Blazing a Path to Flight Deck for African-American Girls - United Hub
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Blazing a path to flight deck for African-American girls

By Ryan Hood

Houston-based pilot Nia Wordlaw aims to inspire the next generation.

In high school, she didn't ditch class for a baseball game or time at the beach like other Chicago-area youth – she skipped school for a complete stranger's funeral. And it's the best decision she's ever made.

Earlier in the week, Nia's high school history teacher had shown her an obituary for Janet Bragg in the Chicago Tribune. Bragg, the first African-American woman to hold a commercial pilot license, lived in Chicagoland and had passed at the age of 86.

Nia, who'd been determined since she was 10 to become a pilot, knew she needed to attend. She needed someone she could identify with. Even if that someone was dead.

"I went just to see a black female pilot," she said. "I'd never seen one before."

It was a closed-coffin funeral. Wordlaw was crushed.

As she was about to leave, she spotted an African-American female in a pilot uniform.

"I came here to see a dead one, but even better, I saw a live one," she remembers thinking to herself. Nia approached her and started a conversation.

"She came right up to me. Her enthusiasm is what captured my attention," said Stayce Harris, the pilot Nia had spotted who's now a United First Officer and the Lieutenant General of the U.S. Air Force. "She was the first young lady of color I had met who shared she wanted to be a pilot since she was a little girl."

Ms. Harris has mentored Nia ever since. It's no coincidence Nia's 8-year-old daughter's middle name is Stayce.

***

A 10-year-old African-American girl deciding to become a pilot is not what people normally heard where Nia grew up, but her parents supported her journey every step of the way.

Nia's confidence in her ability to reach the skies grew after her mom stopped by the local library. She brought home an article on micro film for Nia to read – it was about Bessie Coleman, the first black woman to earn a pilot's license. Coleman had passed more than 50 years prior, but Nia considers Coleman to be her first mentor. She kept the Bessie Coleman article by her nightstand and still has it to this day.

"If Bessie can do this back then, there's no reason I can't do this now," Nia recalls being her mindset.

She proved herself right. Her family moved to a different suburb so she could attend Oak Park-River Forest High School, purely so she could take an aviation science class her junior year. Additionally, she took summer school courses allowing her to graduate early, which ultimately meant a quicker arrival into the flight deck. Four years later, she graduated from Southern Illinois University and has been with United since 2005. She's since made it her goal to encourage others who look like her to follow in her contrails.

"People need to see themselves actually working in different positions so they know this can indeed be done and that you won't be alone in doing it," says Nia now a First Officer for United.

To help encourage more African-American females to pursue careers as pilots, in 2017 Nia co-founded Sisters of the Skies, a non-profit organization that cultivates and promotes minority women in the industry through scholarship, mentorship and emotional support.

Currently, there are less than 150 African-American female pilots in the United States holding Airline Transport Pilot, Commercial, Military, and/or Certified Flight Instructor Licenses. Nia's goal is to inspire more.

Houston-based United Flight Attendant Patricia Pratt received a scholarship through Sisters of the Skies as she works to earn her commercial pilot's license.

"The mentorship that group has given me is priceless," Pratt said, "and I owe so much of that to Nia. When I think of her, I think of a cheerleader. She's always promoting aviation, encouraging us and is always available for us if we need anything."

***

The sight of planes taxiing across the alpha and bravo bridge at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is forever ingrained in Nia's mind.

Growing up just south of O'Hare, Nia remembers her parents frequently driving on the roadway beneath the bridge often as a kid. She wondered where were the planes going and knew she wanted to be wherever they were going. Watching planes at the airport sparked her interest in aviation, and there was no better view than the one from under the bridge.

Nia began with United flying the 737, moved to the 757/767, transitioned to the 787 and then, last year, the 777 fleet. Her test flight on the 777's destination? O'Hare.

"I'd dreamed about being on those planes since I was a little girl, and now here I am taking my new aircraft to its gate right over that very bridge," Nia says. "That was a moment. Oh, yes. That was a moment. I had chills."

She joked there's 'no crying in aviation', but she did admit to holding back tears of joy at that moment.

Something else that may cause tears of joy? An increase in African-American females piloting commercial aircraft.

"People often ask me how many pilots like me there are – the answer is not many," Nia says. "This is a tremendous career that's been everything I could've ever hoped and dreamed for.

"I'd ask the next generation this: Do you see me? Because I look like you. You can do this, too."

Jessica Kimbrough named Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

By The Hub team, July 10, 2020

Jessica Kimbrough, currently Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, will take on the new role of Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Managing Director.

Jessica assumes this new and expanded position to focus on global inclusion and equity as part of our enhanced commitment to ensure best practices across the business to strengthen our culture.

