We pledge to increase our African American female pilots by 2025

From left: Alaska Airlines First Officer Kim Ford, Alaska Airlines Captain Tara Wright, Alaska Airlines Senior Diversity & Inclusion Specialist Theressa Irigon-Rachetto, Sisters of the Skies President & United Airlines Captain Theresa Claiborne, Alaska Airlines First Officer Mallory Cave

Today’s flight deck is full of incredible professionals, but also lacking diversity. African American female pilots make up about one half of 1 percent of all professional pilots across the industry. At Alaska, we’re all about people and reflecting those we serve, but this statistic is a reminder of how far we have to go.

This morning, we signed a new pledge with Sisters of the Skies, a nonprofit committed to pilot diversity. We aim to increase our female African American pilots over the next six years across Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, and support the path to expose and inspire more young women to get there.

“When we foster an inclusive environment that recognizes, respects, and visibly reflects all people, it makes us stronger,” said Andy Schneider, Alaska Airlines vice president of people. “Quite simply, creating an airline people love is not possible unless we walk the talk around diversity and inclusion.”

Today, we only have four African American female pilots at Alaska and Horizon combined, which is about 1 percent. It begs the question: why so few?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a pool of qualified African American women ready to be hired. And creating this pool takes time.

Tara Wright, Alaska Airlines captain and Sisters of the Skies director of development, volunteers her time to try to inspire more women of color to pursue aviation careers.

“I met a high school senior recently who said she couldn’t be a pilot because her vision wasn’t good,” she recalled. “I told her, ‘Well, you’ve got some outdated information.’ We need more support mechanisms in place, so young girls of color see aviation as a viable career path.”

Wright helped shed light on the issue, when she and her co-pilot were the first all-female, African American pilot team in Alaska Airlines history on Mother’s Day last year.

“If we quadruple the number of African American female pilots at Alaska, we’ll be leading the charge. That would be a huge achievement when you consider where we are as an industry,” she continued.

With a commercial pilot shortage, it’s imperative we cultivate talent in our communities. And regardless of a shortage, it is important to build a workforce of incredible opportunity that is accessible to all.

Alaska Airlines Captain Will Mcquillen, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) Master Executive Council chairman, agrees.

“Amid a commercial pilot shortage, it is incumbent upon Alaska Airlines’ success to ensure that they are hiring the strongest candidates,” he said. “Diversity is an important element of that goal and we are pleased to see this partnership with Sisters of the Skies.”

The Sisters of the Skies approach to promoting pilot diversity – supporting current pilots through mentorship and encouragement, and increasing the number of future pilots with models and mentors, exposure and training – is consistent with how Alaska approaches creating opportunity.

Like anything, it is valuable to have a goal! We will honor our pledge by:

  • Having support mechanisms in place to assist in the retention and promotion of existing African American female pilots currently working on mainline aircraft in either pilot seat.
  • Enhancing processes and programs that provide education, mentorship, training and scholarships to developing African American female pilots from non-certificated pilots to Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)-certificated pilots through programs such as Solo Flight Academy and Girls Rock Wings.
  • Connecting with kids to generate excitement in aviation and models in our own pilots, through efforts like Alaska Airlines Aviation Day, the Michael P. Anderson program and Amelia’s Club.

Kim Ford, Alaska Airlines first officer and Sisters of the Skies member, believes these are the right steps to be taking – and hopes our work doesn’t stop there.

“I’m so proud that Alaska Airlines is dedicated to supporting aerospace education, inspiring youth to achieve their dreams, and to increasing diversity at Alaska and Horizon,” she said. “It is also important to study the barriers to women of color getting to the flight deck and pathways to success in their careers.”

If we’re able to achieve our goal, Captain Scott Day, who oversees our pilot group, believes the benefits will be far-reaching.

“Having pilots with different backgrounds and experiences is extremely beneficial and specifically adds to the overall health of our company,” he said. “I trained to be a pilot in Bethel, Alaska, and I know it’s not easy. I remain inspired by kids from native communities who get excited about aviation and pursue the rigorous training to become commercial pilots, and am honored by the opportunity to continue advancing diversity in our profession with the Sisters of the Skies pledge.”

As a community member, not just a pilot, Ford is proud of where we’re headed and optimistic about the future.

“As a member of the community, when I see a company that values diversity, that’s a company that I want to support,” Ford said. “As an employee, that’s a workplace and a flight deck where I am proud to be!”

