As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, I’m invigorated by the messages I heard this week during the US Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit 2019 in Washington, DC. Three strong themes made an impression on me throughout the day:
- Women in aviation and in technical leadership roles have come a long way, but there is much room for growth.
- The aviation industry continues to grow and offer multiple opportunities.
- IT and the business are working together to drive the airline industry growth.
Trailblazers in aviation
My favorite session was definitely the “Women in Aviation” panel moderated by our own Elena Avila, the EVP of Airlines in the Americas. The panelists included four female CIOs from some of the largest airlines in North America. As the account director for Air Canada, I was particularly excited to listen to Catherine Dyer, CIO of Air Canada. She talked about digital experiences that help build the brand, how airlines can use data for delivering great customer experiences built on strong foundational elements. She encouraged the industry to work together as a team to share intelligence and strategies that will strengthen our security.
Kathleen Wayton, CIO of Southwest Airlines, highlighted working closely with the business to power the strategic vision as technology can see across the enterprise. Maya Leibman, American Airlines CIO, and Charu Jain, Alaska Airlines CIO, shared their experiences leading the technology aspect of airline mergers, highlighting the importance of the people and culture elements.
Reducing the passengers’ friction and offering a seamless experience was another key message from the panelists. Overall, it was a very impressive discussion, and there was clearly good collaboration among these leaders, especially when they talked about how to increase the number of women in the industry and the importance of starting early and introducing young girls to the wonders of technology. Several of the panelists agreed on the importance of attracting a diverse group of talent to the IT and aviation industry. They talked about their companies’ approach working with local schools to build awareness on how a career in IT and aviation can have a lasting impact on the world. And as Catherine Dyer simply put, “IT is cool”. I am more convinced than ever that we, as leaders in the industry must constantly be advocates and role models to the next generation, so they will want to join our industry and drive innovation.
Remembering an aviation legend
Although the Summit addressed opportunities facing the industry and honored those making a difference today, we also remembered those who’ve left a mark in the industry. Retired American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall paid tribute to Southwest Airlines’ co-founder Herb Keller, who recently passed away. It was moving to see an airline leader to honor a man who was not just his competitor, but a respected colleague. Robert gave many examples of Herb challenging the industry to reduce cost, but also to delight the customer. He was very creative on ways of taking a challenge and turning it into a very positive PR opportunity for Southwest Airlines. Even current American Airlines CEO Doug Parker praised Herb and highlighted one of his favorite quotes from the Southwest legend: “take care of your people and they will take care of your customers”. The day highlighted the need for new people in the industry to challenge the industry like Herb did.
The sky is the limit!
Each session and gathering made you think about how we can all be advocates of change. In the closing remarks, Honorable Carol B. Hallett came out in her sky diving suit to just say get out there, have some fun, and change the world.
How will you make a difference today?