Opinion: The Case For Diversity In Aerospace

Credit: United Airlines

Right now, there are hopeful signs that we are in the midst of a cultural wake-up call. We’re openly acknowledging that the racial inequities of our past still linger while outlining specific steps we can take to heal, learn and grow as a society. Following several recent and highly visible acts of racism, including the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many people are beginning to better understand the daily struggles of those who aren’t part of the majority. And throughout the world, a broad spectrum of people across the public and private sectors are speaking up with increased purpose against discrimination. 

These actions are to be commended. Combating racism and all forms of discrimination begins with a society that agrees fundamental human rights should be granted and protected equally—and it is up to all of us to make clear what we stand for and what we will no longer accept. 

Within the aerospace and defense industry, the case for attracting, developing and retaining a diverse workforce and creating a safe environment that values unique perspectives, skills and experiences could not be stronger. We are a global industry that competes and thrives at the forefront of new ideas and technologies. Our lifeblood is innovation. We are called upon to innovate and operate to make the world better—no small task! 

Ted Colbert
Ted Colbert III is The Boeing Co. executive vice president and president and CEO of Boeing Global Services. Credit: Boeing

To continue delivering novel products and solutions to our diverse customers we need a workforce with broad experience and exposure to new and different ways of thinking. Yet the lagging representation of diverse populations throughout our industry, at all levels and in all disciplines, is keeping us from reaching our full potential. We’ve made progress, but we are simply missing an opportunity to be better. We have to ask ourselves: Do the most influential circles and leaders of our industry broadly represent the racial diversity of our customers, either commercial or government? If not, why?

Countless studies have shown that diverse teams produce better outcomes, lead to better innovation and increase a company’s bottom line. Diverse workforces are better at innovating and solving problems; they also produce higher sales revenues, more customers, larger market shares and greater relative profits than less diverse companies. In 2018, McKinsey & Co. found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 33% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry norms. And companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 21% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. However, this is about much more than crunching numbers and making a business case. The real motivator is knowing that creating a diverse and inclusive workforce is the only right thing to do.

So what is holding us back? I certainly don’t have all the answers, and at Boeing we’re asking ourselves the same question. Like many companies, we’re not yet where we want and need to be, but we’re taking intentional steps to ensure we’re moving in the right direction. For example, Boeing has made investments in our future technical workforce through a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the nation’s largest organization representing the black college community. The program introduces students to Boeing’s culture and career paths, offers scholarships and provides internships for outstanding students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). We also offer a competitive immersion program that brings together the brightest students from our partner HBCUs and allows them to explore possible aerospace careers.

Despite this progress, there is more we can and should do as an industry to make our teams more racially diverse, including thinking globally when recruiting talent, creating the environment for an inclusive workplace for people from all backgrounds, investing further in educational programs that inspire our young people and providing students from all walks of life with clear and direct pathways to STEM- and STEAM-related careers. As leaders, we must create the conditions so that anyone of any race can take advantage of the challenging and exciting opportunities in aerospace and defense.

If the first half of 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the world continues to change rapidly and that seeking to understand another’s perspective and showing empathy for their experience is a step in the right direction. With this period of unprecedented uncertainty, now is precisely the time when we need the best ideas, regardless of who has them, to solve increasingly complex challenges—for everyone’s benefit. I hope you’ll join me in championing new approaches that make our industry better, more diverse and more inclusive.