Diversity at Delta: A Pledge to Do More “Over the Next Couple of Years”

by Julie Graber | on 17 Jul 2020

A recent CNN interview with Ed Bastion, CEO of Delta Airlines, is getting some buzz, although I don’t think for the reasons they would hope.

In the interview, Bastian says he is “ashamed” that he has not done more to foster diversity and committed to add more Black members to the board of directors “in the next couple of years.” 

Talk about putting a serious stake in the ground (cue the sarcasm in case anyone missed it).

Not exactly what I would have expected from someone who has pledged to “pay extraordinary attention” to the issue in the future. 

Delta’s board currently has two women and two African Americans (one of black members is also female so three diverse members total on a board of 12). They added/replaced two members in 2019, both with white men. 

The executive team at Delta is even more concerning. There is one woman (the chief Human Resources officer naturally) and one Asian among a group of 11. Neither of those individuals is among the top compensated employees.

The company, of course, followed up the interview by providing information on their top 100 officers, which include 25 women and eight African Americans (18% people of color in total). 

Basically “no, we’re not diverse at the top but look at all the diversity we have at lower levels.”

I get those phone calls all the time when I report on leadership stats. I know people think that somehow that makes it OK, but those numbers are really an indictment, not a defense. Those numbers only go to prove that there is a glass ceiling beyond which diverse individuals don’t advance in the organization. 

Interestingly, the interview also referenced Ursula Burns’s recent comments on the lack of black executives and her growing impatience with the excuses companies use to defend themselves. Excuses like:

  • “Just hold on."
  • "Give them 10 more years."
  • "They’ll get there.”

Burns is so frustrated that she's actually rethinking her stance on diversity quotas.

Companies that are serious about diversity and inclusion need to do something now. Go big or go home. "The next couple of years" might as well be "we'll think about it." Or "maybe they'll forget we said anything."

A shareholder lawsuit against Oracle seeks to hold the board accountable for making a commitments to diversity and inclusion and then having nothing to show for it. The shareholder is charging the board with making false and misleading statements that were used to make investment decisions. Should the lawsuit prevail, lots of companies could find today's "diversity talk" coming back to haunt them.

In the next couple of years.

Tags:  In the News