- We're listening
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.
"It was eerie," Joanne said. "There were probably 100 guys on my crew, but I was the only woman. Being in that locker room by myself was just so quiet and so lonely."
While pursuing her Airframe and Powerplant license, there had been subtle things that separated Joanne from the men, but none as poignant as that empty locker room. The feeling of isolation was hard to shake.
Joanne had gotten her start with United as a seamstress in the San Francisco Maintenance Base upholstery shop in 1976, where she would watch the mechanics who worked alongside her on the shop floor and think to herself that she'd like to try what they were doing. In 1984, she decided to make a move. For the next two years, Joanne worked swing shift as a cabin mechanic and took aircraft maintenance classes in the daytime, all while she and her husband raised two young kids. Earning her license meant better pay and a good future, but it also meant having to grow thick skin.
"I never really had a problem with the guys when I became a mechanic," she said, "But some of the supervisors would give the women the hardest jobs. I think they were trying find our breaking point. My husband is the one who told me, 'Don't let them break you.' He kept me going when it got tough."
From what Joanne can remember, the ratio of women to men in Tech Ops when she started was around 1 to 70. For the most part everyone got along well, but there were times when the ribbing the women received from some of their male colleagues took its toll. In those moments, the female employees banded together to look out for one another.
"We had a rule that said there's no crying in front of the guys," said Joanne. "When the men gave us a hard time, we would give each other a look that said, 'Don't let them see you cry.' You'd go off by yourself and let it out, then get back to work."
In the years since, Joanne said things have gotten "a hundred times better," and she gives all the credit to current Tech Ops leadership for helping usher in that change.
"At one point, I had given up on ever being promoted," she said. "I saw the writing on the wall – there were people who didn't have much respect for women in this job. With the leaders we have now, I'm able to show what I can do. I feel respected, and I have so much respect for them because of it."
There are now concerted efforts to attract more women to Tech Ops, and steps are being taken to address pay gaps between women and men in the industry. Joanne hopes that her accomplishments – like becoming the first female Operating Manager of Engine Overhaul at United – helped contribute to that sea change, and she hopes that when people see her it reframes their perceptions of what an AMT looks like.
"There are a lot of women technicians out there, maybe twice as many as when I started," said Joanne. "You'll find females on every shift. If you can do the job, it shouldn't matter. I've put my whole heart into what I do, and I tell other women that if this is their dream, stick with it. Sometimes the road is bumpy, but if you really want to do it, you can."
In honor of Women's History Month, we are sharing stories of the inspired and strong women of United, like Sharmila Gade. Sharmila, Senior Project Manager - Sales & Commercial Strategy, champions projects that improve United's sales effectiveness.
I was born and raised in India. My mother is the primary inspiration and influence in my life. My mother did not have an opportunity to go to school as our family is into farming. She always encouraged and influenced me as much as she can that allowed me to break the social barriers and societal stereotypes. Education is a fundamental right and I highly value and encourage women's education and economic independence as it is still perceived as an unnecessary indulgence in many parts of India. I have couple of degrees that includes Masters in Mechanical Engineering, degree from Stanford in Advanced Project Management and I am currently pursuing Executive MBA at Kellogg school of management and I am certain the journey does not stop here
I started my career as a Mechanical Engineer in a shop floor environment back in India for an automotive company where you stand for hours on the shop floor surrounded by men and machines. This experience was very challenging and intensive but certainly helped me later on dealing with plant and assembly line environments when I moved to United Sates and took a job in Supply chain at Daimler Chrysler. The whole supply chain process helped me draw parallels and shape my strategic thinking and execution of projects programs very efficiently and effectively which is very similar to assembling a car end to end on a line station. The biggest challenge was for me to understand the culture in United States and thrive as member of the team and build relationships. But I overcame this challenge by being an empathic listener, learning about other people in ways that enable them to appeal to their unique needs and sensibilities. I trust my skills, gut and intuition and leverage these strengths as a woman in a strong and a powerful way.