37 comments on "We pledge to increase our African American female pilots by 2025"

  1. “You should be hiring ability not race!” Excuse me, these women ARE able. You aren’t just handed a pilots license because you have a certain level of melatonin. These women have ALL passed the years of intense study and testing, sacrifice and challenges it takes to become an ATP level pilot. Alaska has a published set of qualifications every pilot must possess in order to apply and these women have surpasses all of them. They are all qualified. They have all shown the skills that are required to pass years of testing and examination by multiple FAA qualified examiners over a period of YEARS. It is heartbreaking and disappointing how many people on this message board have automatically assumed they are less of a pilot, don’t have the level of experience REQUIRED BY THE FAA and were just handed a free pass to get this level of experience and skill. Shame on you.
    And to all the women of color who have fought hard and busted through the barriers of ignorant and privileged people (who don’t even realize all the “free passes” they’ve received in life) I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! Blue skies and smooth landings ahead!

  2. Thank you! What a great way to promote diversity. Thank you for doing so and for taking the brave step to stand up against those who are crying against diversity. I am positive you will get some great pilots and inspire many more!

  3. I believe the negative comments focusing on qualifications are missing a point in the article, which clearly states that “Unfortunately, there isn’t a pool of qualified African American women ready to be hired. And creating this pool takes time.” When that time arrives maybe the naysayers will be long gone from Alaska Airlines

  4. How many/percentage of Asian or Latina pilots do we have? Just wondering why the focus on one race. I personally could care less who flies the plane as long as they are qualified and the best person for the job.

  5. My feelings were UP and down after reading this. I am pleased to see equality in the Pit. May the best pilot get hired..

  6. I am a pilot (not Alaska) and a woman. Even though I am a white woman, I can identify with one element of the importance of something like this. When I was growing up in the 80s, I don’t think I ever met a female pilot. I don’t think I ever even saw one. If a pilot is depicted on TV or in a movie, he’s about 45 years old, handsome, maybe salt and pepper hair, etc. There was a definite stereotype. Why would a young girl think of a career in flying when she’s never assumed that was a role for her? Imagine if 50% of pilots were female. A little girl may not think it strange to pursue it as a career. Now, add the element of race and the numbers edge to a tiny fraction. I’ve been flying for 20 years and I can’t think of even one AA female pilot I’ve ever met.

    My point is, sometimes people need to see people that look like them to be a role model. At the airline level, companies are not hiring people who are unqualified based on color just to satisfy diversity. We all take the same tests and have the same minimum qualifications. There is nothing wrong with choosing one person over another in this case, because it will only improve the workforce. Let’s set an example and get these people who did something outside their social box into the spotlight.

  7. The reason there is a shortage of pilots and other aviation professionals such as aircraft mechanics is not because of a shortage of African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, etc in those fields. The shortages are due to the lack of knowledge of these careers by some and lack of resources for others. I may also suggest, unfortunately, there may be a lack of interest by some youth. The cost of flight training compared to the immediate rewards (salary) has been enough to scare away even those who are not in an underrepresented group. With that said, I support any aviation company that recognizes the need for outreach. It is not about lowering standards. It is about casting a wider net!

  8. I’m sorry. But I feel compelled to respond to some of the comments on here about hiring people based on competency versus race or gender.

    Nowhere did the article say or did Alaska imply that race and/or gender would be the sole criteria for a job. Yes, the job should go to the most qualified person, but have you all forgotten that for DECADES this was not the case? Where were you then? Did you cry out against the injustice of hiring on the basis of gender (male) and race (white) back then? Ever? At any time? Where does all this vociferous outcry come from now?

    If you have been silent on the discussion regarding the inequality of treatment and exclusion of women, and minorities in the workplace and in certain industries, then you do have the right to say anything about a deliberate attempt in evening the playing field of years of discrimination. Would you start a game of Monopoly and have new people join in without starting the game all over again? No, because that wouldn’t be fair. All Alaska is doing is trying to level the playing field hiring more women and minorities. That should make one feel good not angry or entitled. Affirmative action is illegal in the workplace only with certain limited exceptions. So all of you in an uproar please relax.

    Finally, to the person who said it should be for all minorities not just AAs, I agree, which is why the article specifically addressed youth “of color.” This initiative just happens to be led by a group
    of AA women “of color” occurring during Black History month. I’m sorry so many of my co-worker feel the way they do about expanding opportunities for every American.

    • PC doesn’t work. I’m tired of the affirmative action programs that do nothing but put an unqualified person in a job to give numbers a purpose. Forget race and gender and get the best qualified. Hire a blank sheet without those factors on it. Then turn the page over and the color and sex of the person won’t matter. You’re confused and if a captain on a major, I want the best Copilots in my cockpit. Not a female or a color.

