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American Airlines is making anti-racism training mandatory for its employees as well as implementing a series of institutional changes to address bias, it announced last week. The move came in direct response to a travel advisory the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) issued in late October warning African-Americans that they might be treated unfairly by the airline.

“[D]iscrimination and implicit bias sometimes create outcomes that are less than ideal for many of our team members and customers,” AA CEO Doug Parker said in a letter to employees sent on Nov. 30, after a meeting with NAACP officials. “We think corporate America can make a difference in diversity and inclusion, and we at American want to be leaders in that regard.”

Nevertheless, the NAACP said it wasn’t rescinding its travel advisory until it saw concrete results, though “[t]his is a good start to changing internal processes that allow for discrimination, racism and implicit bias to continue to exist within companies,” NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

Parker said AA would hire an independent firm to help it achieve the following steps:

  • a nine-month, “top-to-bottom” review of company policies
  • require all 120,000 employees to undergo revamped bias-awareness and conflict-resolution training
  • create a new team focusing specifically on passengers’ discrimination claims
  • reassess and strengthen the way the company handles complaints of discrimination by employees

Still, real progress will have to be measured by how AA does on a number of issues — which the NAACP will continue to advise the company on, NAACP communications director Malik Russell said in an email.

“There are multiple factors and measures involved, so it’s not a flat analysis,” he said. “We are planning meetings with the airline on a regular basis where we can look at key indicators and discuss the progress being made.”

When it announced the advisory, the NAACP cited four specific incidents in which black passengers said they were treated poorly by American staff while non-black passengers were not. Johnson said that they were merely examples of a disturbing trend in which racial bias seemed to be pervading the airline’s corporate culture.

Read the full version of Parker’s letter to employees here.

AA, american airlines, naacp
Image courtesy of American Airlines.

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