Southwest Airlines, Co. is a prime example of how a company with a strong diversity program also strengthens its bottom line. The year-end results for 2001 marked Southwest Airlines’ 29th consecutive year of profitability, and Southwest was the only major carrier in 1990, 1991, and 1992 to make both net and operating profits.
This airline clearly serves as a successful business model in a variety of areas. Among them is diversity, reflected in the airline’s employees system-wide as well as in the law department. Starting at the top, the company’s president and COO is female.
Southwest Airlines gives all employees the chance to benefit directly from their hard work through its profit-sharing plan. Through this program, the first in U.S. airline history, employees now own approximately 10 percent of company stock. The employee’s enthusiasm and buy-in is reflected in the fact that Southwest was ranked number one in fewest customer complaints for the last 10 consecutive years, as stated in the Air Travel Consumer Report published by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The Southwest legal department stands as testament to the fact that no matter how large or small a law department, its leadership can positively influence the creation of a more diverse and inclusive legal profession. The 12-member law department is 25 percent people of color and 50 percent women.
Its law department is committed to mentoring and conducting business with minority- and women-owned law firms and these efforts have paid off: Southwest Airlines General Counsel Deborah Ackerman has been recognized for her efforts in diversity in numerous publications, including the American Bar Association’s (ABA) section of Business Law, the section of litigation, and the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity.
Southwest Airlines was listed by Hispanic magazine in the 2000 and 2001 “Hispanic Corporate 100” for leadership in providing opportunities for Hispanics and for supporting recruitment, scholarships, and minority vendor programs.
Southwest has been named the Most Admired Airline in the World from 1997 to 2000, and is one of the most admired companies in the world, according to Fortune magazine. Since 1997, Fortune has ranked Southwest Airlines in the top five of the “Best Companies to Work for in America,” except 2001, in which Southwest chose not to participate.
Southwest recognized early on that making diversity a core value would reap the benefits that they are experiencing today.
Return to List of 2002 Award Winners
From the December 2002 issue of Diversity & The Bar®