Flying above the glass ceiling at United Airlines - United Hub

Flying above the glass ceiling

By The Hub team, November 01, 2019

For Bebe O'Neil, United's system chief pilot, a career in aviation was almost a no-brainer.

"My dad worked at Boston Logan airport as a private pilot," O'Neil said. "I would go watch the airplanes with him at work and got interested in aviation and aerodynamics."

O'Neil eventually decided to attend the Air Force Academy, and estimates that at the time, it was still just about 10% women.

"Women were not fully assimilated into the Air Force Academy, but we were no longer a novelty," she said. "You just had to execute, if not as well as your counterparts, then a little bit better."

The hard work paid off. O'Neil flew eight years in active duty with the Air Force and has been working her way up the ranks at United for 28 years.

While more and more woman are working in industries that are traditionally male-dominated, it's critical for those interests to be nurtured from a young age. We spoke with three United superstars — in flight operations, technology and global operations strategy — who all stressed the importance of having strong mentors from an early age.

For Linda Jojo, those role models were her father and later her high school math teacher.

"My father was an engineer and someone who really had high expectations of me and encouraged my interest in math and science," Jojo said. "He took me to the Air and Space Museum in D.C. in sixth grade."

Today, as United's executive vice president of technology and chief digital officer, she's been at the forefront of groundbreaking technology initiatives like ConnectionSaver, which helps reduce missed connections, and a chat tool that allows flight attendants and gate agents to communicate more seamlessly.

"One of the things that drew me to technology to begin with is the fact that things are always changing," she said. "You just think about the power you have in your smartphone and how that used to take up entire rooms."

It seems that Mandeep Grewal, United's vice president of Global Operations Strategy, Planning and Design, was destined for a career in aviation. She recalls spending her childhood traveling back and forth between her home in Zambia, Africa, and boarding school in India. "My brother and I grew up on airplanes," Grewal said.

Her mom was also one of the first women pilots in India back in the '50s. Growing up with these influences, "there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be in the airline industry from my early years," she said.

Grewal started out working in finance at Continental Airlines, and over the past three decades, she's gotten a breadth of experience in Pricing and Revenue Management and Customer Experience, Domestic Line Station Airport Operations and more. Through it all, she says she still wakes up in the morning excited to get to work and make an impact. "I couldn't imagine life anywhere else. Every day has brought new learnings for me," she said.

All three women said that they are constantly learning, and that this has been key to their success. Jojo noted that a simple way to make that progress is to prioritize listening as much as speaking. "Some of the people I learn the most from are the people I see every day," she said.

Her advice for women hoping to carve out successful careers in tech or aviation was simple: do what you love.

"We spend the majority of our lives at work, and we have to do something we're passionate about," she said.

As the founding president of United's uIMPACT business resource group, Grewal is passionate about creating a support network for women to help them step out of their comfort zones and take on new challenges. "As I've progressed through my career, I came to the realization that had I had anyone helping and guiding me, I may have made different decisions earlier in my career. [Five years ago,] I decided the time was right for me to step up and lead a group like that because I wanted to make sure I could guide many of the young girls entering United."

Grewal recalls being told by another women during her first week on the job at Continental that she'd never cut it in corporate America because she had three strikes against her: She was a woman, she was a woman of color, and she wasn't born in the U.S. Almost 30 years later, Grewal has shattered every stereotype that stood in her way, but she still thinks there's work to be done in terms of building more awareness about all the possibilities that are available to women in this industry. "It's amazing to me how many don't realize all the opportunities that exist in headquarters or in management roles or running airports," she said.

Luckily, young girls don't need to look very far for inspiration. "We have so many women in leadership roles right here," Grewal said. "Young girls have to see it done to envision it for themselves. Now there's a path they can follow."

O'Neil is also a proponent of clearing that path for the next generation, and proud that United is supporting the effort with a group of pilots that's 7.4% female.

"That is something that drives a lot of institutional change," she said. "We get out in the community and we celebrate women and their accomplishments."

Making our app more accessible for people with disabilities

By The Hub team, October 28, 2020

We're proud to launch a redesigned version of our United app to make it easier for customers with visual disabilities to manage all aspects of day-of travel, including check-in, viewing reservation details and flight status, bag tracking and more.

This latest version of our app is now available to both Android and iOS users, and it offers increased color contrast and more space between graphics. Furthermore, we have reorganized how information is displayed and announced to better integrate with screen reader technologies like VoiceOver and TalkBack, which are built into most handheld devices. By restructuring the way the information is organized on the app, screen readers are better able to convert text to audio in the proper, logical sequence, allowing customers to better understand and navigate the app.

United Zoom backgrounds for AvGeeks

By The Hub team, October 27, 2020

Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Take your next video call from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude with United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

Newly added to our collection is a background encouraging our employees and customers to vote. Our mission is to connect people and unite the world — and one of the most important ways to do that is to engage in the democratic process. No matter which party you support, we know our democracy will be stronger if you make your voice heard and vote.

So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started.

Looking back at a landmark year with Special Olympics

By Ryan Wilks, October 19, 2020

Earlier this summer, we shone a light on our flagship partnership with Special Olympics and our commitment to the Inclusion Revolution. In that same story, we introduced you to our four Special Olympics Service Ambassadors, Daniel, Kyle, Lauren and Zinyra (Z), who, this month, celebrate one year working at Chicago O'Hare International Airport as part of the United family.

This groundbreaking, inclusive employment program took off as a part of our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics, a community relationship that employees across the company hold close to heart. The original 'UA4' (as they call themselves) have become an integral part of the United team serving customers at O'Hare Airport. Even from behind their masks, their wide smiles and effervescent spirit exude and bring life to the service culture of excellence we strive towards every day.

"The UA4 are more than just customer service ambassadors. They are shining examples of how inclusion, accessibility and equity can have monumental impacts on the culture and service of a business and community," said Customer Service Managing Director Jonna McGrath. "They have forever changed who we are as a company. While they often talk about how United and this opportunity has changed their lives, they have changed ours in more ways than we can count."

In the two years of partnership with Special Olympics, United employees have volunteered over 10,500 hours of service at events around the world and donated over $1.2 million worth of travel to the organization.

"This inclusive employment program is what community partnerships, like ours with Special Olympics, are all about: collaborating to identify areas where the needs of the community intersect with the cultural and business opportunity, then creating the infrastructure and programming to bring the two together," said Global Community Engagement Managing Director Suzi Cabo. "Through this program, our goal is to show other companies that when you put a committed effort and focus towards inclusion and breaking down barriers, you transform lives. I challenge other business around the world to follow our lead in joining the Inclusion Revolution."

Check out the video below to hear from our Special Olympics Service Ambassadors firsthand.

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