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#OpenUpTheWorkforce with Lindsey Lang, Vice President People at Southwest Airlines

Written by Mitra LeBuhn on June 6, 2023
5 min read

Presented by Symba, #OpenUpTheWorkforce interviews feature executives advancing inclusion, diversity, and equity for the future of work. In these short audio-only episodes, we talk with the top about what it takes to develop and implement inclusive processes. 

In this episode of #OpenUpTheWorkforce, Ahva speaks with Lindsey Lang, Vice President People at Southwest Airlines. Lindsey shares, “I like to say I grew up in the people department and it's just been an incredible ride.” Lindsey started her career at Southwest in talent acquisition and recruiting, then moved over to the HR Business Partner team, and now she leads the people department. The company has nearly tripled in size since she joined. With an impressive career spanning over two decades at Southwest, Lindsey shares her insights into the airline's approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Southwest Airlines is renowned for its unique culture, and Lindsey sheds light on how the company prioritizes its people and fosters an inclusive environment. From mentorship programs to reaching down into communities, Southwest Airlines demonstrates its commitment to creating opportunities for all. Throughout the interview, Lindsey's passion for her work shines through, showcasing the power of Southwest's people-first approach. Listen here.

Embracing a People-Centric Culture

At Southwest Airlines, people are at the heart of the company's culture, and the golden rule is a foundational element. Lindsey mentions that President Emeritus, Colleen Barrett, often emphasizes the importance of treating others the way you want to be treated. In addition, they recruit with authenticity. Lindsey says, “One of the favorite things I love hearing is when a new hire says it is as advertised. The culture, the values, the things that you sold to me in the recruitment process, like I walked in day one and felt that.” The company's welcoming and inclusive culture has made it a place of acceptance for the past 50 years. With an emphasis on camaraderie and teamwork, Southwest Airlines strives to create an environment where employees feel valued and supported.

Creating Pathways for Early Talent

Southwest Airlines understands the significance of early talent programs and the impact they have on the future workforce. The company has implemented a comprehensive K-12 program that introduces young students to various career opportunities in aviation. Through high school internships and pilot training programs, Southwest Airlines aims to inspire and guide the next generation of professionals. Lindsey says, “As we're reaching out to that group, [we’re trying to make sure] that they understand the pathways to come work at Southwest. And that can come right out of high school coming into some of our frontline roles, or that might mean that you need to go get a four-year degree.” In order to be truly supportive of these groups, Southwest has a whole team dedicated strictly to pipelining and programming at the K-12 phase and then at the college phase. 

Measuring Long-Term Impact

Looking beyond immediate hiring needs, Southwest Airlines invests in programs that might not yield immediate results but will shape the future of the organization 5-10 years out. For example, the Destination 225° pathways program mentors aspiring pilots over several years, ensuring they meet the requirements to join Southwest Airlines. By providing mentorship and financial support, the company ensures aspiring pilots have the necessary resources to pursue their dreams. Beyond the classic roles you might see at the airport like pilots and flight attendants, Lindsey adds, “We are a technology company as much as we are an airline when you look at how many systems it takes to power this…you can be an aviation enthusiast, but also if you're interested in tech, we've got great programs.” Southwest has programs for junior software engineers and welcomes talent coming in through the traditional four-year degree path and nontraditional pathways, like certification programs and bootcamps. By taking a proactive approach to talent development, the company ensures a steady supply of skilled individuals aligned with its growth plans.

Partnerships for Greater Impact

Southwest Airlines understands that driving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) requires collaboration with external partners. The company's talent acquisition team works closely with its community outreach and governmental affairs group as well as its DEI team to forge partnerships in the cities they serve. By engaging with local communities and organizations, Southwest Airlines expands its reach and fosters relationships that promote inclusivity and provide job opportunities for diverse talent. Southwest hired more than 18,000 new employees (20,000 external and internal) in 2022, which is 20 percent of the company. As part of the onboarding experience, they host events in local communities and allow the cities to decide how they will celebrate and bond as a team.

