Airbus – Communicating commitment to diversity and inclusion

Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. In 2016, it generated revenues of €67 billion and employed a workforce of around 134,000. It offers the most comprehensive range of passenger airliners from 100 to more than 600 seats. Airbus is a European leader providing tanker, combat, transport and mission aircraft, and is one of the world’s leading space companies. In helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions worldwide.

What did they do?

Airbus has run a number of initiatives to convey its commitment to inclusive recruitment.

The first example is focused on showing its employees and the outside world that Airbus is a safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other gender and sexual identities (LGBT+) people to work and be themselves.

  • In this context, Airbus celebrated and promoted the 2017 Pride festivals near both of its UK sites, Bristol and Broughton.
  • Rainbow cakes were sold in the on-site restaurants and flyers were distributed to raise awareness.
  • Articles and videos were posted on the Airbus intranet for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) and it held a joint event with Rolls-Royce in Bristol to share people’s experiences of coming out in the companies.
  • The focus on LGBT+ has resulted in a set of guidelines for trans equality in the workplace.

The second example is based on gender diversity.

It is still common that women take the most time off for parental leave when they have a child. It is also common for women to prefer to initially return on a part-time basis to make childcare timings and costs manageable. This means that some jobs in Airbus may be considered out of scope for those women returning to work because the workload is too high to be managed with part time hours, or it requires full time support to other teams.

Airbus has been supporting job sharing for many years but has recently had success with a more technical role being shared, which previously would have been considered out of scope for part-time employees.

The promotion of this success story is showing employees that there are more options for job sharing roles and that returning to work from parental leave need not be a blocker for career progression.

A set of guidelines has been published to support employees and managers who want to set up a job-sharing role. Job-sharing opportunities are open to employees of all genders.

The final example is about raising awareness of female aviators and engineers through history. Traditionally, women’s achievements in the field of aeronautics and engineering have been undercelebrated so Airbus is putting role models in the spotlight and sharing their achievements. Over the last 18 months, it has regularly posted articles h focusing on female pioneers.

These articles demonstrate to all its employees that Airbus recognises engineering greatness, innovation and passion, no matter where it comes from and no matter what social norms expect.

Tools that they used

The main tool used for promotion of diversity and inclusion initiatives inside Airbus is the intranet, known as The Hub. The home page provides news stories, articles and videos that are updated daily. There is also a social media element with online communities and individual profiles for each employee. Communities can be followed, stories can be liked, shared or commented on, which allows contributions and opinions to be given from all over the company.

Specific communities have been set up around diversity and inclusion topics, for example:

“Knowing me knowing you” and “Balance for Business” intranet community pages:

  • these are transnational webpages from which all sites in Airbus can access information on inclusion and diversity
  • the intranet also hosts a ‘social media style’ online community with individuals posting thoughts and information that generates discussions
  • The Balance for Business community host lunchtime talks and events where people meet and discuss face-to-face
  • Noticeboards are used throughout the business and are updated weekly to ensure up-to-date information about events and talks are available to all, including employees who have less frequent access to a computer.

Outside Airbus, its website (airbus.com), Facebook and Twitter feeds are used to promote diversity and inclusion.

What was the impact?

Why does it matter?

Airbus relies on innovation and diverse ideas to develop the aircraft of the future. When people work in a place where they feel comfortable being themselves, they will be able give their best performance in their job. Problem solving is a key element of engineering and diverse people can bring new approaches or solutions. The diverse backgrounds of people in Airbus bring diverse ideas for the business, giving Airbus a competitive edge.

Work-life balance brings benefits to business too; happier employees will be more productive and more loyal. In the aerospace industry, retention of experienced employees is extremely valuable due to the long lifecycle of its products. This results in an age diverse population if the company succeeds in retaining loyal, experienced employees throughout their career, while also recruiting young engineers to bring fresh ideas and ways of working.

What has the impact been?

From a qualitative point of view, more people are talking about diversity and inclusion topics in the business. With Airbus taking a lead on starting discussions about diversity topics, employees feel they have ’permission’ to talk about issues such as LGBT+ and gender diversity.

From the quantitative side, the recruitment diversity report results for Airbus Group in 2017 show the percentage of women hired in the different recruitment groups to be:

  • Internships: 33%
  • Apprenticeships: 12%
  • Graduates: 29%
  • Experienced Hires: 24%

While these numbers show a good trend towards increasing numbers of women being recruited in the business, there is clearly still work to be done in the apprenticeship recruitment balance.

The Pride network in Airbus has seen steady growth in the number of members and followers thanks to the LGBT+ initiatives launched by Airbus this year.

Where there any challenges?

Airbus faces some challenges in implementing diversity initiatives across the whole business. One example  is cultural differences due to the vast ethnic diversity across Airbus, and another is getting the message to employees who have varying levels of access to internal communication tools.

Airbus has addressed the challenge of ensuring that every initiative focusing on minority groups has allies.

Gender diversity: Men as Allies

  • While men remain the majority of its employees, for initiatives to be successful men need to act as allies.
  • To ensure men are allies in the process of trying to improve Airbus’s gender diversity, it has organised celebration and recognition events that are inclusive for all genders. For International Women in Engineering Day in 2017, the theme for Airbus was
  • Men as allies and the events were open and promoted to all employees.
  • The network (employee resource group) for women was transformed in to the Balance for Business network showing that it was for promotion of gender diversity and other under-represented groups and not just for women.
  • In the LGBT+ “Pride” network, any employee can join as an ally in addition to employees who identify as LGBT+. Airbus has also recently partnered with Stonewall to progress with LGBT+ initiatives using Stonewall’s experience. Part of this initiative is a target for 2018 to set up an allies program that will help employees develop their understanding of what it means to be an ally and what action they can take to support the LGBT+ community in the workplace.

Finally, one of the key enablers for Airbus has been to have support from senior management. At senior management level there is an Inclusion and Diversity Steering Group that is formed of both men and women with the shared aim of increasing representation of women and LGBT+ across the business.

Hints and tips

Airbus has begun to build momentum on diversity initiatives and has already learned:

  • Strong involvement from senior management was valuable to focus on and support the initiatives described and lead by example
  • Tell stories and share experiences from real people in its business. This has made the topics much more tangible to employees
  • Back up the awareness initiatives with formal guidelines or policies so there is clear advice available for managers and employees
  • Prepare a business case for diversity and inclusion so that you can explain to employees and managers why the company needs to be more diverse and inclusive.
  • Celebrating engineering role models from all walks of life can show your employees that great engineers do not have to fit a stereotype. Why not try ‘role model Monday’ where employees nominate engineers from history who have advanced engineering and broken stereotypes, and share their stories.

“In the context of the promotion and awareness raising of LGBT+ in Airbus this year and as a member of the steering group I’ve had the privilege to see first hand the enthusiasm, excitement and increased productivity from individuals when they’ve been able to be themselves at work, rather than leading separate lives at work and at home.

We need more of this in Airbus and by communicating externally we can attract a more diverse applicant population, which gives us the opportunity to really boost our competitiveness as a business going forward.”

Phil Hamblin, member of Management Inclusion and Diversity Steering Group in Airbus Operations Ltd.