I joined United as an independent contractor and helped implement Transatlantic and Pacific JVs in Alliance space and got hired in 2014. I have collaborated with many leaders and my peers and team members during several project discussions and gained valuable inputs and insights from all the project stakeholders and this helps make better decisions with a well-rounded view of the project and drive the execution successfully. I am always grateful to all the leaders and coworkers that I work with on a day to day basis for their guidance and feedback that makes me a better person and a leader. I am fortunate to be part of uIMPACT leadership team as a Treasurer for last 2 years and there is no other better way for me to contribute meaningfully for the purpose of women advancement.
The best of my job is to solve problems by collaborating cross functionally, analyze options, see the bigger picture, initiate projects and effectively convey that vision to all the stakeholders and get them onboard to execute it right to deliver value. Defining and executing a strategy in terms of programs and projects successfully is similar to climbing Mt Everest and successful teams that get to the summit climb as a tight knit group. They climb as one, summit as one and descend as one.
If people ever doubt and judge you how far you can go, go so far that you cannot hear them anymore!
This quote really applies to my life story.
I proudly own my story, my trials, tribulations and accomplishments so far and I believe I have lot more to achieve with integrity and courage and pass on the torch to my amazing daughter and many more aspiring women! I am proud of my 10 year old daughter who got selected for U.S National Level swimming and I am super excited for her!
In honor of Women's History Month, we are sharing stories of the inspired and strong women of United, like Michelle Varble. Michelle, the Director - Corporate Services, is responsible for indirect services and products procurement for the company.
There are so many, but I'd have to give credit to both of my grandmothers. They have both lost sons in life and have taught me that women can be incredibly strong. There is something within ones self, but strength is also garnered from the tight network of family, friends and community to which you belong.
I've always been a perfectionist and someone who focuses on doing every job, wearing every hat, extremely well. Sometimes, the best performers are rewarded with too much work, and as a perfectionist, it is not easy to admit that you just simply cannot do everything, meet every deadline. Luckily, ongoing discussion with my friends and family helped me to realize that it was my responsibility to vocalize my needs in order to improve my situation. So this is what I did. I also adopted cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to reframe my thinking and learn to give myself some space to be imperfect.
Everything we do at United requires teamwork, so I cannot attribute my success to any one person. In terms of my personal development and career growth, I have found a true supporter in my current managing director, Sergio Da Silva.
Being able to teach my team what I have learned through my years of experience in procurement and supply chain roles. I enjoy being a resource for my employees. A sounding board, someone to help them ideate and discover. They are awesome.
If you have your heart set on something, say it out loud. Let others hear you. This is the first step to making what you want happen.
We have to continue to celebrate the success of women of all vocations. I personally have many recent successes to celebrate. My husband and I were blessed with a beautiful daughter in January 2017. I wrote my masters thesis while on maternity leave (and graduated with a Masters in Liberal Arts last June), and I accepted a promotion upon my return to work at United. I have found my new role at United to be refreshing, challenging, and exciting. I feel so much gratitude toward my husband, my family and my United colleagues and friends who have helped me accomplish these great things.
In honor of Women's History Month, we are sharing stories of the inspired and strong women of United, like Michelle Brown. Michelle, Managing Director of Customer Service at IAH, is responsible for customer experience and strategy in our Houston hub.
I have so many inspirations! Too many to name. My grandmother has been the biggest inspiration in my life. She survived the depression, raised her siblings and her children, nurtured me and countless others. Her formal education stopped in the second grade, but she never stopped learning. She inspired me to believe that I could achieve anything with determination, hard work and perseverance.
I can identify three major challenges I have faced in my leadership journey thus far.
First, I voluntarily stepped away from a high paying role without a job offer and a clear understanding of what I was going to next. This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life because I finally felt like I had the freedom to choose what I wanted to do versus doing what people expected me to do.
Second, I have lacked confidence at times during my career. In the past, I have felt like I wasn't keeping up with the other "high performers" in the company. My style was different; how I worked was different from my peers and I was convinced that my way must not be the best way. I doubted that people were actually comfortable with giving me honest feedback because of my positions as a black, female leader. All of these thoughts compounded and made me feel very uncertain. I doubted whether what I achieved was meaningful or if I was making a difference. I felt like I lacked measurable wins and achievements, when in reality I had accomplished a lot but I was too humble to feel comfortable talking about and celebrating my accomplishments.
