March 08, 2023

Celebrating the Women Who Help Jet Linx SOAR

Women’s History Month | March 2023

While making up 46% of the total workforce in the U.S. (Bureau of Labor Statistics), women remain greatly underrepresented in many fields of aviation, making up less than 20% of most aviation occupations – including only 7% of the private pilot segment. The greatest gender disparities exist in the fields of aviation maintenance technicians (2.6%), airline transport pilots (4.6%), and senior leadership positions (3.0%). Still underrepresented—but in greater numbers—women make up 11 to 20% of aerospace engineers, higher-education aviation faculty, airport managers, air traffic controllers and dispatchers.

The gender discrepancy also plays out in the top 100 aviation organizations in the world, with women accounting for only 14% of C-suite roles and 3% of CEO roles. When it comes to the largest businesses on the Fortune 500 list, only 8% of companies are run by women, with less than 1% being led by women of color – which speaks to the even greater lack of diversity in the total pilot population – which is still 94% white.

Jet Linx remains committed to creating and maintaining a workplace in which all team members have an opportunity to participate and contribute to the success of the Company and are valued for their skills, experience and unique perspectives. Over 33% of our leadership team nationwide are female, many having built decades-long careers at the Company.

The Jet Linx team also continues to invest in partnerships with organizations that drive women to consider careers in STEM-related industries, including outreach to youth. Evidence shows that outreach should start at an early age (10 years old or younger) with a “see it to be it” approach using underrepresented groups. Jet Linx is proud to maintain ties with Women in Aviation International, International Girls in Aviation Day, and other local, grass-roots, educational non-profits. Jet Linx Base teams across the country have hosted, sponsored and participated in events put on by these organizations, and many female Jet Linx pilots have direct personal ties with their local chapters of the Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots.

The designated annual theme for Women’s History Month in 2023 reads “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” Jet Linx proudly presents the stories of our women in leadership and those soaring to new heights from the flight deck. Their professionalism, expertise and endless enthusiasm to Supply the High continue to propel our Company forward.

Data Source: “Women in Aviation: A Workforce Report for 2021”, Professor Rebecca Lutte, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Alison English, Director of Talent Acquisition

English initially joined Jet Linx in 2016 as a recruiter and was promoted to Director of Talent Acquisition ten months later. From 2020 to 2022 English took time away from work to raise her son and rejoined Jet Linx in April 2022 as a part time resume reviewer, but was again promoted to Director of Talent Acquisition in August 2022. After taking two years away to support her family, she acknowledges the sacrifices she had to make for her family and the many challenges that come along with the fast-paced, 24/7 nature of the aviation industry.

“Being an ambitious leader shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of your family. More part-time or flexible scheduling options could help a lot of women find success in this industry. Another important factor for women is finding strong supporters and I am grateful to be part of the women-led HR team. I’m constantly in awe of the powerful women at Jet Linx and I find myself growing each day as I spend more time with the team,” English explained.

Andrea Utesch, Director of Human Resources

A member of the Jet Linx Human Resources team since 2019, Utesch was promoted to her current role from Senior HR Business Partner. While Utesch has no previous background in aviation, the culture and values of Jet Linx are what initially attracted her to the Company. She has cultivated relationships across the Jet Linx leadership team to learn about challenges facing the industry in order to better understand, support and assist goals as set forth individually and by the Company as a whole.

“From my perspective, the work-life balance for crew seems to be a deterrent, but especially for women who might also be the primary caregiver in a family. Being away for several days is not conducive to a family environment, but that’s due to the flawed view that females must assume this role. I think continuing to ensure better work-life balance with more flexible scheduling, strengthening partnerships and outreach with organizations like Women in Aviation International, and hiring more diverse candidates will offer a better path to diversity in aviation. Listening to the struggles of our team members and learning how to provide solutions is something we’ll always be committed to doing,” said Utesch.

Ashley Allisma, Base Vice President

Jet Linx Omaha & Jet Linx Minneapolis

Allisma began her aviation career as a Flight Concierge at Jet Linx Omaha in 2012 after graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. She soon earned a promotion to Lead Flight Concierge, followed by another promotion to General Manager. After a brief period away from Jet Linx to care for her two daughters, Ashley was welcomed back as General Manager, and soon after earned another promotion to her current role as Base Vice President.

