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Diversity and inclusion: IATA's three year plan

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As the international trade association for the world’s airlines, diversity of thought and people is high on IATA’s agenda. So how is its Middle East and Africa office meeting this challenge and encouraging collaboration?

With more than 250 partner airlines representing 121 countries and offices in 54 countries, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is used to dealing with different cultures, expectations and rules. Employees at its Middle East and North Africa office – based in Jordan – are of 31 nationalities and, for regional head of HR Philipp Friese, encouraging collaboration and challenging organisational bias is vital.

“We want to be an organisation where differences are valued and employees are empowered and recognised solely for their talent and merits. This is why we created our Mosaic programme,” he says.

Mosaic is a three-year strategy to cement diversity and meritocracy at the heart of IATA’s team. Stage one, fulfilled in 2016, was to challenge unconscious bias and build senior leadership buy-in for the diversity and inclusion business case. Stage two is to develop processes to improve inclusion, with stage three aiming to achieve recognition for this work through bodies such as Great Places to Work.

“It’s easy to fall for confirmation bias, seeking validation of our thinking by turning to those we think like us. In doing so, we do not stretch our thinking with ideas from those who will challenge us and help us to see the bigger picture – and perform better,” says Friese.

In trying to achieve the strategic goals of the Mosaic programme, IATA operates in four main streams: cultural change, people processes, monitoring and reporting and external impact.
Friese explains that IATA has begun to embed diversity and inclusion into brand values and behaviours, aligning Mosaic aims with employees’ learning and development plans; five executives now act as senior leader sponsors.

This will lead to a review of the organisation’s people processes, such as changing employee handbooks and job descriptions to make diversity of views and people central to job expectations.

“We’re already a highly diverse organisation, with employees of more than 100 nationalities, an overall gender balance of 48% women to 52% men and diverse age groups,” says Friese.
“This is just part of the equation. The benefits of diversity only enter into play when you have inclusion as well. It’s about valuing employees for their contributions, allowing them to be themselves, making time to communicate, removing blockers and encouraging opportunities.”

A Mosaic steering group monitors progress, comprising representatives from each of IATA’s
seven main offices. Each has set up a forum, with members debating policy and providing feedback on improving inclusion. This is complemented by IATA’s social community, an intranet-based platform used to source ideas and develop collaboration.

The organisation has also developed an online dashboard that collates data on IATA’s diversity, freely available to all employees. It provides up-to-the-minute metrics on who works in the organisation.

However, Friese stresses that IATA does not set diversity quotas or targets: “We truly believe this is not a driver of inclusion,” he says.

So with 2017 a year of structural change at IATA, what advice does Friese have around ensuring diversity becomes inclusive?

“Get support from leaders, communicate the business case for diversity and inclusion, and ensure you have a strategy that links the organisation values to inclusive behaviours,” he recommends.
“A culture of inclusion is created when individuals feel they can be true to themselves, having equal opportunities in an environment that recognises good work and personal qualities.”

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