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Sky’s the limit for women in aviation, LaGuardia manager says

Honoree Lisa Pierce, left, receives an award Thursday,

Honoree Lisa Pierce, left, receives an award Thursday, April 7, 2016, from LaGuardia Airport general manager Lysa Scully during a recognition luncheon. Attendees included veteran and up-and-coming women leaders in the male-dominated industry. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

In an industry traditionally dominated by men, LaGuardia Airport stands out because it is flush with women executives in various leadership roles across the northern Queens hub, from its control tower to its airlines, airport general manager Lysa Scully said Thursday.

She spoke to about 45 members of LaGuardia’s female brain trust gathered at the second annual Women in Aviation recognition luncheon, where veterans of the industry tell their stories and mingle with up-and-coming professionals and college students who hope to work at airports, in control towers or for airlines.

Aside from herself, Scully noted that seven of 10 airline station managers at the airport are women, along with the airport’s air traffic control tower manager. Vaughn College, an aeronautics and engineering college across the Grand Central Parkway from LaGuardia, is also led by a woman, Scully said.

“What makes this airport, I think, very unique is the fact that we have such an amazing base of female leaders, leaders who have spent a tremendous part of their career in aviation, many just at this airport,” she said. “That level of influence from women is fairly unheard of in our industry.”

Lisa Pierce, who has spent nearly 30 years with Air Canada and has been at LaGuardia since 1999, told the group as she accepted her recognition award that she has pushed herself to accept challenges for which she didn’t feel prepared while rising through the airline’s ranks. In her current role, she is Air Canada’s senior director of U.S. sales and market development, a post she’s held since 2013.

“That’s probably the biggest difference between men and women,” she told the room. “Women are more aware of their limitations and are more likely to hold themselves back.” Many in the room nodded.

As her career blossomed, Pierce was also raising two sons and pulling late nights, early mornings and weekends at work to accommodate her family and her job. “I think I’ve maybe missed one or two days in my whole career because of my children,” she said.

As a busy working mom, Pierce said she learned that it’s OK to ask for help. As a manager, she learned to be persistent, to take control of her “destiny” at the company, and, importantly, that it’s impossible to make everyone happy.

Kelly Ann Valentine, supervisor for ground transportation services at LaGuardia, was recognized as an emerging female leader in aviation. Valentine, who started working for the Port Authority in 2008, said she immediately “saw aviation as a department where there were so many amazing women leaders.”

Valentine said women need two kinds of role models — those who are present in their lives and can mentor them, and the more distant type they want to emulate.

“While we’re here having this [luncheon] and seeing a diverse group of women, the industry still has a long way to go,” she said.

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