Allisma is proud to share that Jet Linx Minneapolis hosts a local Girls in Aviation Day every summer with over 2,000 young female attendees. The local Base also makes their hangar and facility available to schools and youth organizations for tours with female aviation professionals. The opportunity to showcase women in the cockpit and in leadership roles like herself is important to combating the historic ‘boys club’ image that persists in the industry today. Allisma remains passionate that female representation in leadership at the executive level can drive meaningful change, as the policies created by a male-dominated team are often not flexible enough to cater to professional women’s needs when it comes to maternity leave, caregiving and more.

“Women in industries like aviation find themselves in a delicate balance of being ‘liked’ versus being ‘heard,’ and can sometimes compromise their valuable voices for fear of being too aggressive. This can make it hard for ambitious women to advance in this industry. I do remain thankful for the mentorship of a veteran pilot far back in my career, as the many, many conversations with him taught me much of what I know about this industry,” Allisma said.

Ashley Rupert, Base Vice President

Jet Linx Dallas and Jet Linx Fort Worth

Rupert joined Jet Linx with a wealth of industry experience. After building her aviation knowledge with Flexjet for the last 10 years, she spent much of her tenure there opening new bases around the country. Before joining the Jet Linx team in 2022, she served as the General Manager at Flexjet at the Dallas Love Field location. Rupert currently manages the Jet Linx team at two of the busiest and largest Base locations in Texas.

Rupert shared that she has benefitted from strong mentors throughout her career and that their support has been critical to her path. “Aviation is a dynamic industry with a lot of rewards for those up in the air or on the ground supporting associates. We need young women to realize that there are so many opportunities, both inside and outside of the cockpit. We have needs in Flight Control, Maintenance, Accounting, leadership, and throughout the industry as a whole. Women certainly need better representation in the flight deck but also in the board room. Efforts to hire, train and retain talented women will only improve the overall talent pool in the aviation industry,” said Rupert.

Diana Likes, Director of Total Rewards

Likes has been with Jet Linx since 2020, noting she would often look at openings and consider applying because aviation has captured her interest since she was young. Growing up near the Millard airport in Omaha with airplanes flying overhead, she had dreams of becoming a pilot or astronaut. However, when Likes was growing up, aviation and other STEM-related careers weren’t ever discussed as an option for her. Whether intentional or not, she says it wasn’t addressed as a problem until more recently.

“As an HR professional in this industry, I have not faced the same challenges as others in specific operational spaces. But I do know from experiences in my youth that we have begun to address diversity within aviation as a real problem, and I believe outreach and mentorship opportunities are critical,” said Likes. “Women in aviation are blazing trails and they may not even be aware of it. We need to support them and help them grow in their careers. Better yet, we need to show that careers in this industry, including jobs in maintenance, sales – you name it – are available to all individuals.”

Erin Donnelly, Vice President of Revenue Management

Donnelly came to Jet Linx in 2010 with an extensive background in aviation, dating back to her tenure at Sentient Jet in 2003. After teaching herself the phonetic alphabet, she was hooked on the challenges and language of aviation. In the last 13 years, Donnelly has held a variety of Jet Linx leadership roles, from Manager to Director to Vice President, that have charted a course for critical operational teams including Charter, Fleet Optimization, Flight Coordination, Crewing and Flight Concierge.

To Donnelly, the business side of aviation poses an undeniable allure because of the nonstop, always-on-the-move nature of the industry, and while she does not feel she has faced challenges specifically being a woman, stepping back from her fast-paced, day-to-day for long periods during maternity leave for each of her daughters created a sense of unease. Donnelly also shared that colleagues in the industry were always quick to help her learn, including fellow Jet Linx leaders Jason Vanis, Senior Vice President of Operations, and Jay Vidlak, Senior Vice President of Aircraft Acquisitions and Sales, as being strong mentors throughout her career.