Finally, my transition from marketing to operations was a very uncertain time for me. I was excited about the possibilities and anxious about the unknown. This leap of faith has turned out to be one of the most interesting career moves I have ever made.
Too many people to name. The people who have most helped me are the ones who believed in me, even at times when I doubted myself. People who encouraged me to take on a special project, people who supported me "testing" some crazy idea, people who prepped with me as I prepared for interviews, and last but not least, the people who cheered and celebrated every success.
The people. I absolutely love working at the airport. I have a great team here in Houston. It's great walking down the concourse and being greeted with smiles from employees and customers. It's so much fun knowing that every day my job is to interact with people and make a difference to someone's day.
As female leaders we need to talk about leadership and mentor other women so that they will model leadership behaviors. Women and girls should aspire to be leaders in their schools, homes, communities, workplaces and we should talk about this and celebrate it. We should remind each other that it's ok to be the one in charge or to lead. It's ok to own a decision, good or bad. We should teach girls that they are resourceful and if or when you fail, you should learn from it as most mistakes are recoverable. We don't have to be perfect.
Personally, I learn from doing and observing so I often model or role play situations that happen in one-on-one situations or behind closed doors. I also try to lead by example by being visible. We need to expose young female leaders to other women who are leaders in their own right.
Finally, we should coach each other, share with each other, and learn from each other. Too often, mistakes are repeated because people lack vulnerability to share their experiences. We have to be candid and frank with each other to show the next generation of female leaders that leadership does not have to be scary.
Lucimar Reis was 16 years old and in the next room over when she overheard her parents discussing her future. Her mom voiced concerns to her dad that she would not have as many or the same opportunities that her two brothers would because she was a girl, but her dad immediately rejected at that notion.
"She's mentally strong, works hard and has a good personality," her dad responded. "She's going to be very successful one day."
From that moment on, Reis has believed that she could accomplish anything she sets her mind to. And, well, she's accomplished quite a bit.
Reis is currently United's Director of Sales for Brazil. She joined the company in 1998 and has been the country sales director for Brazil since 2015.
"She is a bold and daring leader," said Jacqueline Conrado, a Brazilian marketing manager for United. "She's found ways to get teams to work better together, which has led to great achievements for the company."
A seasoned airline veteran, Reis was the first woman to become a Sales Executive at Brazilian airline Varig and also spent time at TAM Airlines before joining United.
Throughout her career, she's been in a predominately-male industry. Thanks to the confidence instilled by her father, she's never let that deter her.
"What's important is that I've never lost my female identity," Reis said. "Just because I may be in an industry dominated by men doesn't mean I have to appear strong and not sensitive. I keep my female perspective. There is a lot of value to add to a situation by having a diverse mix of people, and that's one thing I love about United – there are people from all walks of life throughout the company."
Reis never had the chance to let her dad know the profound impact he'd had on her. A few months after that life-changing, fly-on-the-wall moment, Reis's father suddenly passed away. But through his words from that day, she continues to carry on his memory, by sharing them with younger females at various events and conferences.
"Never let someone tell you something is not possible," Reis offers as advice to women. "You can have success in your career while maintaining both a good family balance and your feminism. You can be you. Being a woman is not a disadvantage at all."
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."
It's a bogus notion, of course, and one that Sarah herself has helped quash for nearly 20 years as a military and civilian pilot. When asked where she found the strength to fight on anytime that old stereotype reared its ugly head, Sarah points to her family. Her mom, retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ginny Logan, was the first woman in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard to lead a squadron and the first woman in the Air Force to command a combat unit. Ginny met and married Sarah's dad, retired Lt. Col. Ted Logan, when they were both stationed in Laredo, Texas, and together they made sure Sarah and her siblings never saw gender as a limitation. You'd think that, given that influence, it would be no surprise that Sarah grew up to become a pilot, but the truth is she had little interest in it as a child. Only after enlisting in the Air National Guard to help pay for college did that change.
