Vice President, Customer Experience Integration, Delta Air Lines
“I firmly believe climate change is an issue that can only be tackled by the joint effort of industries, commerce, and governments around the world. We must plan for the future for the sake of the world we’re leaving our children.”
In your opinion, what qualities make a “Power Woman?”
A Power Woman is not afraid to take risks. She stands up for what she believes in. She reaches back and pulls up other women through mentorship, coaching, and sharing lessons learned. She gives back to her community, and she puts her family and faith first.
With all the different issues one could focus on, how do you balance your efforts in pursuit of gender equality? Is it a global approach or a specifc issue that you are passionate about?
I am extremely passionate about fighting for gender equality, with the understanding that I, alone, can’t change the world overnight. What I can do is focus on the individuals I come in contact with by encouraging, mentoring, and supporting women each step of the way and creating male allies.
Do you believe that there is any gender specific role for women to play in the Climate Change debate?
Yes, women play an integral role in combatting climate change. When you look back at key events throughout history, women have stood up and championed change even when others were silent. Women are colleagues, friends, leaders, mothers, and so much more–our influence is exponential. When women come together we can achieve anything, including leaving this world a better place for future generations.
Do you believe industry and commerce (and government) should factor into a ten year plan the costs involved in mitigating the effects of Climate Change? According to an Oxford University supported survey, the total global economic cost would be €200-350 billion per year by 2030. This is less than one percent of the forecasted global GDP in 2030.
I firmly believe climate change is an issue that can only be tackled by the joint effort of industries, commerce, and governments around the world. We must plan for the future for the sake of the world we’re leaving our children. Even working at a major, global airline, like Delta, sustainability is one of our biggest priorities. We’re the first U.S. airline to offer carbon offsets to customers and the only major airline to voluntarily cap carbon emissions at 2012 levels. Lowering our carbon footprint, recycling and reducing waste are just a few steps we’re taking to be a conscious steward of the environment. It’s a journey we are taking seriously and we know there’s so much more work to do in this space.
If you could have someone else’s job for a day, who and what would it be? Why?
If I could have any job for a day, it would First Lady of the United States. That role is an unsung hero. She has the ability to effect change in ways so many cannot: engaging with key figures, influencing behavior and decision-making, and helping to improve the world we live in. The First Lady is often in a position to promote policy that benefits women, children, and people of color, whether in the community or around the world. I would love to be an advocate of change like that on a global level.
Which historical fgure do you most identify with?
The historical figure I most identify with is someone I never had the chance to meet: my natural mother. I was adopted as a baby. I live with the void of knowing she existed, yet not being able to have that relationship with her. I know she lived with it too, and our shared strength is core to who I am. I feel she is the source who has pushed me and carried me to where I am today.
Why or why not? In what way do you work for women’s power and equality? What do you think is the number one action we as a society can take (e.g. affirmative action)?
The number one action we can take as a society is ensuring equality, whether it relates to roles in the workplace or at home. Women should be free, supported, and encouraged to pursue whatever it is they wish, as all people should. While more women are being hired, they still struggle to reach the highest levels of an organization. And, for women of color, or other minorities, there are often additional barriers that we must overcome. Each of us can play a role in supporting and encouraging women from diverse backgrounds to reach their full potential.
Can you tell us a short story in which you encountered a block in the work place and what you did aboutit?
The airline industry has been, and continues to be, male-dominated, so having a seat at the table can be difficult. Many times I was the only woman and the only minority. There were several occasions where, in order to be able to pull up a seat at the table, lean in and have a voice, I had to negotiate, strategically build relationships, and even study topics that weren’t my passion–like cars or football–to find a
starting place for relationships or connection. This isn’t something only women deal with. Not every man loves fast cars and touch downs, and that’s okay, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are also googling the score of the big game just to have a conversation point in the next meeting. Delta is championing diversity and inclusion, and working to eliminate bias, but it’s not something you can turn on overnight. We need to inspire the next generation–that’s why I lead the women’s network group at Delta, encouraging our future female leaders to keep climbing.
