A long, long time ago in a land not so far away, there was a bright young, beautiful ticketing agent at an airport desk. With her smile beaming and eyes sparkling, she was thrilled to be talking with her supervisor about her upcoming trip as a rookie flight attendant. Our perky airline agent prattled on as she stepped on the scale for her weekly weigh-in. As usual, a perfect 115 pounds, right on the button. Good thing, because even around the holidays there was never forgiveness for being five pounds overweight! And, of course, the touch to the back ensuring she was wearing a girdle as part of her required uniform. It was 1967 and this is no fairy tale. The airlines aimed for a particular look and weight and measurements in an employee. And they got it, in mostly slender blondes, eschewing diversity for uniformity.
Fast forward to November 2019. I’m on a flight with a major airline headed to San Francisco for a speaking engagement. I met the most lovely woman, we’ll call her Barbara. Neither the airline nor the flight attendant union regulations allow disclosure of flight attendant names or the name of the airline for any article or publication. Even if it is a positive, affirming piece.
Barbara is absolutely lovely, with an easy smile and keen acumen for delivering an exceptional passenger experience. It’s no wonder, she’s been serving us in-flight for 52 years! I was so struck by her engaging smile and so pleasantly surprised to learn her age of 73 years that I began asking her questions about her time in the industry and experiences.
She has fascinating tales. One of her more memorable flights included an Emotional Needs Kangaroo! It was about twenty years ago, way before emotional needs animals were even a thing. But the passenger (an Aussie of course) had recently gone through a traumatic experience. The kangaroo was a comfort to her. So, on board the bouncing joey came, accompanying his owner down the aisle. Yep, Barbara has seen it all. From kangaroos to Commanders-in-Chief; Girdles to gurneys on the jetway.
If you’re on one of her flights, you’ll see that Barbara continues to be a dedicated team member with a passion for serving passengers. She is a product of days when customer service was considered an art. Whether serving a U.S. President, a sheik, a movie star or your just one of us ordinary citizens, she does so with finesse and without regard to status.
Having lived through decades of changing cultures, landscapes and airways, we’re grateful that she’s traversed it all and is still flying high with an organization that esteems her pedigree and experience. Thank goodness the days of weighing and measuring your employees are a distant memory filed away with the non-diversity & exclusion initiatives of yesteryear.
However, not all companies have truly embraced diversity, especially when it comes to those over fifty. But as for this airline, they are leading the charge in re-hiring and maintaining older adults. Not because they have to or it’s the latest thing, but because it’s good business. Their culture is truly one of valuing their people. The human resource is the most valuable resource a company has.
It’s inspiring to know that at least this airline truly values the experience rather than hiring only recent college grads or early-career employees. In fact, her colleague on that flight was 65 years old! This may not be your grandmother’s flight crew, your grandmother is the flight crew!
As with other conscientious companies, they see that older adults bring immense value to the organization. That’s what I saw in Barbara, an ambassador for the brand. She exudes grace and know-how that can only be mastered from decades of serving people during some of their most stressful times while traveling.
In talking more with Barbara, I discovered her penchant for creating the ultimate passenger experience. She takes pride in her position and serving us all well. Not always the case with the younger, less-experienced flight attendants. “It’s just this younger generation,” she said. “They were raised differently from us and don’t always make the effort or have a sense of what it takes to truly serve,” she continued.
The fact is, our workforce is now filled with five generations; Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millenials and Gen Z. This presents even more opportunities (and challenges) for organizations to deliver a great experience that the consumers of today demand. It’s forcing us to get creative, get strategic, and actually be diverse and inclusive by offering training and development that works for multi-generational teams. It requires corporations to become even more intentional about diversity, culture and investing in their employees. After all, even with all these generations out there, we are facing a huge deficit in the number of qualified workers to fill open positions. We have the solution in our midst. Let’s get busy.