Nurturing Belonging and Inclusion

Southwest Airlines emphasizes a sense of belonging and inclusion by nurturing three areas of the company’s values: "me, we, and Southwest." The company seeks individuals who align with its purpose of connecting people to what’s important in their lives while providing exceptional hospitality. Whether through the creativity of flight attendants or the unique strengths of its employees, Southwest Airlines celebrates individuality while uniting everyone under a shared purpose. This commitment to embracing diversity inspires a familial atmosphere within the organization.

Honoring Veterans: Building Strong Pipelines of Support and Opportunity

One remarkable aspect Lindsey highlights is the unwavering commitment to supporting veterans. Their initiatives go beyond simple gestures, showcasing a deep-seated dedication to honoring those who have served in the military. Red Shirt Fridays, for instance, foster a sense of unity and camaraderie among employees as they stand in solidarity with veterans. Southwest’s Destination 225° program also includes a specific military pathway that supports veterans in accruing flight time and the Warrior Hire Program helps veterans transition into technology roles. They also have programs that help military spouses find jobs. 

What do leaders need to do to #OpenUpTheWorkforce?

Lindsey emphasizes informing people of the variety of job opportunities and showing them the path to land those roles. A compelling anecdote shared by Lindsey revolves around individuals who embarked on their journey as bag carriers but have now ascended to become pilots. This narrative serves as a testament to the transformative power of structured development and progression opportunities. By providing entry-level positions and clear paths for growth, organizations cultivate and nurture talent from within their ranks. This approach not only instills loyalty and motivation among employees but also harnesses the untapped potential of the workforce. Recognizing the hunger for learning and advancement, companies that invest in the development of these individuals thereby build a robust and capable team united in the pursuit of shared goals. The belief in the power of pipelines encourages organizations to unlock the full potential of their employees and create an environment conducive to continuous growth and success.

Lindsey Lang's interview offers valuable insights into the inner workings of Southwest Airlines' commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Their implementation of programs and partnerships ensures a diverse and inclusive workforce for the future. With a people-centric approach, Southwest Airlines strives to create a culture where employees feel valued and inspired. Through their dedication to fostering belonging and celebrating individuality, Southwest Airlines continues to be a trailblazer in the aviation industry, setting an example for other organizations to follow.

About Lindsey Lang

Lindsey Lang is responsible for developing and executing a human resource strategy in support of the overall business plan of Southwest Airlines as the Vice President People. She supports all People strategies and services, including oversight of Talent Acquisition, Employee Relations, HR Technology, HR Business Partners, HR Operations, and Employee Services.

Lindsey joined Southwest in 2001 and began her career in the People Department as an Employment Coordinator and then a Recruiter for various operational and business groups. Lindsey later transitioned to Team Lead for Operations Recruiting and Onboarding, where she co-led the Employee transition during Southwest’s acquisition and integration of AirTran. In 2012, Lindsey became the Senior HR Business Partner (HRBP) for the airline’s Technology Department. She also served in multiple Leadership positions on the Talent Management and HRBP Team, including as Senior Director HRBP & Talent Management. In this role, she supported pandemic response, job architecture, and the building out of the HRBP function at Southwest.

Lindsey holds a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Kansas. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, trips to the beaches of Florida’s Panhandle, and cheering on the Jayhawks.




You can view other episodes of #OpenUpTheWorkforce here. Are you an executive leader increasing access to jobs and wealth creation? Request to be featured and show us how you #OpenUpTheWorkforce.

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Mitra LeBuhn

Mitra is the Head of Impact and Communications at Symba and leads social impact, PR, and marketing partnerships for the business. She combines a unique background in Global Health and Higher Education, and speaks French. Beyond Symba, Mitra spends her time outdoors, traveling the world and making music.

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