Making Diversity Work!
AA Attorneys (L to R): Senior Environmental Attorney Joan Krajewski; Employment Attorney Andrea Clark; Environmental Attorney Gary Epperley; Senior Employment Attorney Robert Taylor; Employment Attorney Vincent Carver; Associate General Counsel Debra Hunter Johnson; General Counsel Gary F. Kennedy; and Labor Attorney Michelle Peak.
American Airlines strives to create and maintain an environment where all 80,000-plus of its employees, its wide range of customers and suppliers, and of course, members of its legal department, are respected and valued.
Of the department's 40 attorneys, 15 are female, and 10 are minorities. "Of my eight direct reports, three are females, and two are minorities," says Gary Kennedy, who was named senior vice president and general counsel following Anne McNamara's retirement earlier this year.
More than just numbers though, the department has actively pursued diversity goals through aggressive initiatives backed by senior management.
Management, for example, reemphasized its abiding commitment to diversity when it revamped workplace policies to describe 'hate' behavior and to dictate automatic dismissal for employees engaging in this type of behavior — regardless of their tenure or work record.
Relatedly, senior management's compensation is linked with how well departments meet their diversity goals.
In 1995, as part of its external diversity efforts, the legal department formalized its Minority Counsel Program, which was designed to increase minority participation on American Airlines projects staffed by outside law firms. "This program consists of two components: analysis of firms' progress, and communication to firms about their progress and respective rank," says Kennedy.
Internally, the legal department's sizeable minority attorney base helps to make new minority hires comfortable. Attorneys are encouraged to network in bar associations and other organizations to help attract attorneys of different racial backgrounds, religions, and sexual orientations. "We strive to hire people who recognize that they will be working with others who are different, and who share our commitment to inclusiveness," says Kennedy.
The department also encourages employees to develop outside activities as a way of achieving worklife balance, an issue shown to be associated with the retention of women and minorities. "One group manager," shares Kennedy, "has encouraged attorneys to submit personal, as well as professional, developmental plans — and the result has been activity such as the formation of a book club by one attorney, another attorney chairing a major fundraiser, and a third volunteering at a legal clinic."
Career development is also promoted, with attorneys exposed to a wide range of challenging work to help them develop the professional skills and expertise to advance their careers. "Additionally, all of our attorneys have exposure to senior management, and attorneys from several of our practice groups have the opportunity to discuss their significant matters with me on a quarterly basis."
The legal department's efforts reflect an underlying corporate commitment to diversity that has endeavored to respond to American Airlines' customer and supplier groups, and to build a workforce and leadership team that reflects the diversity of those it services.
"A workforce rich in diversity allows us to benefit from the many different racial, ethnic, religious, educational, cultural, lifestyle and social backgrounds our employees possess," says Kennedy, speaking of such corporate-wide efforts as its Employee Resource Groups, Diversity Advisory Council and 14-year-old Diversified Supplier Program. "This in turn enhances our ability to provide quality service to our customers and career opportunities to our employees."
Alea J. Mitchell worked for MCCA® as a summer intern upon her graduation from Wesleyan. She is now the features editor for Diversity & the Bar® magazine.
From the September/October 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®