Breaking the Cloud Ceiling – Female Leaders in Aviation

Gender equality is a huge challenge in the airline industry. There’s a big lack of female pilots, as well as female leaders in aviation.

In 2018, only 18 airlines had women in the role of CEO, president or managing director. To get a better sense of scale, IATA reported that only 3% of the world’s top 100 airline groups have a female CEO – meaning a whopping 97% of airlines are led by men.

March 8 marks International Women’s Day. The theme for the 2019 campaign is Balance for Better. This is something we fully support here at Yieldr. That’s why we’d like to celebrate today’s female leaders in aviation.


Aireen Omar – AirAsia

Deputy Group CEO (Technology and Digital), January 2018-present

Aireen Omar joined AirAsia in 2006 as Director of Corporate Finance. In 2012 she was promoted to Chief Executive Officer at AirAsia Berhad, then moved into her current role as Deputy Group CEO (Technology and Digital) in January 2018.

Omar has an impressive list of accolades over the years, including APAC CEO of The Year in 2017. She was also recognized as Masterclass Woman CEO of the Year at the Selangor Excellence Business Awards in 2014 and 2015.

 
Omar was raised to realize she could do anything, regardless of gender. She states that mindset is key: Women should think of themselves as individuals and work on being the best version of themselves.

“Helming the organization boils down to being task-driven, not gender-driven. It is all about focus, perseverance and determination.”

Mandi Samson – Air Namibia

Acting Managing Director, August 2015-present

Mandi Samson was appointed Acting Managing Director of Air Namibia in August 2015. She has a distinguished background as an expert in African air transport, and puts a firm focus on people within the airline.

Air Namibia’s first all-female crew completed a long-haul flight to Germany last year. In congratulating the women, Samson reflected that since joining Air Namibia, she has felt a duty to encourage young and vibrant females to join the aviation industry.

 
In a discussion panel at the IATA AGM in 2018, Samson said that airlines need to focus on supporting women more, especially in traditionally male-dominated roles like pilots and engineers.

“It has been proven time and again that women can effectively execute jobs that are traditionally known to be for men.”

Claudia Sender – LATAM Airlines Brasil

CEO, May 2017-present

Claudia Sender stepped into the role of Commercial and Marketing VP at TAM Airlines in 2011. One year later, LAN and TAM airlines merged to form the LATAM Airlines Group.

Sender completed her MBA at Harvard University, where she “witnessed the true power of diversity”. She was 38 years old when she became CEO at LATAM Brasil. This made her one of the youngest CEOs of an airline ever, as well as the first female to head a Brazilian airline.

 
At the 2018 Boston APEX EXPO, Sender was a keynote speaker. She had the following message for women in aviation aiming for senior management positions: "Never give up. We're rare. There are very few role models out there.”

“Companies that have women in senior management positions or on the board tend to perform much better than peer companies that don’t. Diversity adds value…”

Joanna Geraghty – JetBlue

President and COO, June 2018-present

Joanna Geraghty joined JetBlue’s litigation department in 2005 and gained a wealth of experience over the years in various roles such as Chief People Officer and EVP Customer Experience.

Geraghty was appointed President and COO in June 2018. It wasn’t until she stepped into this role that she realized she would be considered a trailblazer for being the highest-ranking female at an American airline.

 
In 2018, Geraghty wrote about embracing the full potential of women in the workforce. JetBlue has a number of programs designed to empower girls to pursue careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field and other roles in aviation.

“...at this stage in my life, it’s the women of JetBlue, hundreds of whom I have come to know well, who inspire me the most.”

Anne Rigail – Air France

CEO, December 2018-present

Anne Rigail has spent 27 years withAir France. In 1991 she joined Air Inter, which later merged with Air France. She was appointed CEO in December 2018 and is the first female CEO to lead the French carrier.

Rigail proved her talent in roles such as Executive VP of Inflight Services and Executive VP of Customer Experience, establishing herself as a problem solver. She has proven that leadership skills are not defined by gender; they are defined by talent.

 
Rigail’s promotion to CEO is an important milestone for all women in aviation. As the first female CEO to ever lead a major global airline, she has received a lot of praise across the industry.

“In an industry where executive-level roles are typically filled by men, it’s exciting to see a woman earn the opportunity to lead an extraordinary airline.” – Linda Markham, Cape Air CEO


Skift News recently shared a deep dive into women on the commercial side of aviation. It covers some key issues such as respect in the airline industry, making aviation more visible as a career option for women and the importance of male mentors. It’s well worth a read.

With the current state of CEOs in aviation, it’s exciting to have women lead airlines. Let’s build a gender-balanced world! Check out our articles about more women in aviation and our female software engineers at Yieldr.

Jodi ten Bohmer

Jodi ten Bohmer

Content Marketer