Black employees and allies are driving meaningful change for a more equitable future at Alaska where everyone belongs

Photos by Ingrid Barrentine—Outdoors at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Cultivating a culture of belonging and connection is a prime focus at Alaska Airlines. Whether it’s safely connecting people across the world or within our company through employee-led Business Resource Groups (BRGs), we are committed to creating an equitable workplace for all.

BRGs offer a haven for employees to champion the diverse workforce we have within our wings while engaging, educating and uplifting us as a whole, making our business, culture and communities better. Groups dedicate their free time to share similar interests, give back to communities and provide professional development and support. They also help inform important business decisions where relevant and deliver on our goals.

ABEA leaders and members outside at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in February, 2021.

Air Group Black Employees, Allies and Advocates, or ABEA, is a space for Black employees—and all people of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, our regional airline—to be themselves, lead and thrive and educate others on critical issues that can drive diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

DeMarco Best, one of the founding members of ABEA and duty manager of simulator operations in Seattle, says in the 25 years he’s been with the company, Alaska has made enormous strides when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. However, he admits, there’s still a lot of work needed to advance racial equity within our organization and the airline industry as a whole.

“My philosophy is: you shouldn’t complain about what is wrong in the world if you aren’t doing something to make it better. I love Alaska because I have been given an opportunity to represent and engage with our community, both locally and nationwide. As an active member of ABEA, I’ve volunteered with our recruitment team during job fairs to demonstrate an inclusive culture, and traveled to Washington DC to help the company lobby for equity and inclusion,” said DeMarco Best. (Photo from before March 2020).

Recently Air Group announced its commitment to advance racial equity with goals for representation, inclusive culture and public leadership.

People ask, ‘what does success look like?’ It’s so hard to quantify success when you know this is a journey we’re always going to be on,” said Best. “If we can get to a place of mutual understanding that we need to move beyond just tolerating each other and see the goodness our differences make, this company will be successful—in so many ways we’re better because we’re different.”

“There’s no shame in where we are. We are trying to take this on, and it’s going to be hard, that’s all there is to it, but at least we’re navigating it. We’re taking our time and trying to do things that are going to last,” said John-Antony Dubreuil, ABEA leader and ITS senior test manager.

Holding space for hard conversations.

Black employees have been navigating systemic racism their entire lives and, in the past year, the disproportionate effects of COVID-19. Immediately following the tragic death of George Floyd, ABEA organized listening sessions for employees and leaders to come together across the company—prioritizing recovery and resilience, both from an organizational and personal perspective.

There was so much energy from our employees and allies to take action and do more, so we harnessed that as an opportunity to have open and critical dialogue with peers and leaders to listen to understand and respond in a meaningful way,” said Sarah Keimig, ABEA leader and Seattle lounge manager.

Seattle Lead Customer Service Agent Cinamin Wise, ABEA Leader & Seattle Lounge Manager Sarah Keimig, Phoenix Reservation Sales Agent Shari Fauntleroy (right).

From these sessions came a lot of hard conversations, incredible moments and realizations.

“Just in the past year, we have learned so much together and created more resounding change, so employees feel empowered, supported, and heard,” Keimig said. “We will continue being the driving force and voice among our leaders when we say that this is what our people need right now.”

ABEA leaders continue to encourage Black employees to rest, recover and create space for long-term care and positive affirmation of Black identity. (Photo of ABEA leaders and allies in February 2021).

Today, about 10% of Alaska and Horizon employees belong to one or more of our BRGs, which include Air Group Black Employees, Allies and Advocates, Accessibility Group, Air Group Pan-Asian, AAG Military Group, GLOBE (Alaska’s LGBTQ+ Group), Green Team, Latin Culture Resource Group, Native Employee Network Group, Pacific Islander Alliance, Women’s Interactive Networking Group, AAG Women in Tech. Our goal is to continue to increase the membership of our BRGs as a way to drive connection, foster inclusion and support employees.