In this role, Jessica will be responsible for helping United redefine our efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion – ensuring that our programs and approach are strategic, integrated and outcome-oriented, while we continue to build a culture that reflects our core values. She will report to Human Resources and Labor Relations EVP Kate Gebo.

"Jessica's appointment to this role is another critical step our executive team is taking to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion remains a top priority at United," said CEO Scott Kirby. "Given her drive, experience and commitment to champion collaboration and allyship among our employee business resource groups, she is uniquely qualified to take on this position and I look forward to working closely with her."

As Labor Relations and Legal Strategy Managing Director, Jessica worked closely with senior management to create and maintain positive labor relations among our unionized workforce, providing counsel on labor litigation, negotiations, contract administration, organizing issues and managing attorneys who represent United in labor relations. Previously, she served as Labor and Employment Counsel in our legal department.

Jessica has a passion for creating a pipeline of diverse lawyers and leaders, and was honored as one of Chicago Defender's "Women of Excellence" for excellence in her career and civic engagement in 2017. She currently serves as President of uIMPACT, our women's employee business resource group.

Jessica's new role is effective immediately.

United Cargo and logistics partners keep critical medical shipments moving

By The Hub team, July 02, 2020

By working together and strengthening partnerships during these unprecedented times, our global community has overcome challenges and created solutions to keep the global supply chain moving. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the shipping landscape, United and our industry partners have increasingly demonstrated our commitment to the mission of delivering critical medical supplies across the world.

United Cargo has partnered with DSV Air and Sea, a leading global logistics company, to transport important pharmaceutical materials to places all over the world. One of the items most critical during the current crisis is blood plasma.

Plasma is a fragile product that requires very careful handling. Frozen blood plasma must be kept at a very low, stable temperature of negative 20 degrees Celsius or less – no easy task considering it must be transported between trucks, warehouses and airplanes, all while moving through the climates of different countries. Fortunately, along with our well-developed operational procedures and oversight, temperature-controlled shipping containers from partners like va-Q-tec can help protect these sensitive blood plasma shipments from temperature changes.

A single TWINx shipping container from va-Q-tec can accommodate over 1,750 pounds of temperature-sensitive cargo. Every week, DSV delivers 20 TWINx containers, each one filled to capacity with human blood plasma, for loading onto a Boeing 787-9 for transport. The joint effort to move thousands of pounds of blood plasma demonstrates that despite the distance, challenges in moving temperature-sensitive cargo and COVID-19 obstacles, we continue to find creative solutions with the help of our strong partnerships.

United Cargo is proud to keep the commercial air bridges open between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Since March 19, we have operated over 3,200 cargo-only flights between six U.S. hubs and over 20 cities in Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, India, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

Celebrating Juneteenth

By United Airlines, June 18, 2020

A message from UNITE, United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group

Fellow United team members –

Hello from the UNITE leadership team. While we communicate frequently with our 3,500 UNITE members, our platform doesn't typically extend to the entire United family, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share some of our thoughts with all of you.

Tomorrow is June 19. On this day in 1865, shortened long ago to "Juneteenth," Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved individuals were free. For many in the African-American community, particularly in the South, it is recognized as the official date slavery ended in the United States.

Still, despite the end of slavery, the Constitutional promise that "All men are created equal" would overlook the nation's Black citizens for decades to come. It wasn't until nearly a century later that the Civil Rights Act (1964) ended legal segregation and the Voting Rights Act (1965) protected voting rights for Black Americans. But while the nation has made progress, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have made it undeniably clear that we still have a lot of work to do to achieve racial parity and inclusion.

Two weeks ago, Scott and Brett hosted a virtual town hall and set an important example by taking a minute, as Brett said, "to lower my guard, take off my armor, and just talk to you. And talk to you straight from the heart."

Difficult conversations about race and equity are easy to avoid. But everyone needs to have these conversations – speaking honestly, listening patiently and understanding that others' experiences may be different from your own while still a valid reflection of some part of the American experience.

To support you as you consider these conversations, we wanted to share some resources from one of United's partners, The National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum will host an all-day Virtual Juneteenth Celebration to recognize Juneteenth through presentations, stories, photographs and recipes. The museum also has a portal that United employees can access called Talking About Race, which provides tools and guidance for everyone to navigate conversations about race.

Our mission at UNITE is to foster an inclusive working environment for all of our employees. While we are hopeful and even encouraged by the widespread and diverse show of support for African Americans around the country – and at United - we encourage everyone to spend some time on Juneteenth reflecting on racial disparities that remain in our society and dedicating ourselves to the work that still must be done to fight systemic racism. By honoring how far we've come and honestly acknowledging how far we still must go, we believe United – and the incredible people who are the heart and soul of this airline - can play an important role in building a more fair and just world.

Thank you,

UNITE (United Airlines Multicultural Business Resource Group)

Leadership Team

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