"I was a traditional guard member in my unit in Pittsburgh," Sarah said, "and during my senior year of college, we were activated to Germany supporting Operation Allied Force in Kosovo. I was in the maintenance squadron, and my dad, an evaluator pilot, was the detachment commander. That's when I got an up-close look at flying and what the aircrews were doing, and decided it was what I wanted to do."
Once back stateside, Sarah began flight training and was hired as a pilot in her unit, entering flight school as the only woman in her class. While backing Sarah's aspirations, Ginny and Ted painted a realistic picture for their daughter, telling her that, at times, she might be treated differently but reminding her to never doubt her abilities. Sarah took that advice to heart, but she still felt immense pressure to succeed, not only for herself but for the sisterhood of women flyers everywhere.
"It was important to me to make it work," she said, "because I had a mom and dad and a husband [Sarah is married to United Flight Instructor David Micklo] who were very successful. Not to mention I didn't want to be the female pilot who failed or the one nobody wanted to fly with. If you only have four women pilots and one is bad, then people may look at it and generalize and say, 'Well, a quarter of female pilots are bad.' Unfortunately, sometimes that's the way it is, and a lot of women before me worked hard to fight that. I love my job and I just want to do it really well."
After graduating flight school, Sarah went on to fly KC-135 Stratotankers, and eventually became her unit's first female instructor pilot. She still flies today as a lieutenant colonel with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing when she's not flying Boeing 737s here at United.
Sarah said she's witnessed a cultural shift over the years when it comes to acceptance of women in the flight deck, and she praised her fellow women pilots for stepping up to support one another as they've fought to make those strides. United pilots even have an informal message board group called "UAL Venus List," where women can share their experiences and buoy each other when times get tough. And through her work with groups like Women in Aviation International and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, as well as with her Air National Guard unit, Sarah is passing on that encouragement.
"When I talk with young people and prospective pilots, I have the same conversation with the women as I do with the men," she said, "but I tell females that sometimes they'll have to work harder, and that it will feel like they have higher standards to uphold. My goal is to one day give my speech and not have to say that. I think we've come a long way, and I hope we'll get to the point where, for the next generation of women pilots, it's something they don't even have to think about. I look forward to the day when being a woman pilot isn't a big deal."Women, United
United is proud to be the official airline sponsor of all Global Glimpse programs, an organization that empowers high school students through educational travel and service in developing countries.
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.
So many women have inspired me in different ways. Instead of picking one role model to look up to, I take my favorite qualities from several women (real and fictional) and merge them into one powerful superhuman being that inspires me every day. For example, I'm influenced by my mom's generous spirit, Oprahs wisdom, Olivia Popes fashion sense, Mandeep Grewals presence and character, Blair Waldorf's work ethic, Michelle Obama's poise, Onika Marajs unapologetic nature, and my big sister, Chika Izuakors, boldness. These women, and many more, inspire me every day to strive for greatness in all areas of life.
One thing I struggled with throughout my career was confidence. I always questioned whether I was intelligent enough, eloquent enough, pretty enough, stern enough, or valuable enough to matter. I felt like I needed to be perfect in order to truly succeed. This mindset changed through the emotional intelligence work I mentioned earlier. I learned to love the person that I am today and the person I am striving to become tomorrow. I realized that I am the only human being that can determine my worth and I know that I am more than enough. Period.
One of the reasons I love working for United is because it feels like such a supportive family. A few United women who come to mind as really making a difference for me include Emily Heath, Nathalie Cordeiro Nunes, Sharon Grant, Jessica Kimbrough, Diane Lieb, Mary Hickey, and Silvia Prickel.
The best part of my job is that I get to inspire and influence people to think differently about cyber security inside and outside of the company. Beyond work, I'm also very passionate about cultivating the next generation of talent and love that building our cyber talent pipeline is a part of my job.
One of the best things I've done for myself and what really changed the trajectory of my life, was understanding emotional intelligence. I was raised to be emotionally illiterate and avoid the perception that "women are too emotional". I embarked on a journey to understand what made me who I am today, identify the limiting beliefs that were holding me back, and truly learning that I have a choice in how I live every single day no matter where I came from. What I learned in the process is that there is so much value in those emotions and that feminine power is epic!
