Delta CEO Ed Bastian says he is “ashamed” that he has not paid more attention to fostering diversity within the airline’s executive leadership roles and will look at adding more Black members to its board of directors “over the next couple of years.”
Corporate America is — once again — facing questions about a staggering lack of diversity among top brass after demonstrators filled the streets of major US cities for weeks to protest racial injustices. Despite years of conversations about workplace inclusion and various diversity programs, the disparity remains stark.
Delta has added two board members in the past year, both of whom are white men. “We do have two Black members of 12 on Delta’s board — not enough,” Bastian said. “We will be recruiting more Black members undoubtedly over the next couple of years.”
While Delta’s broader senior leadership pipeline includes Black employees, its top executive team does not. There is not a single Black man or women serving in Delta’s top 11 executive roles and Bastian acknowledges that needs to change.
“It is my responsibility to make that change,” Bastian told Poppy Harlow in a Boss Files interview. “I’m ashamed to say that, you know, I had not paid the level of attention to that component of the analysis that I needed to pay.”
Black and Brown employees, which represent almost half of the Atlanta-based company’s workforce, are “lagging within the diversity improvements that we’ve seen in the company,” Bastian said.
A Delta spokesperson said in a follow up email that, of Delta’s top 100 officers, “25% identify as women and 18% identify as people of color.” Of that 18%, about 8% of Delta officers are Black, the spokesperson said.
Bastian, who has helmed Delta since May 2016, pledged to “pay extraordinary attention to [racial diversity] going forward,” he said.
Only four companies in the Fortune 500 have Black CEOs, and only 18 Black executives have led Fortune 500 companies in the past two decades, according to Fortune. And a December 2019 report found that only 3.2% of executive or senior leadership roles in the United States were held by Black people.
Three years ago, Bastian was among 175 executives who signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion and pledged to implement inclusion training at Delta.
Training initiatives don’t necessarily translate into meaningful change. One peer-reviewed study, published in 2019, found one-off training sessions have “limited efficacy among those groups whose behaviors policymakers are most eager to influence.” And the trainings don’t necessarily open the door for minorities to step into leadership roles.
CNN’s Harlow also asked Bastian about comments from Ursula Burns, the former Xerox CEO and the last Black woman to have helmed a Fortune 500 company. She told CNN last month that she was fed up with companies making excuses for failing to hire more black executives.
“How many more years do you say to the people who have been excluded: ‘Just hold on. Give them 10 more years. They’ll get there,’” Burns had said.
Burns, who previously resisted calls for diversity quotas, said she was reevaluating her stance. And she has mentioned that putting more Black Americans onto corporate boards could help make an immediate difference.
“We’re not going to see the real change happen,” Bastian said in response to Burns’ comments about corporate boards, “until real ownership occurs. And ownership means owning the past, not just the future.”
Bastian said that he is committed to ensuring “that we stamp out systemic racism.”
“There’ll be another news cycle; there’ll be another incident; there’ll be something else that will impact our business,” he said. “This is one [issue] that can’t be left behind.”