When I think of the aviation industry, many ideas come to mind — Boeing 747s, The Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart……and my job as a former flight attendant. In 2003, after I graduated from college, I saw a small ad in the Atlanta Journal – Constitution about open flight attendant positions with USA3000 Airlines. At the time, I had just applied for a job at CNN and was waiting for a callback, so I decided to give it a shot and went to the interview at the Wyndham Hotel.
I remembered walking out the hotel feeling inspired and fearless, applying for a job outside my comfort zone. Thankfully in less than a month, I received a phone call to return for a second interview at the same hotel. As I arrived and walked in the room I met a flight crew dressed in uniform as they stood up to say, “Congrats Ms. Miles Welcome to USA 3000.”
It is a day I will never forget because it changed my life. I immediately thought about Bessie Coleman earning her pilot’s license and opening the door as the first African American woman in aviation. From 1921 to today, black women around the world have steadily risen the ranks in the industry, from flight attendants to becoming entrepreneurs owning an airline. In September 2015, Sizele Mzimela, chief executive officer of Fly Blue Crane, broke the glass ceiling as the first black woman to co-found an airline. Prior to launching her own airline, Mzimela has also been a successful businesswoman. From 2010 – 2012, she served as the first female CEO of South African Airways In 1997, she began her career as a market analyst with South African Airways while gaining leadership experience that helped her to be promoted to the CEO of South African Airways. In fact, Mzimela managed to climb up the corporate ladder working for the same airline as she worked in different divisions. Being bold and voicing her opinion on the direction the company should take helped her to be recognized as a leader.
In an interview with RunawayGirl network, Mzimela discusses her thoughts on leadership and what she did to be promoted to the position as the CEO of South African Airways. “The biggest joke is that I wasn’t able to stay in one position for 12 months,” Mzimela stated. She speaks candidly about being brutally honest to get everyone on the same page, and the importance of being accessible to build alliances with upper – level management. As she climbed higher in aviation, she specifically explained her personal views of what she considers to be her biggest accomplishment.
“Understand that we just have to work harder. It’s unfair, but you have to finding a way to move on.” Mzimela said in her feature with AFK Insider.
It was not too long ago when images of apartheid and poverty were the images of Africa shown by the media to viewers around the world but today the stereotypes have changed. However, let’s not forget about Bessie Coleman being the trailblazer in aviation and the 1st all black female flight crew aboard Atlantic South Airlines flight 5202 and 5106, a local regional carrier that made history reported by BlackHistory.com by having the 1st all black female crew from Atlanta to Nashville and recently Ethiopian airlines which launched its first ever flight operated by all-women crew in November 2015. This landmark event made history by recognizing an all female flight crew that handled several jobs from working on the ground to flying in the air. This is the new reality of women in aviation which in some way helped to pave the way for future leaders like Sizele Mzimela.
When reading about how these women are rewriting history, it is truly inspiring to see the impact of how the Ethiopian flight attendants are following their dreams and not being afraid to embark on their journeys. It is great to see women following in the footsteps of aviation inspired by Mzimela. Today, Mzimela is also the first woman to be invited to the International Air Transport Association. As AFK Insider reported, Fly Blue Crane will now offer more affordable fares while continuing the process to apply for rights to travel to more countries in Africa such as Mozambique and Swaziland. From her beginnings as a market analyst to the CEO to owning an airline Mzimela is constantly breaking barriers in aviation for women and a great example of excellence to women around the world. With the success of black females reaching new heights, you cannot help but feel inspired by the achievements of black women in the field of aviation.