Thanks for inviting me to respond to this! It was a great reminder of the importance of self-reflection on where I started, how far I've come and those who helped along the way, and the new heights I want to reach in order to fulfill my full potential and inspire other women and girls along the way.
March is Women's History Month, and all month long United is celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of women from across the airline
"Just a bobby on the beat." That's how United's Chief Information Security Officer Emily Heath describes it when talking about the beginning of her remarkable career, the first step on a path that led her to where she is today, protecting one of the world's largest airlines from all manner of cyber threats.
Back then, more than 20 years ago, Heath was part of the thin blue line keeping Macclesfield, England, safe as an officer with the Cheshire (County) Police. And while the sophisticated criminal hackers she now battles might be a far cry from car burglars and pub brawlers, some things never change: Heath still relies on the same quick thinking and strong sense of right and wrong that made her a good cop. And whether she was wearing a badge or a business suit, right from the start Heath has had to learn to succeed in traditionally male-dominated professions.
That realization hit her during her first shift meeting on her first day on the beat in Macclesfield. "You'd have 20 people in the room, and it was only me and maybe one other woman," she says. "It was kind of intimidating as a young bobby to be in the midst of that kind of male energy. I remember male officers walking in and saying to me, 'I'll take two sugars in mine,' assuming that I would make the tea for them."
Heath endured her share of hazing early on, but she persevered and soon developed a strong rapport with the men in her unit. In short time, she rose to the rank of detective, investigating high-level financial crime, money laundering and identity theft. Then one day, she realized she needed a change of pace.
Leaving police work behind, Heath started a website design firm, learning to code with a stack of books on HTML. It was a career left turn, but nothing like the one she would find herself taking a few months later when a client who recognized her talent for leadership asked Heath to manage a software implementation project.
Through sheer determination, she quickly became a highly sought after IT program manager. By that time, preventing cybercrime was emerging as a focal point for organizations. When one of her former CIOs asked Heath to oversee their company's security and compliance initiatives, she found that enforcing law and order in the digital realm was a natural fit. But in IT, she also found that, once again, she had to prove herself in a field occupied primarily by men.
"It's been like that everywhere I've ever worked," she says. "We all know that, as women, we have to stand out, that we have to work harder and have to find respect differently than men do."
When she was recruited to United in early 2017, Heath found a refreshing environment, with executive vice president and chief digital officer Linda Jojo at the helm of the technology division. Women now comprise approximately 40 percent of the employees in United's cyber security group, nearly four times higher than the industry average, something that Heath views as a significant advantage.
"If I had a team of people from the same background, they would attack a problem in the same way," she says. "When you've got people from different walks of life, they tackle a problem in ways that are so creative. I cannot overemphasize how important that is, particularly in the world of cyber security where we need all the creative muscle we can get."
When attending conferences and meetings with her peers, Heath still sometimes finds that she's one of only a few women in the room, but the numbers are growing. Lately, though, she's observed a new trend, one that she'd like to help quash while encouraging women, especially young women, to put aside self-doubt when it comes to their careers.
"Now that organizations are looking to diversify," says Heath, "the women I talk with have a new worry, and that is, 'Am I only in this role because I'm a woman?' I say throw that to the water because it does not matter. There's not a single man out there who would ask that question. Instead, ask yourself is the organization better as a result of me being here? And if it is, you should stand tall."
Retired First Officer Shirley Suber (formerly Tyus) never intended to be a symbol of progress. It's not like she purposely set out to become our first African American woman pilot. She just wanted to fly airplanes.
Nevertheless, Shirley was thrust into the spotlight the day she received her pilot's wings in 1987. Along with them came the unofficial title of cultural vanguard, a woman to whom other African American women could point and say, "If she can do it, so can I."
As you can imagine, getting there wasn't always easy. There were the instructors who didn't want to train her because of her race and her gender. There was scrutiny and there was criticism. But talk with Shirley, and you won't hear any complaints. "Why would I want to think about the bad things?" she'll ask, reminding you that her good memories far outweigh her bad ones. "At times, the pain was a bit much, but it was the best job in the world."