    • You hit the nail on the head, Heather. We can love the aviation industry, as I do, but still recognize that inequality in the flight deck remains a problem. Like you, I commend Alaska for taking proactive steps to get more people excited about the industry. For those on either side of this, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re reading an airline’s corporate blog, you probably also share a love for aviation. Well, it’s that or you might have too much spare time, I suppose. So with a shared appreciation for the magic of flight, shouldn’t we all want more people, particularly those who have historically been left out, brought into this amazing field? After all, there’s a shortage of pilots. I join you, Heather, let’s celebrate and welcome ALL who can meet the rigorous standards and get their wings. I look forward to the day when the diversity in the flight deck reflects the diversity on-board. This move by Alaska is a step in the right direction.

  9. Shouldn’t pilots be hired based on qualifications? Not the color of their skin? Or whether they’re male or female?

    I don’t understand.

  10. Although I believe everyone’s hearts are in the right place, I find this “pledge”pretty darn offensive and borderline racist. Why does it matter if a pilot is a male or female, black, white, red, pink, yellow? I thought skill, education, experience, and other factors were the criteria for becoming a pilot. Personally, I would hate to be hired at any job because of my gender, color , or because the company has made a pledge to hire a certain amount of “me”. If the company is making a “pledge”, then isn’t that unfair to all the other applicants who have also put in the time money and effort to live their dream? From the outside, this looks like Alaska airlines is trying to win a popularity contest. I admire the passion of the organization but to be honest, this seems like a step backwards more towards separation then unity.

  11. My life is in the hands of these pilots. I would like to think that the best pilot is hired regardless of gender, race, age, religion or any other criterion. The best pilot. I do not need my life risked for some PC program. This is wrong in my view. Train in such a way that everyone can compete, give extra training if need be or not if it isn’t needed. But hire the best pilot period.

  12. Thank you Alaska, for taking this initiative! Diversity in hiring is so important, and although “quotas” and “ratios” can be difficult to conceive and implement with such a sensitive and complicated issue, it’s important to remember that hiring often comes down to choosing between equally qualified candidates. It’s good to know that Alaska not only seeks to examine their own potential bias in interviews and hiring, but to go the extra step and partner with those who encourage and inspire potential pilots early, in groups often overlooked.

  13. This is not a step forward. PERFORMANCE and ABILITY should be the only issue, not race. This is exactly where Dr. King wanted us to go: colorblind. Add age and gender blind while you are at it. The comment on money……perhaps you need to talk to more pilots, discover the indebtedness many enjoy, regardless of race, gender, instead of ASSUMING some privilege based on some particular attribute. Not many got to our flight decks without some sort of sacrifice either in money or time served in the military……because of their DESIRE to fly. Now…want a program that encourages young black women (or better yet….ANYBODY interested) to start to get to our flight deck? And these do already exist…..great! How about just hire the best that care to apply here: lives and the continued longevity of Alaska Airlines depends on it. Feel-good programs to attain some quota for the sake of public perception have no place on our flight decks.

  14. Why? Are they better pilots than others? I know they are no worse because of something unrelated like skin color. Is there some magic ratio you have for race or sexuality or whatever? If so, please tell us all,

  15. Why focus on race, which has no basis for providing the best, most qualified people in the plane.
    Race should not be in the discussion about staffing the plane.

  16. I didn’t think it was possible to love this company more. This makes my heart happy and really exemplifies Being Remarkable!

  17. Having worked in the defense industry with diversity goals for many years, I commend Alaska Airlines. Diversity, should not just be about race. It is diversity of thought, which can come from age differences, life experiences, differing backgrounds, as well as color, creed and religion, that adds true value. Alaska Airlines should strive to hire the best qualified pilots, regardless of color. If there is a commercial pilot shortage, I would hope that encouraging all color of youth, including and not just African American. would be the ideal goal. Hiring the best qualified pilots, regardless of color, should be the goal.

  18. How is that going to be possible when most minorities can not afford the schooling? To get a student loan even requires a parents or someone else who can take the risk for them. I think it is an excellent idea and time will tell.

  19. My hope is that your first priority is to hire the best person for the job(s), regardless of gender, race, sexual preference, etc.

  20. I ADMIRE THE DIVERSITY OF ASA…. BUT.. TO DEVELOP A PROGRAM TO ATTAIN A “QUOTA” DESIGNATED BY RACE AND GENDER IS A STEP BACKWARDS. THOSE WHO RECEIVE THE REWARDS SHOULD BE THOSE WHO HAVE EARNED THE REWARDS…. REGARDLESS OF RACE OR GENDER.

  21. Personally, I don’t care what race or sex my pilot is as long as they are good at what they do.

  22. I don`t care a wit for the color of your pilots. Competency, not gender, not race, must be the sole criterion.