“I know a lot of my peers were initially drawn to the industry because of the cool factor of aircraft themselves, but I think there’s plenty of other appeal on the logistics and business side that could attract more diversity to our industry,” Donnelly commented. “Whether you’re on the ground or in the cockpit, this is an exciting industry with many challenges and rewards. We need to help more young people understand this, and the solution is going to take a hands-on approach like improved outreach, scholarship and mentorship opportunities. There are so many roles to fill beyond those on the flight deck.”

Heather DeRegis, Regional Base President

Jet Linx New York, Washington D.C., Miami and Boca Raton

DeRegis brings a quarter-century of aviation experience to her role at Jet Linx, spanning back to 1996 when she graduated from Dowling College with a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics & Management. In 1998, DeRegis transitioned to private aviation when she joined Million Air Charter, which later became Meridian Air Charter. By 2000, Heather earned a promotion as Flight Operations Manager, where for two decades she oversaw a team of 10 flight followers and dispatchers for worldwide flight operations across a fleet that grew to 29 aircraft.

When Jet Linx acquired Meridian Air Charter in 2020, DeRegis’s decades of experience were immediately put to use as an Aircraft Account Manager for aircraft in both the New York and Boston territories. In 2021, she earned a promotion to New York Base Vice President, managing one of the busiest Base locations in the country, before being promoted in February 2023 to Regional Base President – overseeing all Jet Linx east coast locations.

“While aviation careers, especially in the realm of pilots and aircraft mechanics remain largely male dominated, there’s no reason why more outreach and education can’t occur to draw in more diverse candidates,” she reflected. “Working on the business and operations side of the industry before Jet Linx, there were times where I found myself excluded from events like golf outings or only invited to parties after the fact. Though such instances are disheartening, the best remedy to improve diversity is to continue to be engaged and involved with organizations such as Women in Aviation International, as well as local aviation organizations, to maintain representation and encourage younger generations to do the same,” DeRegis said.

Jennifer Sternberg, Director of Learning & Organizational Development

Sternberg joined Jet Linx in 2022 with a background in ultra-luxury hospitality, and has found a purposeful and productive overlap in the clients served and the solutions needed to serve them. With her love of learning, passion for excellence and genuine care for others, she has made strides within the Company and the industry to highlight and bridge the gender divide. Sternberg’s leadership in Jet Linx University (JLU), the Company’s comprehensive, online learning platform, has included the creation of courses on gender diversity, equality and inclusion in effort to promote awareness and foster unity.

“There are so many moving parts in the aviation industry and it’s important to highlight the many roles and responsibilities necessary to complete the mission. By teaching the many opportunities in terms of positions, we can inspire more female professionals to enter the industry,” she noted. “Acting as mentors for aspiring aviation professionals is also important, as the growth in those relationships serves ten-fold for both parties.”

The courses Sternberg and her team curate through JLU provide a foundation from which all Jet Linx team members can achieve a deeper understanding of the Company’s core values and how to create a welcoming and inclusive workplace. “Educating current team members on the importance of diversity is equally valuable, because when one teaches, two learn,” said Sternberg.

Jessica Bifano, Base Vice President

Jet Linx Houston

In late 2015, Bifano moved cross-country from Indianapolis to Houston to start her aviation career with Jet Linx as a Personal Flight Concierge for our Houston location. Since then, she has earned numerous promotions in roles such as Director of Jet Card Sales, Vice President of Sales and Client Relations, and General Manager. In early 2021, Bifano became the Jet Linx Houston Base Vice President where she oversees all Base operations for Jet Linx Houston. She also remains active in the Women Leading Travel and Hospitality Group.

“Every time I see a female pilot, I feel so impressed and proud, but it does not happen nearly enough,” she commented. “Women inherently worry about work-life balance more than male counterparts, which affects our representation in the industry. My advice to any young woman with interest in aviation is to reach out to someone for mentorship and to never be intimidated by a male-dominated industry. One of the strengths of this industry comes in the variety of roles available that can support you at different times in your life.”

