Diversity Comes to the Cockpit
United Airlines has decided that it’s time for a little makeover. The airline is not going to do that by changing its paint scheme, its in-flight service, or its billing structure. No, it’s got a much more ambitious objective in mind. United will polish its woke credentials by giving its clientele what it wants most -- diversity in the cockpit. United has announced that 50% of its new pilots entering training will be females or people of color.
To fully appreciate the flaw in United’s decision, it’s important to understand the reasoning of the diversity industry. When I was an engineering manager, I had occasion to hire a number of new engineers. To ensure diversity, our HR department would be intimately involved in the hiring decisions. Their reasoning was that any person that met the job requirements could do the job. They had no recognition that a person with greater capabilities may do the job better. The qualifications were to be treated as strictly binary -- the person could either do the job or not.
Since I was prohibited from looking for the best candidate, I was required to make selections from the remaining pool of qualified candidates, based on various diversity hiring criteria. It was presumed that a person with greater qualifications/capabilities wouldn’t provide added value over those who were merely qualified. Therefore, as the hiring manager I was not permitted to seek competitive advantage by hiring the “best.” As long as a candidate could do the job, and met diversity criteria, that was good enough.
I have no doubt that any qualified pilot can fly from point A to point B and land an airplane. However, the danger in diversity thinking becomes apparent when the job differs from the routine. In 1983, Captain Bob Pearson had the unfortunate experience of being the command pilot of a Boeing 767 that experienced total engine failure. He did something that the Boeing engineers said was impossible -- he glided the plane, without power, to a landing with no injuries. The plane became known in the aviation community as the Gimli Glider. It turns out Captain Pearson’s qualifications exceeded those required of airline pilots. He was also a highly experienced glider pilot. In this case, was having the “best” somewhat better?
A more recent example is that of Captain Sully Sullenberger. In 2009, shortly after takeoff from New York City, Captain Sullenberger’s Airbus A320 experienced a double bird strike. After total engine failure, Sully successfully landed the aircraft on the Hudson River with no casualties. It became known as the miracle on the Hudson. It turns out that Captain Sullenberger’s qualifications exceeded the minimum requirements for airline pilots. In addition to being an experienced Air Force pilot, he earned an advanced degree from Purdue University (my alma matter), was an accident investigator for the NTSB, and was an expert in the psychology of air crew functioning during a crisis. That last item may not be very important during a pilot’s normal day at the office, but it comes in rather handy when landing on a river -- no?
My final example is one which didn’t end so well. In 2015 Mohamed Noor was hired to the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). His hiring was touted by Mayor Betsy Hodges as a milestone for the MPD as he was the first Somalia-American on the force. On the evening of July 15, 2017, Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity, were sent to a dark alley in response to a possible assault. Upon their arrival, Justine Diamond, the woman who had made the 911 call, approached the driver’s side of the squad car to talk to the officers. Her sudden appearance startled Officer Noor, who drew his weapon, fired across his partner’s chest (who was driving the car), and killed Ms. Diamond. Officer Noor was subsequently tried and convicted of second-degree murder. At the trial it was revealed that Noor’s police training had been fast-tracked to quickly diversify its force. There had been three complaints against Noor in the two years he had been an officer -- one of which was a complaint that he had assaulted a woman while on duty. In fact, in 2015, psychiatrists and training officers had raised concerns about Noor’s emotional suitability for police duty. However, he did meet the minimum requirements – so that was good enough.
Officer Noor is an example of diversity hiring with tragic results. Justine Diamond lost her life. Officer Harrity was put in jeopardy. The city of Minneapolis lost a $20M lawsuit. Mohamed Noor went to prison. All so a diversity box could be checked.
The reality is that employees are not interchangeable components of a machine. Organizations, both business and government, are living and breathing organisms in which the quality of the individual components matter. Having people that exceed the minimum requirements provides value. If you question that statement, consider the relative value that football players provide to their team. Did Tom Brady’s movement to Tampa Bay have any impact on either the Patriots or the Buccaneers? The next time you board a plane, do you want Tom Brady at the controls -- or is Johnny Manziel good enough?
John Green is a political refugee from Minnesota, now residing in Star Idaho. He is a retired engineer with over 40 years of experience in the areas of product development, quality assurance, organizational development, and corporate strategic planning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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