Air Transport World

The drive for diversity; the presence of women and blacks in higher echelons and board rooms of U.S. airlines no longer is viewed as remarkable. (part 1)(Managing in Turbulence)

Not all that long ago--about 30 years--the U.S. airline industry was an almost 100% white male bastion. White males still dominate the management and piloting ranks but the presence of black and female faces at the podium, around the conference table or in the cockpit no longer is remarkable. And in the lower echelons at many carriers, more than half of the work force is female and up to a quarter belong to ethnic minorities.

Although no woman or black is a president or CEO of a U.S. major airline yet, several women and blacks serve on their boards of directors. One national airline boasts a woman president--Horizon's Kathleen Iskra--and at least three regionals are headed by women: Mary Jordan succeeded Barbara Feeser as president of American Eagle Wings West, Linda Overstreet presides over FedEx contractor Corporate Air and Margaret Hren is president of Keys Air. June Morris founded Morris Air and headed it until health problems forced her to sell out to Southwest; she now sits on Southwest's board.

The highest-ranking woman at a major airline is Colleen Barrett, executive vice president-customers at Southwest. But all of the majors list females and/or blacks among their corporate officers. In the association ranks, Carol Hallett is president of the Air Transport Assn.; Loretta Scott is in line to preside over the American Assn. of Airport Executives, 41 of whose 377 accredited members are women; and Delta's Jenny Poole is chairman and past president of the Inflight Food Service Assn.

At FAA, the No. 2 person is Deputy Administrator Linda Hall Daschle, while at the next level down, two of six assistant administrators are female and two are black. At ICAO, Carol Carmody is the U.S. representative.

As Daschle, an outspoken advocate of work-force diversity, puts it: "Women and minorities haven't gone as far as we would like to see, but I think there are positive trends that we need to make note of."

And because progression up the corporate ladder is a function of time as well as talent, these trends can be expected to accelerate. After all, the first black airline pilot entered the cockpit in 1963 and the first woman in 1973.

Little good information is available the penetration of women and minorities into the U.S. air transportation industry but the bits and pieces that can be found --some of which conflict with one another--paint a picture of progress.

The International Society of Women Airline Pilots estimates that approximately 2,500 women are flying for airlines worldwide, more than 400 of them captains, and says the pilot force at the average airline is about 5% female. ISA+21, founded in 1978 by 21 woman airline pilots, has about 450 members who fly jet transports at 67 airlines in 28 countries. Among its activities are sponsorship of scholarships for aspiring airline pilots--$45,000 in funds and ratings were dispensed in 1994--and an annual convention where it shares information and discusses issues "arising from being in a male-dominated profession."

ALPA, which represents 43,000 pilots at 37 U.S. airlines, says 2.95% of its membership was female in April, 1994. Since then, says a spokesman, the union has decided that "a pilot's a pilot" and no longer asks for gender on its application form. If the same percentage held throughout the U.S. airline pilot force of approximately 72,000, the number of woman pilots would stand at about 2,100. At the time of the study, United led the majors with 6.1% female pilots and Delta was at the bottom with less than 1%.

FAPA, a "career and financial-planning service for pilots" that tracks hiring, says 6.8% of the pilots taken on by U.S. "major and global airlines" in 1994 were women. Because a 1993 FAA survey showed that only 3.35% of the 260,000 U.S. pilots holding "commercial or better" certificates and current medical certificates were female, "it's clear to us that the airlines are trying to hire women," says a representative. Although neither FAA nor FAPA tracks ethnic status, "from anecdotal evidence, we infer the airlines are similarly trying to hire minorities. …

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