Her story began in Kansas City in 1971 during a trip to the airport to pick up a friend. In the terminal, she noticed a sign that said United was hiring flight attendants.
"I bounced into the inflight office and blurted out, 'I want to be a stewardess for the friendly skies!'" Shirley recalled with a smile. She was only kidding, but she took the hiring manager's business card anyway. Six months later, looking for a change, she gave him a call. That time she was serious. In 1972, she completed training and began working as a United flight attendant based at Washington-Dulles.
She loved the job from the start, but soon Shirley found herself spending more and more time in the front of the plane, asking the pilots questions. One day, a pilot asked her why, if she liked the flight deck so much, she didn't get her license.
It was the first time the idea had ever dawned on her, and in 1977, she gave it a shot. Shirley trained on her days off, and within a couple of years she had her commercial certification. Her heart was set on flying for United, but Shirley needed more flight hours if she wanted to be taken seriously. That's when she found her way to Wheeler Flying Service.
Founded in 1969 by Warren Wheeler, the cargo carrier was the first black-owned airline in the United States and a rich training ground for African American pilots. When she finished her last trip as a flight attendant each week, Shirley would drive from her home near Washington, D.C., to Raleigh, North Carolina, where Wheeler was based, and fly cargo runs. She did this for the next few years, balancing the side gig with her full-time job at United and motherhood, before finally getting the call for which she had waited so long.
Flying in the big leagues for us was everything that she had dreamt it would be. Even now, a decade after retiring, she holds onto the sense of awe that she felt piloting those big jets. And she still has a hard time believing that just by chasing that feeling, she became a role model for so many.
"When I look back on it, I sort of forget that I opened a door," said Shirley. "I wasn't trying to break any barriers or anything like that. For me, it was just the passion of flying. When you push that pedal and you feel the rumble of those engines, there's nothing like it."
Today, she spends her free time volunteering with the Ariolina Young Aviators in Durham, North Carolina, a program that provides education and training to low-income high school students who have their sights set on aviation careers. In her work with young people, Shirley draws from her own experiences to show them that no goal is ever beyond their reach.
"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that anyone can do anything they want," she said. "It's just a matter of how much you want it. For me, quitting was never an option. I wanted to be a pilot, and I wanted it to be with United."
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.
Flight Attendant Kayra Martinez has made it her mission to help Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have arrived in Greece after fleeing their war-torn country, and she recently earned a grant to support her cause through our Volunteer Impact Grant program, which awards more than $100,000 annually to charitable organizations where employees volunteer.
Kayra's mission began over two years ago, after she volunteered to help refugees arriving in Frankfurt, Germany, where she is based. Her volunteer work in Germany eventually led her to Greece, where she visited the Nea Kavala camp in northern Greece in 2015. "When I got to Greece, I saw the tragic conditions in which refugees were living, and I realized I needed to do more," said Kayra. After that trip, Kayra founded the nonprofit Love Without Borders - For Refugees In Need, which has allowed her to provide housing, teach English and offer art sessions to thousands of refugees. "I have established a large network of friends and donors, which allows me to channel clothing, art supplies and other donations," Kayra explained.
Last year, she realized some of the kids were using their art sessions to express the trauma they had suffered when fleeing their countries. They painted images of people breaking out of chains and small boats sailing on the ocean and even people falling in the water and children crying. To raise awareness about the issues these children are facing and also to raise funds to continue to help them, Kayra organized an art show to sell their art pieces. The first event was a success, and the proceeds went directly to the artists and their families.
Today, when Kayra isn't working, she travels to Greece and all around the world to display a traveling exhibit of the refugee children's art that has been welcomed in Boston and Montreal. The exhibit will be coming to the Simpson Center for the Humanities in Washington, D.C., on March 1.
"This initiative helps the children heal, because it allows them to express their feelings through art," said Kayra. "Many of the kids find hope through the art sessions, and eventually they start painting images depicting their hopes and dreams for the future."
Kayra hopes to continue to help refugee families and is proud to work for a company that supports employees who, just like her, are committed to making the world a better place and helping those who need it the most. "The grant that I earned for Love Without Borders through United's Volunteer Impact Grant is vital for the wellbeing of these families," added Kayra.
