and peace”.

“The overnight stay in the marae teaches cultural fluency in our brand, and the essence of the Koru is a core competency for not only our leaders but all Air New Zealanders,” explains the airline’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager Sarah Archer.


Air New Zealand increased the number of women in its 80-member senior leadership team from 16% in 2013 to 43% in 2019


Tattoos

The airline’s latest move to embrace the diversity of its workforce came in June 2019 when the company announced that from 1 September, it would end a ban on staff having visible tattoos.

Air New Zealand said its move to end the ban followed five months of research with customers and staff. More than 35% of New Zealanders under 30 have tattoos. And for New Zealanders of Maori heritage, tattoos are of special, even sacred, significance as they may mark their genealogy and heritage.

“We want to liberate all our staff, including uniform wearers such as cabin crew, pilots and airport customer service teams who will, for the first time, be able to have non-offensive tattoos visible when wearing their uniforms,” says Luxon.

It’s time for powerful, decent men who have the influence to step up alongside women and advance the case for gender equality

- Christopher Luxon, former Air New Zealand CEO

Lessons learned

Key lessons learned in developing Air New Zealand’s D&I approach include the importance of data and benchmarking its progress. “We are committed to reporting our progress in our annual reports and our annual Air New Zealand Sustainability report to be kept accountable externally on the goals and targets we have set,” says Archer.

“As well as setting and keeping accountable to our goals, it’s also important to adjust those goals to avoid becoming complacent and to always strive for true, meaningful, inclusive diversity.”

The airline admits it has been difficult to increase diversity in an industry in which many roles have traditionally been male-dominated.

“However, our hope is that our example will encourage more organizations to embrace diversity and see its genuine value to their business proposition,” Archer adds. “We sincerely hope we are up against strong competition in D&I at the next IATA AGM.”


More than 35% of New Zealanders under 30 have tattoos. And for New Zealanders of Maori heritage, tattoos are of special, even sacred, significance as they may mark their genealogy and heritage


Discussion on… Improving gender balance in aviation

Recognizing that a sea-change requires strong advocates across the air transport sector, IATA has launched a new industry-wide initiative to improve gender balance in aviation.

The 25by2025 campaign is a voluntary commitment by IATA member airlines to “advance gender diversity in the airline industry” over the next six years. Central tenets are aimed at increasing the number of women in senior roles and under-represented jobs by either 25% against the current metrics, or to a minimum of 25% by 2025, as well as reporting annually on key diversity metrics.

“Aviation is the business of freedom. An example of that is the freedom for 2.7 million women and men to develop exciting careers within this industry, but women are under-represented at senior levels and in some professions within airlines,” said IATA Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.

“Airlines understand the value that a diverse and gender-balanced workforce delivers. The 25by2025 Campaign provides a global context and encouragement for the many initiatives our members are taking to address gender imbalance. “Our work will not be done in 2025, in fact, this is only the beginning. Our ultimate aim is of course for a 50-50 gender split with equal opportunities for everyone in every part of our industry.”


Air New Zealand’s Diversity & Inclusion targets

50% female membership of Air New Zealand’s Senior Leadership Team by 2020

20% Maori and Pasifika employees in Air New Zealand’s leadership roles by 2022

Achieve New Zealand’s Accessibility 

Tick to support with accessibility needs


Recognizing that awareness and inclusion must start at the top, senior leaders take part in “deeply immersive cultural fluency workshops” that coach senior leaders in Maori culture


Employee networks

Air New Zealand views employee networks as a key enabler to help deliver diversity and inclusion objectives. Seven such networks are currently in place:     

  • The Kiwi Asia Network (KASIA) welcomes all Air New Zealanders who are interested in or connected to Asia.     
  • The Manu Network celebrates Polynesian cultures within New Zealand. Network members do not have to be of Maori or Pacific Island descent.     
  • The Pride Network is designed to support employees of all sexual orientations.     
  • The Returned and Services Network brings together and supports Air New Zealand employees that are returned and/or ex-service people.     
  • The Women’s Network organizes events, coaching and mentoring for women throughout the business. Women are added to the network when they join the company.     
  • The Young Professionals’ Network for under-30s helps early-stage employees develop skills and grow their career within the airline.     
  • The Disability Network supports employees who are faced with disability, either their own or that of a loved one.

“When you look at top quartile gender diversity companies, they deliver up to 38% more than the average market share across the piece”


A call to action: Christopher Luxon

In a hard-hitting speech at the IATA Diversity Awards in Seoul during the AGM, since-departed Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon called for the aviation industry to be better when it comes to promoting diversity.

Read some of the most prominent points from his speech below:

A case for business:

“When you look at the research, companies that have a top quartile ethnic diversity leadership group have a 33% more likely chance of delivering a higher than average market share. When you look at top quartile gender diversity companies, they deliver up to 38% more than the average market share across the piece.”

Actions speak louder than words:

“I think there are some really practical actions that each and every one of us as airline CEOs or executive members of teams or senior leadership within our airlines can do when we get back to our homes. We can build out a really strong women’s network within our organizations so that the voice of women is really captured and played back to us as the leaders so we know how to improve.”

Improving the pay gap:

“There are some real big programs around development and management that we can do together; there’s certainly a lot we can do around pay. We can have a 0% pay equity gap, so women are paid the same as men for doing the same job. It’s a basic construct but we kind of need to start there and get that done right.”

Speaking for everyone:

“I’d say the last thing we can do, certainly as CEOs and as men in the aviation industry, is probably to make a panel pledge not to speak at places where panels we are on are not gender diverse, that it doesn’t have a woman sitting on that panel.”

An issue of social importance:

“This is not a women’s issue—this is actually an issue that has huge economic and social importance to our economy and our society because if women can’t succeed in our corporate life and in our boardrooms, they won’t succeed elsewhere in society.”

Stand up and be counted:

“For too long, women have led the charge advocating and driving hard-won achievements around gender equality and I think it’s time for powerful, decent men who have the influence to actually step up alongside women—not doing it for them, but stepping up alongside them—to help advance the case for gender equality.”


Picture Credit | Alamy
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