American Airlines President Robert Isom spoke to a group of pilots last week. In his prepared remarks he laid out the carrier’s position on Black Lives Matter, as a way of framing controversy over the airline letting crewmembers wear Black Lives Matter pins.
- Isom and the company believe the airline’s job is “bringing people together..making sure that everybody is served and nobody feels like they’re left out” and “it’s clear in this country, in our communities, and certainly in our company too, the feeling is everybody is not equal, everybody isn’t treated the same. We’ve got to take this seriously.”
- The airline won’t back the political group Black Lives Matter, but allows employees to express the sentiment that black lives matter.
Isom challenged employees,
If you think that somehow people are all happy and feel treated as well as they should be, all I can tell is you is go talk to your colleagues, go talk to your friends…the stories that you hear are just so concerning, so disappointing and it will drive you to be attentive and want to make a change.
I take him in his talk with pilots to be saying that black lives do matter and it doesn’t mean signing onto a particular political agenda or program (such as decriminalizing sex work, slavery reparations) to say that.
The airline has taken heat from some customers and some employees for allowing employees to wear self-styled Black Lives Matter pins, but he wants to normalize that in his talk saying that despite “consternation” and “a lot of noise” about the pins they’re really just how they treat pins proposed by any Employee Resource Business Group and this is one that the Black Professional Network wants to be available.
At the same time the airline is allowing unofficial pins to be worn, in advance of an official pin, and that isn’t standard. This is clearly because leadership does believe there’s an important principle here. Isom offers,
It’s important that you go out and talk to your friends and colleagues, your black friends and colleagues out there, the stories not just in the community but in our company, in our coockpits, in our cabin, out on the ground in the terminals. It goes on every day in terms of outright blatant discrimination, unequal treatment, and it is something that we’ve got to be attentive to.
I do wonder whether the airline’s President admitting to “blatant discrimination” that “goes on every day” in his company’s workplace potentially creates liability, at least along the lines of the way that the Department of Education is trolling Princeton after its President admitted to systemic and long-standing discrimination within that institution.
In this regard it doesn’t even matter if the airline’s President is right and genuinely wants to do something about it. At the same time after the exit of Vice President for DFW Cedric Rockamore only three African Americans remain in leadership at American Airlines. There’s the Chief Diversity Officer, Vice Presidents of Compensation and Benefits and Vice President of Team Member Services. In other words, HR roles not airline roles.
Here’s the real challenge. It’s a perfectly reasonable distinction to “express[..] the sentiment and not some type of tie with a political group that we aren’t going to back” but I’m not sure a pin is the best way to make a distinction when the message is offered to employees and not customers. It’s a distinction that I wish more of us made but that judging from past blog comments it seems many do not.