"I see first-hand how determined our employees are about giving back," said Community Affairs Senior Manager Bill Egan. "The Volunteer Impact Grant program was created solely to recognize employees, like Kayra, who provide volunteer service in their communities – and, since 2010 that has meant providing more than $750,000 to charities where our employees live, work and serve."
March is Women's History Month, and all month long United is celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of women from across the airline.
Since 1990, Women in Aviation International has been encouraging women of all ages to think about a career in aviation. Below is the story of Radha Bruckner, a United pilot, who chased her dream from India.
When 17-year-old Radha Bruckner went to the beach, she looked up to the skies, not out at the waves crashing ashore. “My mom and I would sit on the rocks along the beach. I was in my first year of college in Mumbai, India," Radha recalls. Never mind the water and the sunsets, Radha's eyes would be fixed on the airplanes dotting the sky.
“I'd ask my mom if my dream would ever take flight," Radha says, “and she always said that if I worked hard and stayed focused, I could do anything I set my mind to, no matter how impossible the odds."
Radha's parents assumed their young daughter was just going through a phase. They thought that there was no way a girl from India — raised in a family that didn't even have a car — would have an interest in becoming a pilot. Female pilots were rare back then. Even rarer were the places in India where she could get the proper schooling. “People told me this isn't a career path for young women, and I cried every time I heard this," Radha says. “But my parents were never among the naysayers." Time went on, and a girl whose dream of flight began on her first flight — at age four to New York City due to her father's job — persisted.
“I still remember parts of that long flight on board a Boeing 747 from New Delhi," Radha says. “I remember asking my parents and the flight attendants endless questions about the airplane." She started to believe she could one day fly a plane in her first year of high school. Her father brought home a magazine from the Indian embassy, where he then worked, in Frankfurt, Germany. Featured on the cover? Nivedita Bhasin, who'd just become the youngest female pilot in world civil aviation history to command a commercial jet. “In that moment, my dream of becoming an airline pilot became real and attainable," Radha says.
She grabbed the magazine and went up to the green-roof of the building her family lived in near Frankfurt Airport. It was there she spent countless hours in her teens. Much like she'd do on the beach in Mumbai, she looked not outward at the cityscape, but upward at the planes coming and going. Four years later, she was on one of those planes, bound for the United States.
After logging 900 flight hours, Radha drove a car for the first time. “Not many people can say that," Radha jokes. Not too many girls from India can say they've become commercial airline pilots, either, but Radha can. With the help of her parents, Radha left her college in Mumbai, and, at age 18, was living on her own in America, earning her flight instructor rating in Illinois.
“My dad was visiting Chicago on a business trip, and I had the honor of flying him in a Cessna 172 XP," Radha says proudly. “I still remember the wide grin on my dad's face as he clung onto the armrest for dear life." The planes Radha flies now are a bit bigger and can fit a few more passengers. Radha is a Newark-based Boeing 767/757 first officer for United. She realized her lifelong dream of joining a major commercial airline in 2014 and has flown the friendly skies ever since. “It is a privilege to live your dream," Radha says. “Sadly, my parents did not live to see me attain my goal, but I know in my heart that, if it wasn't for their unconditional love, unwavering faith and numerous sacrifices, this little girl from India would have never reached for the stars. “I hope to inspire little girls and boys from around the world to do the same."
“Adversity builds character," Radha's dad used to always tell her. “And he knew much about adversity, being the only one in his little village in south India to put himself through high school, ultimately earning a Masters Degree in economics with honors," Radha says.
She recently passed along similar messages during a trip back to Mumbai, where she spoke to students at a school for underprivileged youth.
“Today was the most memorable and humbling experience of my life," Radha said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity to speak to these beautiful children about my love for flying and to give them wings as souvenirs. I was so moved by their attention, curiosity and questions. I hope they take to heart the message I wanted to share with them — 'you can do anything you set your mind to if you work hard and stay focused.'" She had one request of the children before leaving for the next destination on her two-week trip: Frankfurt, and her favorite green-roofed building. “I asked them to look at the wings I passed out whenever they needed the reminder that anything is possible," Radha said.
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.
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."