United Airlines made an announcement several days ago that has caused a bit of a stir, at least in some circles: “Our flight deck should reflect the diverse group of people on board our planes every day. That’s why we plan for 50% of the 5,000 pilots we train in the next decade to be women or people of color.” This led Tucker Carlson (a commentator that more often than not hits the nail on its head) to criticize the policy. To summarize Mr. Carlson’s argument: It’s hard (i.e. impossible) to justify how this policy will make flying safer.
Fair enough. But safety isn’t the only issue for a profit-maximizing entity. Arguably, it’s not even the most important one. We can easily imagine a situation where there is an airline that has never had an accident but has to declare bankruptcy nonetheless. United Airlines is making a positioning statement. It must believe that this employment policy is good business and indeed it may be. If it convinces at least some people: Women, visible minorities, and sympathetic white males to book with United Airlines first, then it’s a winning strategy.
My guess is that United Airlines will have executional difficulty because the devil is always in the details. It says it will hire 10,000 pilots altogether over the next decade, which means that 5,000 will be either “women or people of color”. What if – for the sake of argument – a large majority of those 5,000 are white women? Then visible minorities would be under-represented and presumably upset. On the other hand, what if all 5,000 are men of Asian descent? Oops! Now both women and other visible minority men feel hard done by.
It seems to me that there is a wonderful (and I mean this unironically) free enterprise opportunity that presents itself. Companies can either position themselves to be as race and gender conscious as possible (the United Airlines approach) or as color-blind and purely meritocratic as possible. Then let the market decide. I base many of my consumption decisions, at least in part, on how companies present themselves and the values they communicate. I look forward to an airline stepping forward and saying something along the lines of the following: “We neither keep track of nor care about the gender or race of our workforce. We hire the best.”
Those are my values and that airline is the one I would support.