Women are taking the lead in airline tech across North America

Elena Avila

EVP, Airlines, Americas, Amadeus

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A few months ago, my team and I were marveling at the number of women in leadership positions at North American airlines. 5 of the 6 largest airlines in North America by passengers carried, fleet size, and by frequency of departures, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, have female CIOs.

We were surprised that at a time when diversity and equality drive so much of the global conversation, this exceptional example of leadership hasn’t had more attention paid to it. The technology agendas, and to some extent the business agendas, for some of the world’s most recognized brands in an industry that is the lifeblood of travel, is being shaped by women. This is the ‘Holy Grail’ of diversity – women in STEM changing the world!

Given that a few of these leaders are relatively new to their roles, our industry hasn’t had the pleasure of celebrating and experiencing them as a collective group. Until now. Yesterday, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit in Washington D.C., I had the pleasure of moderating a panel about the present and future state of technology in aviation with Catherine Dyer (Air Canada), Charu Jain (Alaska Airlines), Maya Leibman (American Airlines) and Kathleen Wayton (Southwest Airlines) – four of the five female CIOs responsible for information technology for our region’s largest airlines.

These four leaders, plus the first female director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Ellen Stofan, discussed a range of topics like technology trends that are transforming aviation, cybersecurity, how the role of CIOs has evolved, and how we can encourage more women to lead in our industry.

What I found compelling was the discussion of the transformation of the role IT is playing in leading the future of aviation and driving business strategies. More than one panelist spoke about the ultimate importance of the customer and that technology is key to delivering what passengers want. Equally important is how technology is used to equip airline employees to serve their customers. The power of data insights to enhance customer service is a game-changer.

There’s no question aviation faces disruption like all other industries where technology is at the core of driving business. The CIOs alluded to a broad range of challenges, from cybersecurity to dealing with the complexities of a merger to implementing transformational programs to better serve their customers. I have no doubt these women are well-equipped to lead their organizations through any challenges they face.

While not exclusive to aviation, the lack of female representation is a reality, but I’ve been encouraged by the open conversation and initiatives to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM. The panelists agreed that recruiting and fostering continuous interest in STEM among young girls is critical. A few panelists shared that they have programs dedicated to guiding young people in our industry, and the Air and Space Museum has a summer program dedicated to girls in aviation.

I can’t think of a better way to mark International Women’s Day today (#IWD2019)

Join me in celebrating the women in our lives for their contributions to our communities, our families, and our workplaces.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit in Washington D.C


Airline IT, North America, Diversity, Events