Boeing’s Diversity and Inclusion Pronouncements Should Make Us All Uneasy

I was always fascinated by airplanes, as a kid setting up a ramshackle workshop to build models—I admit I was partial to the smell of airplane glue and the feel of balsa wood—later flying in Cessnas with friends training for their license, and spending afternoons at the airport watching 747s take off and land. I loved the thrill of flying, the sense of being magically borne, the mystery of cloud formations, the thrum and vibration of mighty engines—even when one of these failed on a flight from Budapest to Athens and the plane hobbled back to Ferihegy International Airport. The excitement overrode the sense of danger.

No more. Since 9/11 I fly only when I must. The long waits, the growing expense and add-on charges, the interminable security lines, the indignity of being frisked, the increasingly cramped cabins, the plethora of new rules, the constant threat of terrorism and, as Trump quipped, the complexity of the technology requiring computer experts rather than pilots have all rendered the joy of flying obsolete.

But there is worse. As a June 2, 2015, Wall Street Journal article reported, the Federal Aviation Administration has “quietly moved away from merit-based hiring in order to increase the number of women and minorities who staff airport control towers.” Former air traffic controller Willie Shields reveals that “Along with under-reporting system failures, the FAA started conspiring, almost openly, with leftist groups like the Black and Hispanic Controller's Coalition. Gay and lesbian organizations started demanding hiring and promotion slots for their members—as if one's preference for a particular style of recreational sexual behavior is an indispensable predictor of air traffic control ability.” Shields concedes that “The affirmative action angle is only a part of the problem”—the need to beat the competition, the drive to maximize profit, laziness, and inertia at the top figure prominently—but equity hiring is a major factor.

Recently we have heard of the crash of two Boeing 737 Max8s, due apparently, as The Verge reports, to faulty MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) sensor readings, lack of safety features, inadequate pilot training programs and various cost-saving measures. One may also wonder to what extent, apart from greed and negligence, the practice of affirmative rather than merit-based hiring practices played a role in this, and no doubt other such disasters. In this context, we recall the collapse of the Sweetwater Bridge in Florida, with six fatalities. Leonor Flores, a female engineer and project executive who works for the construction firm responsible for the catastrophe, averred two days before the collapse: “I think women have a different perspective. We’re able to put in an artistic touch and we’re able to build, too.” As I wrote at the time, “Typically, she had her priorities reversed. You build first, then you put in the artistic touches, ‘too.’” The mindset is all wrong, focusing on embroidery rather than substance. Plainly, the only viable principles of job and professional selection, regardless of whatever identity group one belongs to, have to be ability and merit, not identity politics. Anything else is both a moral hazard and a literal peril.

Keeping planes aloft, like keeping bridges standing, demands standards of excellence, custodial liability, and meticulous care before any other desideratum. Boeing’s Diversity and Inclusion manual, a feel-good promo checking all the politically correct boxes, does little to allay suspicion that quality control is remorselessly being replaced by deficits of knowledge, dubious aptitudes, and social justice ideological platitudes. Learning that merit and competence are no longer exclusive drivers in hiring and training but that “promot[ing] diversity within the company,” based on “members who share a common interest, such as race, gender or cultural identity” does not inspire confidence. (The Boeing webpage features five smiling employees, only one of whom is a white male.) A program of this nature has nothing to do with “creating advanced aerospace products and services”—and indeed, may even be contraindicated. Keeping planes in the air, making sure they take off and land safely, and ensuring the lives of passengers—of whatever race, ethnicity, religious persuasion or cultural identity—is the essential priority.

This means that Boeing—in fact, any company, institution, industry or service provider—should not be motivated chiefly or even at all by diversity and inclusion parameters favoring minority and under-represented cohorts. It must seek out the best among the hiring pool, independent of racial or gender considerations, in the interests not only of the bottom line and economic survivability but equally for the benefit and advantage of clients, taxpayers and ordinary people in general.

Competence and work-related character come first; social melioration programs are better left to government debate and private charity and are in themselves irrelevant to keeping the majority of people both prosperous and safe. Refusing to “tolerate discrimination, harassment or retaliation” (whatever Boeing intends by the latter term) may be a noble project—though it is often code for persecuting those who do not fit the preferred identity categories or who dedicate themselves to strenuous achievement. It clearly should not translate into compulsive and programmatic hiring of discernible minorities or specific genders without attention to qualifications. It should mean recruiting the best people for the job, people of proven caliber and ability, and yes, even white heterosexual males.

It also means ruling out the inept and delinquent from highly sensitive and gravely responsible positions where other people’s lives and livelihoods are at risk, regardless of cultural pressures, leftist mantras, and social justice protocols. Boeing is in the business of building planes that fly, not in creating a future utopia. Its mandate is not social engineering but aeronautical engineering. There is nothing wrong with “equal employment opportunities” to which Boeing and other firms are committed—indeed, there is everything right with them—provided that equal opportunities are offered to those with the proper abilities and genuine credentials.

Maybe then we can cross bridges with assurance and once again fly with some degree of confidence.