American Airlines Celebrates Diversity and Inclusion – On the Ground and in the Air

Melissa Wallace
Melissa Wallace,
Manager for Diversity Strategies,
American Airlines

From its employees to its customers, American Airlines represents demographics and cultures from all over the world. The company is proud of its diverse culture and of its long-standing commitment to creating a safe, welcoming environment for its employees and in-flight clientele. One person responsible for sustaining this inclusive environment is Melissa Wallace, manager for Diversity Strategies for American Airlines.

“The topic of diversity can be a difficult one to navigate for many companies. So, training programs are used as a way to guide these conversations. But we wanted to do something new and evolve from a standard compliance-based program to one with a strong focus on interaction and engagement. It was our goal to create a training course that really represented our employees and our customers – crossing all races, ethnicities, religions, ages, disabilities, and more,” she says.

In 2012, Wallace and her team received approval to update the company’s diversity training, and they brought in Root Inc. to help. As a result, a new and improved Value of Respect program was born. Comprised of an online course and in-person Strategic Learning Map® modules, Value of Respect empowers employees to look at diversity through a new lens.

“The goal of our program is to think beyond the standard perception of diversity and to realize that it’s not just about race and gender – it’s about understanding where we each fit in, how every unique individual is essential to the overall business, and how, as individuals, we are actually representing our diverse customer base,” Wallace says.

Today, each American Airlines employee – from customer service representatives manning the front line to mechanics servicing aircrafts – participates in the training. This is just one way in which American Airlines leadership bridges the gap between the executive team and the rest of the company – by delivering compelling programs that realistically approach important topics such as diversity and inclusion in engaging and truthful ways.

The Map

American Airlines’ Value of Respect training’s key components are the Strategic Learning Map® modules, which use icons, infographics, drawings, conceptual illustrations, and metaphors to tell the story of diversity and inclusion visually and facilitate conversations to create common understanding. These captivating modules give employees permission to safely discuss these often sensitive topics and allow for organic conversations to occur. From this open and honest dialogue, employees can come to their own conclusions as to the right choices and best ways to handle situations where disrespect or discrimination might come into play. By providing individuals the opportunity to literally see how others may feel, the Value of Respect program has helped employees look at each other in a new light.

“The purpose of the Value of Respect Map, as well as the complementary online program, is to cover both diversity and inclusion, providing internal and external views of the marketplace so employees can walk away understanding how our internal culture drives our external brand and how respecting customers’ differences will drive business success,” says Wallace.

“It’s also important to ensure that all of our employees realize that they are a reflection of the airline and a representation of the globally diverse customers we serve and we want to continue to attract in the future.”

With the Strategic Learning Map® module, the training program moved from policy-based to more experiential. Employees could approach the topics of diversity and inclusion in a new and unexpected way.

Value of Respect isn’t about delivering an understanding of compliance or deciphering legal speak; it’s about literally seeing why the work environment is so important to the business’s success. It’s about connecting employees to each other, arming them with the tools to approach the topics of diversity and inclusion, and helping them understand how their role impacts those around them and the company at large.

The Reach

By the start of 2014, all American Airlines employees – that’s upwards of 75,000 people – will have participated in the new Value of Respect program, either online or in person.

And we’re not just talking about the U.S. The program has also been adapted for international use. And thanks to real-time collaboration with focus groups comprised of representatives from across the organization, Wallace and her team felt confident that the new Value of Respect would be relatable to all employees from the get-go, that it would resonate with all employees, and that, put simply, it would be a success.

Countless employees have shared their positive feedback – from “wow” to “aha!” to sharing personal thank-yous that give the company kudos for creating and offering such a helpful and healthy tool to learn about diversity.

“We’ve seen our employees connect with each other in new ways and have conversations around topics that are typically not easy to talk about. Value of Respect has created a safe and respectful environment where people can have some challenging conversations. It has broadened people’s perspective and understanding of what diversity and inclusion are and what these topics mean to our business,” concludes Wallace.

About Melissa

Melissa is currently the manager for Diversity Strategies at American Airlines. Melissa joined the Diversity Strategies team in August of 2008, where she manages a team of three employees. She focuses on helping employees understand that Diversity and Inclusion at American and American Eagle Airlines begins with the letter ‘I’ – everyone counts and every employee adds their own unique value in creating a successful, sustained airline.