To mark International Women’s Day the senior team of American Airlines Cargo, Jessica Tyler, president of cargo, Lisa Oxentine, managing director global sales, Lorena Sandoval, director cargo sales, Latin American and Caribbean and Annisha Brown, director cargo sales, global & key accounts spoke to ACW about their careers in cargo.
ACW: How did your career in air cargo start?
Tyler: It is not a very linear story! I actually started as a high school maths teacher and volleyball coach in my twenties. I joined American nine years ago, spending most of my time in cargo.
When I was looking for a job, I would never have thought that I was going to work for an airline. But I knew what I loved doing and I knew what I had had success with in the past.
Oxentine: It was 1987 when I started with American as a ticket agent on the passenger side. I worked in four different airports, which included working in Hawaii for eight years. But I did have an aspiration to do other things. I spent 15 years in operations and 15 years in the sales side.
Then the amazing opportunity to work in cargo happened! It was a combination of both of my strengths, working in the operations as well as sales. It gave me the ability to both.
Sandoval: I’ve worked with American Airlines for the last 30 years. 27 have been dedicated to the passenger side and the last three fantastic years to cargo!
I started in Quito, Ecuador, where I’m originally from. I started as a ticket and reservation agent and then I moved around in different roles.
Brown: I am the newest face of the group. My career with American started 12 years ago in New York at the One World HQ. Last year, I got the awesome opportunity to join the cargo sales team and moved from New York to Dallas to be part of the team. It’s fascinating to learn about the logistics side of American and be part of the small business culture.
ACW: In your opinion what does diversity bring to the workplace in regard to air cargo?
Tyler: [In this group] we couldn’t be further apart in our talent and strengths and that is the key to me in terms of real diversity in our industry that it’s about finding great people with great experiences and incredible strengths to come join the team.
Sandoval: When we’re talking about business, I see talent rather than gender. Who is behind the skills. I think if we can continue this, it supports diversity. [Diversity] is fantastic because that automatically creates collaboration and creativity.
ACW: What does representation in the workplace mean to you?
Tyler: Representation is absolutely critical. The fact that you have that within leadership roles starts to paint a picture for others to think: “Hey, I see someone that looks like me, I can do that.” That’s true for women, people of colour, LGBTQ team members. That’s a really important message for younger generations or people looking to move careers, to say that looks like somewhere I can work.
This industry is traditionally not as well known as a career choice for people, myself included. The more that we can get out and talk about why it’s an interesting career to be in, the more you tend to create a diverse workforce.
Brown: There is statistically a disproportionate amount of females working in the industry. Based on being a part of this culture that American is trying to create, with core values around diversity, I think it’s important to continue to highlight diversity as well and inclusion.
ACW: What do you love about working in the air cargo industry?
Oxentine: Air cargo can help change somebody’s life, like shipping cancer treatment, which I think is awesome. Things that we ship every day people just don’t have any idea until you’re in this world!
Before COVID, every year I would go to speak to a group of nine to 12 year old girls in the Fort Worth area, inspiring girls to get into aviation. I would bring some different fruits and ask: “Did you think about where those came from today?” I find it fascinating that I took air cargo for granted before I got in this business and now I’m so appreciative of what we are.
Sandoval: Being from Latin America, I’m very happy to have a carrier like American Airlines supporting the economy in Latin countries. You’re supporting families. It’s amazing to see how many jobs that you can sustain with air cargo and be able to help people to send their products abroad.
Brown: I joined at a very interesting time. [During COVID], we’ve been able to keep people employed because of the cargo business and the gratitude that comes with that has just been really amazing.
We’re also moving vaccines. It makes you feel really proud of what you’re doing every day.
ACW: What advice would you give to a woman considering a career in air cargo?
Oxentine: I’ve had opportunities in this role to travel all over the world and learn and develop myself in different ways. I’ve learned of different cultures and challenged myself.
That’s what I would tell folks who are interested in this field: if you want to be challenged, if you want to develop and grow yourself as a person, this is the right field to come into. You’re going to be faced with a lot of different things at once and meet people in this industry all over the world. It is very exciting.
Tyler: I think [my advice] would be to know your strengths. To know what you bring to the table and follow that no matter where it takes you. Once you’re in the cargo industry, there are a million different jobs. There is a career path for you that may take you in 15 different directions over the course of decades!
Brown: Based on my experience, you can learn so many different things. People in the industry are really passionate about what they do and that creates such a strong drive to feel good about what you’re doing too. When I first joined America, I can’t tell you how many people described the team as a family! And that’s what I am experiencing now.
Sandoval: I think that my advice is to definitely know that you will be joining an amazing industry. This is something that is growing so fast, especially in terms of technology. It’s a very dynamic industry that is ever evolving. If you’re persistent and follow your skills, this industry has everything.