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Co-piloting the diversity journey with Jennifer Kaplinsky

Jennifer Kaplinsky, managing director, on “diversity”—a strategic business driver—and strength to serve “new” real-time travelers
  1. Tell us a little about yourself

    I joined the Dallas office of Andersen Consulting in August 1995 after graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans, La. with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science.

    Most of the time, I have been in the Products Travel Practice, but I also have worked in SI Solution Architecture and Product Sales organizations. Currently, I am the Client Account Lead for a Dallas-based airline, and I’m the Dallas Employee Resource Group Executive Sponsor.

    From a personal perspective, I can track my career in consulting alongside major life milestones. When I started dating my husband, Matt, I was working on a Canadian airline project; planned my wedding (10 years ago) while working on a federal government assignment; had my first child (Allie, now 8) while I worked for both an international airline and a global hotel company; and took on client account lead responsibilities for a North American focused airline when I returned from maternity leave with Ryan, who is now 3.

  2. What are you seeing in the market when it comes to inclusion and diversity?

    I am seeing an absolute commitment to diversity as strategic driver of businesses. I see it both at Accenture and at my current client. I’m seeing companies shift the focus from creating diverse teams to creating truly inclusive teams. It is not good enough to have a diverse workforce. If you are not involving and sponsoring all resources to harvest diversity of thought, innovation will be lost.

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  3. You recently participated in a diversity event in Dallas with an airline industry partner and Southern Methodist University. Can you share what it was about?

    In September 2016, we partnered with Southwest Airlines for their annual Inclusion & Innovation Summit, where they seek to highlight thought leaders across business, arts, media and academics to advance the dialogue around issues of diversity and inclusion. SMU Cox School of Executive Education helped us co-sponsor the event and brought a tremendous academic perspective to the table about the changing demographics of the business landscape.

    Our theme was The Ultimate Playbook: How do high performing teams come together and win? We “drafted” thought leaders from academia, industry and professional sports to illustrate how diverse teams, when nurtured by sponsorship and created to be inclusive, can spark innovation and achieve greater results. We took a deeper dive to explore how diversity of thought drives innovation, and how sponsorship is vital to furthering inclusion.

    It was eye (and brain) opening to hear the comparison of traditional business organizations to sports teams and locker room dynamics. To make a winning team, the best athletes are chosen regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic circumstances, religion, etc., but in business we are still moving toward that goal.

  4. You conducted some research recently that examined the level of diversity in the airline industry. What did you find?

    We analyzed DiversityInc.’s top 5 most diverse companies at the C-Suite and board level, with focus on gender and ethnicity. Essentially, we crafted an index of data and compared where the top 10 North American airlines are in comparison. A lot of industries and companies aspire to reach those diversity benchmarks, and our analysis indicated that it’s no different for the top 10 North American airlines. They have a long way to go to reach parity in terms of both gender and ethnic diversity in the C-Suite and at the board of director level.

  5. How can a diverse workforce contribute to the strength of an airline?

    Diversity affects the strength of all companies and governments, not just airlines. But airlines do find themselves in a unique position as the traveling public represents a diverse set of people—a true cross section of our world today. To understand how to best serve all of their customers, regardless of gender, ethnicity, disabilities and socioeconomics, I believe you need a diverse set of employees to contribute to the customer strategy. A diverse set of employees brings different life experiences and a cross-section of empathies, which provoke thoughts for the whole group to consider as they look for ways to create innovative, customer-focused solutions. For example, do you know the challenges of a person in a wheel chair who is traveling on an airplane? How does a company create the best customer experience possible for persons with disabilities if their employees do not have the life experiences to draw upon?

  6. Speaking of diversity, you are a managing director, and you are also mom to two kids. How do you balance it all?

    First, I am grateful to work for a company that places emphasis on work-life integration. I feel that Accenture provides many options for me to utilize. And, honestly, sometimes I don’t balance it all. I take our client and family plans week-by-week. I try to arrange my schedule such that I can be with Allie and Ryan for important school events and love to plan their birthday parties. Most of the time I can juggle my client commitments and work events with my commitments to my family and it works out, and sometimes it does not. I believe a successful work-life balance is unique to each of us. We must take into account our significant other, extended family, client and project timing and our own health.

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