Seizing the opportunity: advancing inclusion and diversity at Heathrow Airport

Sim Sian, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Heathrow, shares how the business is seizing the opportunity to focus on inclusion in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Heathrow is one of the most diverse places on the planet with hundreds of thousands of passengers and colleagues from different cultures and backgrounds travelling through each day. This makes Heathrow a very special place.

At the heart of it, our business depends on the ability to understand the diversity of our passengers, recognise their differing needs, and provide them with excellent passenger service. This simply isn’t possible without also ensuring we utilise a diverse range of thoughts, skills and experience.

Fortunately, we’re also located within one of the most diverse cities in Europe-London. For these reasons, diversity and inclusion is a fundamental part of our business strategy. It remains, however, one of our greatest challenges.

In recent months, the Black Lives Matter movement and the impacts of COVID-19 have shone a light on the institutionalised, societal, racism and inequality that stills exits.  It is our view that every person, business and institution has a role to play in addressing these issues.

At Heathrow, we’ve seen this as an opportunity to critically evaluate and progress our inclusion agenda against all areas of diversity for our colleagues, communities, passengers and suppliers.

We have a diverse workforce with over 40% of our colleagues from Black Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds, which is not surprising when you consider the highly diverse populations of, for example, Slough, Hillingdon, Hounslow, and Ealing nearby.  The big challenge is how we ensure this diversity is reflected at all levels of the organisation.

Today 19% of our senior management colleagues are from Black Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds and while that is strong compared to similar organisations, we recognise there remains a lot to do.  This change has to start from the top, something our CEO and Executive team recognise and are passionate about driving forward themselves.

We have in place a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion Team, dedicated networks for promoting equality and career progression centred around race, gender, sexuality and disability understanding.  More recently, we’ve covered diversity and inclusion widely on company-wide question and answer sessions with our CEO, including stories from our colleagues of their own personal experiences with racism.  The feedback from these sessions have been overwhelmingly positive from our colleagues.

Opening up the conversation and raising awareness in the workplace has been a crucial first step.  The next step is looking at actions we can take to shift the dial further.

Some examples of the actions we are already taking to achieve change and increase our representation at all levels are:

  • Critically analysing our data to ensure our decision making is based on, thorough, accurate insights into the impact of our initiatives.  This is allowing us to evolve our plans as we progress.
  • Enhancing our communications strategy both internally and externally to ensure a diverse approach, providing awareness and education to colleagues, communities, passengers and suppliers.
  • Creating listening circles where colleagues have a safe space to talk about recent events such as the Black Lives Matter Movement and Tackling Racism.  These Listening Circles play an important role in supporting us in creating an inclusive culture by communicating with one another about the issues.
  • Transforming our approach to learning for our colleagues by utilising a blended approach to how we implement diversity and inclusion education across the organisation.  We are committed to playing our part in society and we will support the learning of our local community, passengers and suppliers.
  • Reviewing and evolving our development programmes to ensure all colleagues have opportunities to progress.

We recognise there is a lot more work to do but are exciting about embarking on this journey together with our colleagues and partners.  If we can each make one positive conscious change to the way we think, behave and act towards those around us then we will be well on our way to making the changes we need to improve the situation.