Do you think that asking previous salary requirements in job interviews contributes to the pay gap between women and men? NY State recently outlawed this practice. Should we push for a nationwide ban?
Yes. Research shows that women are less likely to take a risk and ask for a larger salary. Some even shy away from questions about money, accepting positions without completely understanding the compensation. But, trends suggest that men don’t hesitate to ask those questions and that information is more readily given to them. If we’re to have a level playing field, I believe salary information should be introduced at the time a job offer is made, along with comparable salaries, so each individual understands where they fall and what factors played into the salaries granted.
Have you seen changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? If so, what are they?
Absolutely, just look at the number of diverse women who never thought of running for office, but became engaged in the political arena and ran successful campaigns. Today, we have the most diverse Congress in U.S. history, and it’s the result of these women who stepped up for their country and for what they believe in.
Was there a defning moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?
No one has arrived in a place in life without the help of others. We all stand on the shoulders of someone else–mentors who propped us up, coaches, family members, individuals who supported us from inside the board room. There are so many moments I can look back on in which someone took a risk and reached out with an opportunity. There are three women who stand out over the course of my tenure with Delta: Beth Johnston, Anna van Exel, and Claudette Harper. They saw talents and skills in me that I didn’t see myself. They pushed me out of my comfort zone to show my experience, leadership, and strength. In those moments, I found the confidence to step into roles of greater responsibility. It’s not just one moment, but a culmination of many that made me the person I am today.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
You have to believe in yourself if you want to succeed. When no one else believes in you. or they doubt your capability, you have to have the confidence to stand up, demonstrate you are worthy, you do have what it takes, and you can get it done.
There are many studies that support the idea that a female presence in the board room increases the bottom line and leads to healthier work environments. What can we do to continue to support and enhance the growth and presence of women in high profile positions?
Getting women in the board room starts with bringing in women on supervisor, manager, and director levels so they can step into those roles. We have to work with our male counterparts to create an inclusive environment for women to pull up a seat at the table. At the same time, we have to coach and mentor leaders to be prepared for the next leadership position. By expanding the number of women at each level of leadership, we’ll have women in place to sponsor, foster, and pull each other up through those ranks.
Is “Education, education and education” one of the top three responsibilities of a civilized society? If so why is it prohibitively expensive? If not why not?
My parents always said the one thing they can’t take away from you is your education. But, it’s not the only key to success–you have balance it with interpersonal skills to succeed in the workplace. I do think there’s a disparity when it comes to access to quality education, whether economic or gender. One of the areas I see a disparity is STEM curriculums not being presented to women as viable career fields. Though major work is underway to recruit young girls for these career paths, we have so much more ground to cover. In the airline industry, STEM is extremely important. We are being proactive and creating pipelines from diverse communities, often introducing kids who have never even stepped foot in an airport to the possibility of a career at 30,000 ft. We partner with dedicated organizations ,like the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Women in Aviation, International and National Gay Pilots Association to help familiarize aviation career opportunities through scholarships, mentorship, and consistent engagement. We want to build an employee base that reflects the diversity of our world and our customers.
What is your favorite book (fction or non-fction)?
I love historical fiction, so “The Pillars of the Earth” is my favorite novel. It’s about the construction of a cathedral in the Middle Ages, but set against a backdrop of corruption, intrigue, action, and romance. It’s fascinating storytelling.
What do you most value in your friends?
They allow me to be myself with no judgment. They keep me honest, sometimes really honest. They are a constant source of comfort.
Which trait do you most deplore in yourself? In others?
It goes back to the best advice I’ve ever received–sometimes I let people shake my confidence and doubt my abilities. I have to remind myself that you can’t give someone else power over you. This trait is also what I don’t like to see in others, not because I think it’s a weakness, but because I truly believe everyone has a valuable role to play, and it hurts to see someone’s self-worth rocked.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Obedience can be quite overrated, especially when it comes to doing what’s right vs. doing what you’re told.
“Each of us can play a role in supporting and encouraging women from diverse backgrounds to reach their full potential.”