Executive Diversity Council

United Airlines

Industry: Transportation

Principle 7: Leadership, transparency, and accountability


United is a major US airline with more than 88,000 employees worldwide and total revenue over $37 billion. The Executive Diversity Council (EDC) at United Airlines provides executive oversight and guides the company’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) strategy, establishes objectives, and monitors progress. It consists of 11 senior officers and leaders from various operational and functional groups that are committed to acting as champions of D&I. Five women currently serve on the EDC, which is also now led by a woman. The EDC is tasked with:

  • Aiding in the development and execution of a comprehensive, enterprise-wide D&I strategy that is in alignment with the business,
  • Developing strategic initiatives that will build a strong, inclusive organizational culture,
  • Aiding in the execution of D&I initiatives by partnering with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Business Resource Groups, and other interested co-workers, and
  • Measuring progress and reporting results to internal and external audiences.

"Over the past three years, I have watched the positive impact the Executive Diversity Council (EDC) has had on the movement and growth of women in United Airlines. …The EDC continues to be the pulse of all things diversity in United Airlines." 
Gregory D. Jones
Chief Diversity Officer

The EDC has been in operation at United’s Corporate Support Center in Chicago since 2011. Building on the EDC’s success, United launched the Airport Operations Diversity Council (AODC) in June 2017. Like the EDC, this group consists of senior officers and leaders who seek to contribute to United’s goal of being the world’s leading airline by supporting the diversity of its talent, enriching its culture, and contributing to its performance. From driving the idea of diversity on every candidate slate for new positions and seeing an increase in women at more senior levels, to ensuring employees know that United will not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace, these diversity councils have proven effective.

The Council impacts the hiring, retention, and promotion of women by championing United’s involvement with organizations like Women in Aviation and the International Aviation Women’s Association. It also provides support and guidance to uIMPACT, United’s internal Business Resource Group (BRG) for women, whose mission is promoting women’s movement, advancement, and connection. As a result, United has seen an increase in female representation in recent years, particularly at the Managing Director and Managerial levels. Furthermore, under the EDC, 25% of the BRG leadership has been promoted to more senior positions.

How does this model practice work?

The EDC monitors its impact on gender equality using diversity data from sourcing to hiring, retention, and promotion. The Human Resources Tech team collects this demographic data throughout the year. Then, the EDC works with the D&I team to periodically analyze United’s employee population to assess progress, identify areas of improvement, and develop the strategic action plans necessary to achieve gender equality across all levels of the organization. The EDC also reviews data collected from surveys and uses the results to benchmark against other companies and organizations.

"We have council members from around the world who come together to determine how we can continue to promote diversity awareness and education at every level of the organization (leadership to frontline)." 
Kristin Fiore
Senior Manager, Human Resources Field Operations Programs

In addition, since the end of 2017, United has implemented a more focused theme for EDC meetings to include more targeted training. This approach provides an additional layer of support to the leaders and further enables them to develop inclusion as a leadership capability. All Vice Presidents and Managing Directors are also required to participate in Inclusive Leadership Training. This interactive course is designed to explore how diversity and inclusive behaviors can impact business results and increase awareness of how individual reactions impact talent manage¬ment, engagement, teamwork, and innovation. Participants also increase their awareness of cultural preferences and develop skills to bridge gaps and identify road blocks of performance, as well as practice coaching skills to influence others and manage relationships.

Under the EDC, diverse candidate slates are strongly encouraged across the organization and, as part of its 2018 strategy, United will focus even more intensely on diversity in its recruiting processes. Additionally, United has consistent internal communication on issues regarding diversity, from LGBTQ rights to sexual harassment to overall equality in the organization. This commitment to diversity is further reinforced by a published statement by United’s CEO. 

How can I adopt this model practice in my workplace?

Gender equity, like any other D&I strategy, cannot be successfully implemented without demonstrated awareness and buy-in from the top leadership of an organization. To that end, the D&I team of your organization can create a cross-divisional executive diversity council to promote and support diversity efforts. This council should have the following goals:

  • Provide executive oversight and guide the enterprise D&I strategy,
  • Serve as advocates and role models,
  • Include executive representation from all departments, and
  • Establish performance goals and monitor progress.

The D&I team should then work with the diversity council to develop and measure goals and create dashboard reports to monitor progress. Meetings are recommended for 90 to 120 minutes, every other month, or at least quarterly. One of the council members should be selected as President and then work with the D&I team to review agenda and discussion items. 

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