Jordan Maddex-Kopp, Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships

Maddex-Kopp joined Jet Linx in 2013 as the first in-house, Company-wide marketing resource in the role of Brand Director. A decade later, Maddex-Kopp now serves as Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships, working alongside her award-winning team of marketing and communication professionals to elevate the Jet Linx brand. She sees Jet Linx as a representation of the best in aviation service, safety, and overall experience. “Over the last decade, we have thoughtfully redefined our brand both inside and out, evolving from the idea of private aviation as merely high-end method of travel to private aviation as a Five-Star safety and service experience,” she noted. “What is most incredible has been watching the transformation of our team along the way.”

Joining Jet Linx and entering the private aviation industry proved to be the right opportunity at the right time as Maddex-Kopp sought a leadership role with a brand that she could grow and grow along with. “For me, Jet Linx has always represented opportunity – one that started as a professional opportunity and has since grown into a passion for creating a world of opportunities for others, including our clients and our team. Aviation is where so many lifelong memories begin – reunions, bucket lists, new adventures – and it is incredible to work for a Company that is united in its dedication to making those memories start the moment you step on board,” Maddex-Kopp said.

Many of Maddex-Kopp’s “passion projects” while at Jet Linx have involved Company efforts to introduce aviation to the next generation, as well as to new and diverse populations not currently well-represented in the industry. Jet Linx regularly supports community educational non-profits – including the Omaha-based STEMaha and Burke Air and Space Academy – of which she led two full-scale rebrands. “If you have a passion for science and for innovation, aviation clearly speaks to engineering and mechanical minds. However, this industry also offers a deeply inspirational and human-connected side. Nothing can bring people closer or take people farther than aviation, and I am so proud to be a part of a Company so committed to maximizing that potential.”

Kelly McDonald, Pilot

McDonald began flying for Jet Linx in 2016 in the Beechjet, and is now typed to fly in the Challenger 605 and different models of the Cessna Citation Excel. Her passion for flying began when she was six years old and her father earned a pilot’s license. She would sit next to him as they flew on family trips, and he would teach her about the flight instruments and how to understand them. At age 16, McDonald began taking flying lessons herself and knew she wanted to become a pilot.

McDonald now flies as a Captain, but has noted often when flying with a male copilot, passengers may assume that the male is the Pilot-in-Command – just one example of the subtle transgressions that female pilots experience. However, McDonald believes that representation within the industry is improving despite the stigma of a male-dominated cockpit. One of her greatest mentors came in the form of a well-seasoned male pilot with a grass strip in his backyard who saw McDonald’s dedication and tenacity and taught her everything he knew.

“I try to promote and empower women in this industry any chance that I get, always listening and asking how I might help find a career path or provide other advice,” McDonald reflected. “But I also do this with my male counterparts… I think it’s important to help anyone who wants to be helped. Everyone makes sacrifices to reach their goals, and everyone has their own story to tell.”

Liz Cordova, Base Vice President

Jet Linx Miami

Cordova joined Jet Linx in 2023 with a decade of aviation experience under her belt. While working in the hospitality industry more than a decade ago, Cordova met the Vice President of an aircraft maintenance company and her drive to learn new things transformed into a full-fledged aviation career. Formerly a Charter Coordinator Assistant and Maintenance Coordinator for private jet operators in the busy private airspace of Florida, Cordova now oversees the Jet Linx Miami team from their private terminal at Miami Opa-Locka Executive Airport.

Grateful to have had many helpful male mentors in her aviation career, Cordova explained that at times, the only barrier to success came from her own self-doubt. While believing that consistent commitment from leadership to recruit and retain female professionals will be necessary for the long-term health of the industry, Cordova encourages young women to remember that there is nothing stopping you but yourself.

Mercedes Tally, Pilot

Tally joined Jet Linx in 2022 and is typed as a Captain on the Nextant 400XTi. With an interest in flying since she was a child, Tally earned a role as an administrative assistant at a flight school where she went on a discovery flight and never looked back – and as of January 2023, she has now been flying for 13 years.

Tally notes that while finding a job as a female pilot might not be a barrier, earning a promotion to Captain took her four years, while male counterparts might have been upgraded to Captain at a quicker rate. Feeling the constant need to perform above and beyond has also pushed her to continuous improvement inside and outside of the cockpit and encouraged her to mentor and support younger trainees.

