Once upon a time the way women rose to positions of leadership within aviation was by fitting in, keeping a relatively low profile, and toeing the company line. The ones who made it to the top often dealt with their share of hardship on the way up, and made a lot of sacrifices. They also learned to find a good mentor: someone, or several people, who could provide excellent advice and keep counsel.
The International Aviation Women’s Association (IAWA) was born nearly 30 years ago, when a group of women leaders in aviation and aerospace came together to network and mentor each other. That core of women—many of whom were lawyers, government administrators, bankers, and aircraft sales and manufacturing leaders—has grown over time to become a powerhouse network of 500 members worldwide, according to Abby Bried, past president and board member.
Bried was part of a dynamic group led by Rene Banglesdorf, CEO of Charlie Bravo Aviation in Austin, Texas, who came together January 25 for the organization’s inaugural women’s leadership forum in Atlantic Aviation’s hangar at the Boca Raton, Florida, airport.
The one-day forum, sponsored by a host of international and domestic aviation-based companies, concentrated on coaching attendees on the traits of strong leaders as well as on work-life balance; breaking out of one’s comfort zone and taking big risks to reap big rewards; how general aviation can connect one’s altruism with opportunities for humanitarian aid, organ donation, and disaster relief flights; the future of general aviation regulation; and addressing the problem of recruiting more women into general aviation.
Panel presentations introduced the attendees to women who were head counsel at their firms, senior managers in government and industry, executive directors, vice presidents, founders, and CEOs of their companies. Behavioral and emotional intelligence and communication traits were fulcrum topics around which representatives from Embraer Executive Jets, Flexjet, Aero & Marine Tax Professionals, Barbera & Watkins law firm, and Greteman Group Marketing Communications talked about everything from honing a personal brand to social media marketing and the deft handling of demanding, or even demeaning, clients (or bosses). The GA Humanitarian panel included compelling presentations by Jodie Krisiak, pilot for the New England Donor Services (NEDS), managed by Solarius Aviation; Robin Eissler, Founder of Sky Hope Network; and Eileen Minogue, who directs Patient Airlift Services (PALS). Krisiak described her mixed emotions upon getting a call to go fly during a 24-hour shift, explaining, “When I get the call to come fly, I tear up, because I know that someone is saying goodbye to a loved one; and yet others are getting new hope all at the same time.” NEDS saved more than 200 lives last year with organs transported by its flight department's Cessna Citations.
Eissler and Minogue, who have recently teamed up, showed off their Best Practices for Disaster Relief Flying manual. “We had a huge outpouring of assistance from the GA community after Hurricane Harvey,” said Eissler. “All of a sudden in Texas we had all these Sunday fliers volunteering, which created interesting problems.” The manual, which they are making available to all GA pilots, should mitigate those issues.
Yet one more panel focused on current issues between government, law, and general aviation. Participants consisted of Amanda Joyner, director of government affairs for GAMA; Katie DeLuca, attorney at Harper, Meyer, Perez, Hagen, O’Connor, Albert & Dribin; Laura Everington, senior manager, Universal Weather; Rebecca Mulholland, chief of staff and director of legislative affairs for NATA; and Jacquelyn Gluck, attorney at Roller & Bauer. They discussed everything from ADS-B equipage to ATC privatization, non-citizen trusts, and changes coming to Customs and Border Protection overflight permitting procedures and the APIS program.
The keynote speakers included Shaesta Waiz, the founder of Dreamssoar.org, an advocate for STEM who last year set the record as the youngest woman to fly around the world solo. Waiz reached more than 3,000 students in 20 countries, many of them young girls for whom she was a role model.
Balancing Waiz's youth was Retired Lt. Col. Christine Mau, who owns the title of first woman to fly the F-35 Lightning II for the U.S. Air Force. Mau charted her path to leadership for the crowd and left them with these key pieces of advice: “Honesty is an expensive gift. Both ask for and give feedback. Ignore the haters. Persevere, because everyone fails—get over it!”
The final hour of the forum was focused on small-group discussions and problem solving, led by Sierra Grimes, NBAA’s Manager of Young Professionals in Business program. When the large white papers full of suggestions lined the massive hangar door, the groups broke up for less formal networking and conversations that buzzed with ideas and solutions.
“We’re excited by the turnout and the vibrancy of this group,” said IAWA president Alina Nassar, a partner with Nassar Abogados law firm in San Jose, Costa Rica. IAWA is planning more meet-ups around the world at various NBAA and other aviation events, including the third Latin America and Caribbean Forum on Women Aviation Leaders (EMLA) in Mexico City on February 28. IAWA will celebrate its 30th birthday with its own conference in Memphis from October 24 to 26.