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Targets with real teeth: Air NZ CEO’s call to action on gender diversity

written by australianaviation.com.au | June 5, 2019

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon accepts the IATA diversity and conclusion award. (IATA/Flickr)
Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon accepts the IATA diversity and conclusion award. (IATA/Flickr)

Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon has challenged his peers to improve their record in achieving greater diversity at their airlines.

The call to action was made at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) annual general meeting in Seoul on Monday, where Air New Zealand was recognised for its work in this area as a winner in the inaugural diversity and inclusion awards, sponsored by Qatar Airways.

Air New Zealand took out the team award, with the judges noting its various initiatives to support the advancement of women in the organisation. The number of females in leadership roles at the airline had risen from 16 per cent in 2003 to 42 per cent currently.

Luxon said it was an honour to receive the award on behalf of the airline’s 12,500 employees.

However, he was scathing of the efforts of the airline industry to encourage more women to pursue a career in aviation.


“Let me put a challenge to everyone in this room,” Luxon said in his acceptance speech.

“There is a big elephant in this room which is that if we are really honest with ourselves and we say it as it is, the diversity track record from IATA and from all of us in the global aviation industry is pretty abysmal.

“For too long women have actually led the charge advocating and driving hard-won achievements around geneder equality.

“It’s time for powerful decent men who have the influence to actually step up alongside women, not doing it for them but stepping up alongside and beside them, to help advance the case of gender equality.

“It’s a pretty disruptive strategy, but I think men taking it to men is a pretty good way to build the case of more diversity.”

Luxon, who personally had made a decision not to participate in panel discussions that did not include a female speaker, said the statistics showed getting more females in their airlines was good for business.

“When you look at the research, companies that have a top quartile ethnic diversity leadership group have about a 33 per cent more likely chance of delivering higher than average market share,” Luxon said.

“When you look at top quartile gender companies, they deliver up to 38 per cent more than the average market share.

“Whilst it is the right thing to do, it is actually a really compelling business case.”

He advocated setting “targets with some real teeth”.

“This is about overcoming the unconscious bias that sits in our recruitment and our advancement of women through our organisations,” Luxon said.

“It’s not about quotas, but it is about having some serious targets around that.

“The second thing we can do is actually build out a really strong women’s network within our organisations so that the voice of women is really captured within our organisations and it is played back to us as the senior leaders so we know how to improve our companies and to make it a better place where they can be themselves and actually thrive.”

The other diversity and inclusion winners were Flybe chief executive Christine Ourmières-Widener, who took out the inspirational role model award, while Young African Aviation Professional Association (YAAPA) founder and president Fadimatou Noutchemo Simo received the high flyer award.

“We know that diversity and inclusion are strengths in helping us serve the needs of our customers and we sponsored these awards to help us and the industry as a whole identify those who are leading in this field so that we might learn from their success,” Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said in a statement.

“Congratulations to all the winners and all those who were nominated helping to drive important change in our industry.”

The judging panel comprised Airports Council International director general Angela Gittens, World Travel and Tourism Council chief executive Gloria Guevara, FlightGlobal vice president publishing and conferences Mark Pilling, and Air Transport World editor-in-chief Karen Walker.

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