“I’ve served as a mentor to younger female pilots, helping them overcome their fears and encouraging them to aspire for more and drive to become their best. However, I have helped young male pilots as well – it’s a difficult job for everyone and being an example to the younger generation is important no matter the gender. Helping young pilots grow into Captains has been one of the most rewarding moments in my career. I’m always happy to teach and show the power that women and all youth can bring to this industry,” Tally said.

Michele Sonier, Pilot

Sonier has been flying the Cessna Citation XLS for Jet Linx since December 2022. She began her piloting career later in life, even though a career on the flight deck was always something she wanted to do – like many young aviators, she never had the time or money to take flight lessons. Once she took her first flight lesson, however, she knew that aviation was her calling. Sonier is actively involved with the Ninety-Nines, an international non-profit organization for female pilots, in the Pilot Leadership Program, where she helps recruit and mentor other female aviators and actively shares the accomplishments of other females in aviation on her personal social media channels.

At times in her career, Sonier has experienced negative perceptions about her abilities, feeling as if she must do more to be perceived as equal to a male counterpart, and where showing confidence in her abilities can sometimes be perceived in a negative light. She also notes the pressure for women to stay home and take care of children, and the costly and time-consuming nature of flying provides even less opportunity for females, which Sonier experienced personally.

“Scholarships and mentoring programs are effective and direct ways to help aspiring female aviators. I’ve found it’s also important to have internal support and a company culture like we have at Jet Linx where female pilots are comfortable escalating issues without fear of negative perceptions or other reciprocations. Whether you have a female or male advocating for you, it’s important to have a firm voice of support in an organization,” Sonier said.  

Shawnna Innis, Vice President of Business Solutions

Innis began her Jet Linx career in 2020 as a Business Process Analyst with a focus on process mapping and identifying solutions for improved efficiency. Over the course of three years, she has helped reshape many different departmental workflows, earning promotions from Manager to Director to most recently Vice President of Business Solutions, developing a team committed to implementing holistic solutions inclusive of data insights, software engineering, technical writing, and process change.

While Innis did not specifically move to Jet Linx for a career in aviation, she chose to work for a leader she deeply respected and for the opportunity to surround herself with others that would improve her craft and career. To Innis, the passion to do one’s work can be a powerful motivator, something contagious that can be harnessed to recruit and retain female talent in aviation and other traditionally male-dominated industries. A better understanding of what hinders women from joining the aviation industry and identifying what makes it possible for current women to succeed can offer a brighter path for everyone.

“As with many industries that are predominantly male, there are certainly factors that brought about and contribute to an imbalance of power,” she noted. “But that reality does not have to define our future. When I feel unsupported in something I want to do, I surround myself with those who share my vision and continue to persevere until I achieve what I have set out to. I have made the personal choice not to focus on whether any challenge I endure is because I am a woman; rather, I choose to focus on how my character is going to show in the end, no matter the justice involved.”

Yvette Sumodi, Vice President of Human Resources

Sumodi has more than 20 years of experience in human resources and joined Jet Linx in 2019 as Vice President where she oversees the Human Resources and Talent teams. Previously an HR professional in the telecommunication, non-profit and healthcare industries, Sumodi was drawn to Jet Linx because of the Company’s culture and core values, and saw the aviation industry as a challenge with plenty of opportunities for learning. Professional women in all industries, including aviation, want to receive pay and benefits commensurate for their experience, and at Jet Linx, Sumodi is tasked with thinking beyond core benefits like medical and dental insurance to offer programs such as wellness and volunteerism efforts that resonate more with today’s workforce. In addition, Sumodi sees opportunities for growth and professional development as equally important in attracting a diverse workforce.

“In our country, women are underrepresented in many industries, particularly those with a focus in technology or science. Of course, this is changing incrementally and at a slower pace than desirable,” Sumodi reflected. “In my three years at Jet Linx, I have seen more women join the Company both in crew and non-crew roles. Barriers I have observed that are key factors are the cost of education and training, lack of support system and lack of access to resources or education. However, by identifying these barriers we can focus our investments on creating programs to attract and retain the best talent in the industry,” Sumodi said.

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