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Diversity in leadership: The next frontier for future air mobility

By diversifying its leadership base, the future air mobility sector can make meaningful progress on equity and inclusion—and overall performance.
Jess Huang

Helps consumer-facing companies grow and thrive in an ever-evolving and demanding consumer landscape through expertise in customer analytics, e-commerce and omnichannel strategies, and customer loyalty

Tore Johnston

Serves clients and leads research across future air mobility and commercial aerospace

Robin Reidel

Draws on deep aviation and transformation expertise to help companies in the air transport and aerospace sectors transform their businesses and enhance performance

Diversity in talent is an increasingly important focus for companies across industries and geographies. And with good reason—not only is boosting workplace diversity the right thing to do but it also expands the potential talent pool, incorporates a broader range of perspectives, and has been shown to improve organizational performance.1

When it comes to diversity on leadership teams, however, the emerging future air mobility (FAM) industry is not keeping pace. Our recent study of more than 60 leading FAM companies found that across the industry, only 15 percent of FAM leaders are non-male, and only 13 percent are racially diverse.2

Leadership in future air mobility is less diverse than in related industries. Within future air mobility, diversity is particularly low among CEOs.
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This puts the FAM industry far behind the overall workforce of 47 percent gender and 36 percent racial diversity in the United States. FAM lags most other industries, including corporate America (27 percent diverse by gender and 18 percent by race) and the more established aerospace and defense industry (24 and 16 percent, respectively).3

Within the FAM sector, diversity varies dramatically by both role and region. Gender diversity is particularly low among senior technical leaders (5 percent) and chief executives (3 percent) but reaches 34 percent for administrative functions such as HR. Geographically, European companies lag behind other regions, with only 11 percent of leaders diverse by gender and 7 percent by race.

To compete in an increasingly complex world, the FAM industry needs to significantly expand the diversity of its leadership teams. The Women in the Workplace report, published by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org, is an annual benchmark that tracks women’s advancement across corporate America.4 Over the past few years, the report has highlighted the importance of fixing the “broken rung” for corporate America—unequal advancement for women from entry level to the first step up to manager. If this broken rung is not fixed, it will be difficult for any company to make significant improvements in diversity at the top.

A first step for the FAM industry is to take a closer look at the pipeline—the representation of non-males and racially diverse employees, starting from entry level. To increase representation at the top, companies need to ensure they are recruiting diverse candidates early in the pipeline, developing them and giving them access to opportunities for advancement. Companies will also make great strides in retention by developing a culture that embraces diversity and focuses on structural improvements such as childcare and flexible working arrangements.

Nurturing the pipeline takes time, so companies should also make more immediate improvements through senior-level hiring. Given that the FAM industry has few women in senior roles, companies can prioritize industry-agnostic experiences and skills in hiring rather than FAM-specific expertise. Applying this same approach to midlevel roles can bolster the leadership pipeline with diverse, high-potential talent for the future.

Finally, all of these efforts should be supported by appropriate hiring and promotion processes. For example, companies can require diverse candidate slates for any new position or promotion, and they can ensure that anyone who makes hiring or promotion decisions has recently participated in unconscious-bias training.

1. For more on the business case for diversity, see Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, Kevin Dolan, Vivian Hunt, and Sara Prince, “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters,” May 19, 2020, McKinsey.com.
2. Racial diversity is measured as the percentage of leadership whose race/ethnicity is not the majority race or ethnicity in the company’s country.
3. For more on how the aerospace and defense sector is prioritizing diversity, see Georgios Athanasakopoulos, Patrick Forrester, Varun Marya, and Brooke Weddle, “Call to action: How A&D companies can build the workforce of the future,” August 19, 2020, McKinsey.com.
4. For more on women in corporate leadership, see McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, Women in the Workplace 2020, womenintheworkplace.com.


Sarina Carter and Tore Johnston are consultants in McKinsey’s Boston office, Jess Huang is a partner in the Silicon Valley office, and Robin Riedel is a partner in the San Francisco office.

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