The year was 1986, and Engine Overhaul and Repair Senior Manager Joanne Borg, then a newly licensed aircraft maintenance technician (AMT), was reporting for her first day at the San Francisco Line Maintenance hangar. It was an era when the sight of a woman out on the line was a conspicuous one, but Joanne didn't think much of it as she headed into the locker room to get ready for her shift. Then something stopped her cold in her tracks.
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.
Amelia Earhart said,
"My ambition is to have this wonderful gift produce practical results for the future of commercial flying and for the women who may want to fly tomorrow's planes."
Earhart's words and actions have been an inspiration for generations of women hoping to fly. However, the aviation industry is still a male-dominated field so we asked some of United's women in charge to share their inspiration and the secrets to success in their own words.
Hi! My name is Jill Kaplan.
I live in New York and my favorite part about working/playing here is everything!
I am the New York/New Jersey President at United Airlines.
I am most proud of raising two young women who, while not perfect, are smart, hardworking and ambitious as well as kindhearted, thoughtful and open-minded and have supported me taking risks in order to build my career and in turn support my family.
My great grandma was an entrepreneur in the auto industry and leader before her time. She was 4'10" and inspired me because she was fearless, tough, smart, hardworking, socially intuitive while also being kind, generous and cared deeply about her employees and customers.
The world needs more female leaders so that younger generations can be inspired to go out of their comfort zone and realize that there are no roadblocks in achieving your desired goal.
As a woman working in the aviation industry, time has been the greatest challenge for me because there is no shortage of opportunities to explore, issues to tackle, customers and employees to speak with, new initiatives to launch, community events to participate in and the list goes on and on …
My best advice for other women in aviation is to speak up, ask for what you want, be bold and never be afraid to question something you don't understand, don't agree with or [that] makes you uncomfortable.
Hi! My name is Janet Lamkin.
I live in San Francisco, and my favorite part about working/playing here is the beauty of this remarkable city and the ability to walk through the neighborhoods.
I am the California President at United Airlines.
I am most proud of the fact that I didn't follow the advice of many and instead listened to my inner voice and took a different course than many of my friends after college. My husband and I traveled and lived abroad, and then we put one another through graduate school while the norm was to buy a house and start a family.
There are several famous women who have inspired me over the years, but my true inspiration comes from my local group of women leaders/friends who work hard every day determined to navigate their lives with grace, fairness, and compassion and to feel good about what they have done at the end of the day. There is a small group of us that connects on a regular basis to check in on jobs/family/life and we support one another in everything we do. Our tag name is Artemis. A Greek goddess who was very powerful and healing!
The world needs more female leaders so that different leadership styles can be highlighted and modeled.
As woman working in the aviation industry, I am excited to be in the world of travel. When I was 16 I traveled to Guadalajara and it changed by life. I was excited to explore different thoughts, cultures, etc. and it served as a strong motivation through school. Our industry has so many opportunities to bring the joy and value of travel to so many.
Hello! My name is Sharon T. Grant.
I live in Chicago, IL (USA), and my favorite part about working here is learning something brand new about the aviation industry every day.
My favorite part about playing here is it never gets old just hanging at the airport gazing at our planes taking off and landing.
I am the Vice-President, Chief Community Engagement Officer at United Airlines.
I am most proud of seeing the many colleagues I have managed take on new roles and leadership positions across the company.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice is a leader who inspires me because she was the first female African-American Secretary of State commanding the highest position of leadership responsible for guiding the relations of the US with the world. She embodies the utmost of power, dignity and grace.
The world needs more female leaders so that we can advance the pace of creativity and innovation. Until we close the gap of diversity in thought and action, we will not realize our fullest potential.
As a woman working in the aviation industry, balancing work and family has been the greatest challenge for me. Rising to this challenge has sharpened my strengths and I am grateful to have raised four children during my 26 years in the industry.
My best advice for other women in aviation is to take risks by pursuing various careers throughout your service in the industry. The aviation industry provides a rich and diverse spectrum of challenging fields, in many of which women are still largely underrepresented. The future of our growth and success is dependent on women owning a seat at every table of the organization. The future generation of women leaders is looking to you to keep paving the way.
It's what Washington/Dulles-based First Officer Sarah Micklo calls "that old stigma," one that somehow continues to permeate corners of the aviation industry: the idea that women pilots aren't as good as their male counterparts. "At least one or two people during my career have said women don't belong in the cockpit," recalled Sarah. "I'm far from the first to ever hear that, but I hope I'll be one of the last."
United is proud to be the official airline sponsor of a groundbreaking travel and leadership program run by nonprofit organization, Global Glimpse, an organization that empowers high school students through educational travel and service in developing countries.
Follow the journey of Isabel, Rohini, Valeria and Rhay as they push outside of their comfort zones to make an impact.
In honor of Women's History Month, we are sharing stories of the inspired and strong women of United, like Dr. Christine Izuakor. Christine, Senior Manager – Global Security Strategy and Awareness, teaches and inspires our global workforce to be security-savvy at work and at home.
United recognizes and rewards the passion of our employees through the Volunteer Impact Grant program, which has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to employees who are giving back to their communities. This story highlights Flight Attendant Kayra Martinez, one of the many grant recipients who are using those funds for the greater good of the people we serve.
In conjunction with Girls in Aviation Day on Saturday, September 23, organized by Women in Aviation International as a way to inspire young women to pursue their aviation dreams, we wanted to share the story of 737 Captain John Fulgenzi's daughter Maddie's first solo flight, which happened just last year.
“Maddie started going up in the plane with me when she was a 3-year-old," John said. “As a young girl, we would find her playing dress-up in my uniform. She always loved the idea of being a pilot."
John, who has flown for almost 30 years, instilled in Maddie a love for aviation while teaching her to fly in their single-engine Piper Cherokee. “Over the years, I trained her for every scenario, everything that could go wrong. Watching her go up on her own was nerve-racking, but I knew that she was prepared," he said. “It was one of the proudest moments of my life. She was so calm, so focused on intently doing the things she needed to do. I tried to get her to admit that she was nervous, but she wouldn't do it."
As the father of a daughter who flies and as someone who was trained in part by women instructors during his time at the University of Illinois, John is glad to see a larger female presence on flight decks and throughout the industry as a whole.
“I would encourage young women to seriously consider careers in aviation. I have been flying with women pilots since the beginning of my flight training, through the regionals, and now at United. They were some of the best, most patient teachers — people who exhibit the qualities that make good Captains," said John. “In the old days it was not as common to see women in the industry, but my generation has seen that change and their numbers are continually growing."
This month, we celebrate Women's History Month to recognize and honor the contributions women have made in history and to society. This year's theme is "Honoring trailblazing women in labor and business."
Watch the video below to learn about two women whose dreams came true when they earned their United wings.