Gender equality needs to accelerate – high level female appointments remain few and far between at North American airlines

JetBlue made a significant move in 2018 when it named airline veteran Joanna Geraghty as president and COO. Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada, also named Lucie Guillemette as Chief Commercial Officer, after Ben Smith took the helm at Air France-KLM and subsequently appointed Anne Regal as CEO of Air France.

But unfortunately those types of high level appointments are few and far between. Nine years ago CAPA – Centre for Aviation conducted a study on the state of airline gender diversity around the world, simply asking: “Why women don’t run airlines?” The results of that research showed that there were 15 airlines worldwide that were run by women. During 2018 CAPA determined that the number was unchanged.

North America is among the poorest performers at naming female CEOs or managing directors. No major US or Canadian airline has a female CEO, although there is some representation at smaller airlines: there are female CEOs at the US regional airline Air Wisconsin and Caribbean operator LIAT. CAPA has determined that of the 286 member airlines of IATA, approximately 4% are led by women.

Most North American airlines are genuine in their efforts to promote women in order to ensure that their companies attain the necessary diversity to operate on a more competitive level. But they should arguably accelerate that process, and work to create a more receptive environment for all employees to attain a favourable work-life balance.

Meanwhile, United Airlines recently joined numerous corporations headquartered in Chicago that had pledged to increase gender equality in leadership roles by 2030.

The Chicago Business Journal has reported that United has promised The Chicago Network – a group of approximately 500 female leaders in the Chicago area that focuses on empowering women in the workplace – that it is working to achieve greater gender equality in leadership roles by 2030. The publication stated that United was planning to redouble its efforts to combat conscious and unconscious biases that hinder female advancement at the airline.

It is an encouraging commitment, but it remains to be seen what the composition of United’s most senior ranks will look like 11 years from now.

The publication pointed out that the airline had just named Sarah Murphy to head its regional airline operations, and that its chief digital officer and VP of human resources are also female.

Females at some of the largest US airlines often serve in the position as chief technology officer or head of human resources. Both American and Southwest have female chief information officers and women serve as heads of both Delta and American’s human resources teams.

There has also been some progress in female representation on US airline boards of directors. Former FAA administrator Jane Garvey serves as the head of United’s board and Facebook’s VP of finance Susan Li is a member of Alaska Air Group’s board.