“Our women employees have gone beyond stereotypical roles”

Excerpts from an interview of Aloke Singh, CEO, Air India Express, with Economic Times.

What are some need-gaps that you have identified when it comes to retaining your women employees?

>> Air India Express operates regional international services with a fleet of B737, under an LCC model. Following the privatisation of our parent company, we are now a part of the Tata group, known globally as a model employer. Two-thirds of our workforce is aircrew, with women making up a significant part. By its very nature, air services are 24×7 operations – it is a stressful occupation, with long and odd hours, often involving prolonged stays away from family. Training and ‘tests’ are frequent. We have identified that particularly women employees, need a supportive and flexible environment to cope with these work stresses, and balance their personal lives. Towards this end, the airline has a number of initiatives – such as a professional one-on-one counselling programme aimed at mental, emotional and physical wellness. For women aircrew undergoing refresher training, we now add an extra day devoted exclusively to programmes to cope with work stresses. That apart, women employees are encouraged to advance their professional careers.

What role has technology played in opening avenues for diversity and inclusion?

>> Aviation as an industry is at the cutting edge of technology. D&I in our industry has been a mixed bag – because many roles around technology were seen as roles suitable only for men – such as cockpit crew, engineering and leadership roles. But in Air India Express, we are particularly proud that the percentage of women pilots is more than twice the global average. And in many key operational roles, involving technology, in Flight Despatch, Engineering, Flight Safety and OCC, women play a key role. Still, there is a long way to go, but we are on the right path!

Could you highlight some of the D&I initiatives undertaken by your organization?

>> D&I has been an area of focus in the airline for long. The numbers speak for themselves – about 40% of our workforce is women. Our women employees have gone beyond stereotypical roles and have broken into what was traditionally seen as roles only men could do. In AIEX, almost 50 of our 325 pilots are women – representing 14% of the cockpit crew strength. Many amongst them have climbed the professional hierarchy by sheer hard work, becoming check pilots and training captains. Several key leadership positions in the company are held by women. Besides the statutory requirements, we make sure that the workplace is comfortable, all channels of communication are open, and we encourage free and frank feedback. The company follows a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment. The women leaders of the company play a mentorship role. Half of our employees, mainly cabin crew, are recruited from Tier 2/3 cities from where we operate the bulk of

our services. It allows employees to be within the support system of their own families and friends, while at the same time minimising crew positioning flying and hotel stays – a win-win for both the organisation and the employee.

4. What is the business case for D&I? Why have D&I become important for organizations in recent times?

>> A diverse, well-represented workplace leads to well-balanced perspectives and better decision-making as a consequence. And this is all the more important for today’s VUCA world. Human factors are key, whether it’s the service aspects or safety. A supreme example is from the recent crisis – we believe a key reason we could navigate the pandemic successfully, was gender diversity. The airline has been recognised for its business continuity efforts and won the coveted ‘Business Continuity Award’ at the recent Wings India aviation event organised by FICCI and the Ministry of Civil Aviation. And it was heartening that during the pandemic, when the virus was a feared unknown, employees, including women employees unhesitatingly stepped forward to make sure our services kept going.

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