Speaker: Inclusiveness key to good business leadership

Successful leadership in business includes motivating others into giving their best to the organization and embracing employees’ different cultural backgrounds, an American Airlines executive told MBA students Tuesday at a Neeley Speaker Series event.

Denise Lynn, vice president for global human resources services at American Airlines, said one thing all people have in common, regardless of their background, is the desire to be appreciated.

“Diversity starts with the point that a person has a different life story,” Lynn said.

American Airlines has a history of diversity and inclusiveness within the airline industry. In 1963, American Airlines hired the first black flight attendant, Lynn said. Today, about 32 percent of American Airlines’ employees are minorities, and women make up 40 percent of the company’s employees, Lynn said.

The company has 16 employee-resource groups that help the company appeal to a variety of customers, Lynn said.

One positive outcome from these groups arose when the company’s Indian Employee Resource Group helped to start international flights to Delhi, India, because of responses the company got from focus groups that target Indian employees, according to the company’s Web site.

In order for people to feel included and valued, it’s imperative to engage all employees in business conversations because everyone holds the company’s best interest at heart, Lynn said.

Company leaders also receive training on cultural awareness in order to create inclusive work practices within the company, Lynn said. One way company leaders challenge their team is to encourage employees to embrace other’s differences, she said.

Part-time MBA student Mishael Hernandez agreed with Lynn’s statement that diversity is more than what’s on the surface.

“Diversity doesn’t just mean color or what’s obvious like the things you can see,” Hernandez said. “It’s the things beyond the surface that you gain more knowledge about as you spend time with a person.”

It’s important for people to feel like they are included within the workplace because of the amount of time they spend in the workplace, Hernandez said.

In terms of diversity, the United States has come a long way for women and minorities in the workplace, but it’s still a work in progress, Lynn said.

MBA student Kendra Stevens said cultural awareness in the workplace is still unsatisfactory.

“I’ve seen people shy away from a person because of their ascent or background,” Stevens said.

When people take the chance to embrace others’ differences, they gain a lot from one other, Stevens said.

The Neeley Speaker Series is sponsored by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and hosted by the National Association of Women MBAs at the Neeley School of Business.