Alaska Airlines First Officer Kim Ford is working to inspire the next generation of young women to achieve their dreams in aviation.
Damsel in distress? Not today. This week’s new box office release, “Captain Marvel,” shatters the image of a weak and powerless woman who needs rescuing. Now the damsel is replaced by a strong, intelligent and conquering woman who is doing the rescuing herself.
What I love about Captain Marvel is that she isn’t partnered with or overshadowed by a male hero. She stands in the spotlight alone and wins her battles the same way. Here at Alaska Airlines, we have many of our own Captain Marvels, and I couldn’t be more proud of the incredible women in our operation, working in the sky as well as on the ground.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, I would like to highlight some of the concerted efforts we’re making in diversity and inclusion, while shining the spotlight on some of our own leading ladies.
When I joined Alaska Airlines in 1989, we had only one woman in a vice president role and one woman on our board of directors. Today, 30 percent of our officers across the company are women. Additionally, 50 percent of our board members are women — we’re the only airline and the first Fortune 500 company on the West Coast to achieve this.
Our commitment to creating an environment where all people feel valued extends throughout the company. From the flight deck to the cubicle, 56 percent of our employees across Alaska Air Group identify as female. We have two women’s employee groups with nearly 500 members. Tonight, our Women’s Interactive Network Group is hosting an event to help members build their personal brands. We’re also looking forward to our second-annual women’s summit later this month. We believe diversity is a superpower that fuels our innovation and progress.
In May 2018, we had a first at Alaska Airlines. Captain Tara Wright and First Officer Mallory Cave were the first two female African American pilots to fly together in Alaska Airlines’ history. While we celebrate moments like this, they also illuminate how far we have to go as an industry. At Alaska, we want to reflect the communities we serve, making sure the next generation has opportunities – no matter their gender or skin color.
When it comes to our pilots, we continue to hold the highest standards and hire the best of the best. Unfortunately, however, the pipeline of qualified pilots is severely lacking diversity. In hopes of changing this paradigm, we just signed a hiring pledge with Sisters of the Skies. We have plans to build up African American female role models in aviation through new support mechanisms for current employees and enhanced mentorship and development opportunities for noncertified pilots and youth in our community. It’s one of the many efforts we’re making to encourage girls and women of color to go after their dreams and break through barriers
Charu Jain, our vice president and chief information officer, is another superhero, one who redefines the role of women in information technology. Throughout our acquisition of Virgin America, she led her team with strength and humility through the integration of more than 40 technology systems. As the executive sponsor of Alaska Women in Tech, one of our diversity and inclusion groups, she provides resources, education and networking to empower individuals to grow careers. Her deep understanding of the industry and her dedication to the community make her a perfect fit for our company and a respected leader.
Sangita Woerner, our vice president of marketing, is also a heroine with tenacity and fortitude. She breaks barriers, isn’t afraid of a little competition, and has given new life to our brand and the characteristics that make Alaska Airlines unique. As a board member for United Way, she supports the communities we serve by making substantive changes.
Jain and Woerner are among 10 women in executive leadership at Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air with whom I’m proud to be associated. It’s these women, along with so many others who are everyday superheroes in their jobs here, that set us apart from the rest. Diversity helps us be our best when we learn from each other and embrace our differences. I think that’s marvelous.