United Airlines announced on Tuesday that it would increase the number of women and people of color who become pilots, setting a goal for 50% of the 5,000 pilots trained in the next decade to fit the demographics.
The airline made the announcement on Twitter, writing, “Our flight deck should reflect the diverse group of people on board our planes every day. That’s why we plan for 50% of the 5,000 pilots we train in the next decade to be women or people of color.”
Twenty minutes after the initial tweet was sent – and after criticism from many on Twitter suggesting hiring people based on race and gender rather than talent would be dangerous – United followed up by saying: “All the highly qualified candidates we accept into the Academy, regardless of race or sex, will have met or exceeded the standards we set for admittance.”
The follow-up didn’t placate everyone, including Dave Brooks, the former managing editor of The Daily Caller, who questioned why United hadn’t achieved this goal already if they had qualified candidates of color.
“So why haven’t you done this before now? If you had qualified women and minorities, why didn’t you hire them? This implies you’ve been discriminatory until now,” Brooks suggested.
Others questioned whether the airline would refuse to hire qualified white men just to meet the self-imposed quota, while some wondered if the diversity policy would apply to flight mechanics – who are mostly men – and flight attendants – who are mostly women.
United provided a link to an application website for those interested in becoming pilots, which doesn’t mention diversity until about halfway down. The company said that already 20% of its pilot group is made up of women and minorities, adding that it is “partnering with diversity-led organizations” in order to achieve an even higher percentage.
“Today, United has one of the most diverse pilot populations of any U.S. carrier with nearly 20% of our pilot group made up of women and people of color. We are working toward raising that number even higher by partnering with diversity-led organizations and continuing to remove gender and racial barriers. And we’re going one step further with plans for 50% of United Aviate Academy students being women and people of color to ensure our students reflect the diversity of the customers and communities we serve,” the website says.
Part of the way United plans to help more underrepresented communities become pilots is through financial aid.
“Together United and JPMorgan Chase are offering $2.4 million in financial aid to the best and brightest talent, opening the door to a lucrative career for people who previously didn’t have the opportunity to pursue one. We’re in the business of breaking down barriers and we want the pilot population — some of the highest paying jobs in the industry — to be open to a much more diverse pool of candidates,” the website says.
In addition to United and JPMorgan Chase, the website says additional loans will be available from Sallie Mae.
It is against the law to discriminate by race and gender, which could open the airline to lawsuits from qualified candidates denied a job in favor of a diversity quota.